Three Monkeys Online

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On Austerity and Europe – an interview with Paul Murphy M.E.P

As part of a series of interviews on the theme of the European Union, we talked (via email) to Paul Murphy, Socialist Party MEP for Dublin. Murphy has served in the European Parliament since 2011. He sits on the International Trade Committee, and has been fiercely critical of what he describes as  the big business agenda of the EU’s trade policies.

In many ways the political landscape throughout Europe has been radically changed since the last European Parliament elections. Throughout Europe there are lots of new movements, often with very differing demands but all focussed on radical change (UKIP, Movimento 5 Stelle, Indignados, Occupy etc). I’d suggest that very few of them see the European Parliament as the fundamental place to effect that change. How important is the EU Parliament in real terms, and can it affect any real political change?

I think the European Parliament is fundamentally about providing a democratic façade to the European Union. The real power lies in the European Union with the European Council and increasingly with the unelected European Commission. On top, you have the problem that Irish journalist, David Cronin, put well in his new book Corporate Europe where the majority of MEPs behave as “ventriloquist dummies for big business.”

I have never believed real change will come about from the European Parliament or for that matter other parliaments. Real change has come in the past from the mass struggles of working class people such as the right to vote, civil rights or better working and living conditions. I think the same is true today, ordinary people, or as the occupy movement put it, the 99%, will only affect real political changes in their interests by a mass struggle on the streets, in the workplaces and in our communities. Fundamentally, I think meeting the aspirations of these people means breaking with the systen of capitalism.

Profits are now up 22% since 2007 – while unit labour costs have fallen by around 13%. This illustrates how austerity is not some wrong-headed policy, it is a weapon of class war and a classic example of what Namoi Klein described as the “shock doctrine”

So I don’t see my role in the European Parliament as being part of the decison making process or something like that. Instead, it is a platform to citicise and expose the anti-democratic austerity measures being pushed by the Commission and right-wing governments, to voice support for workers’ struggles and other movements and to advocate and popularise socialist change.

The Troika, and indeed the Irish government, hold Ireland up as a success story – after financial disaster and bailout, through austerity measures Ireland’s economy is recovering and the country is ready to return to the financial markets. Isn’t it fair to say that Ireland’s economy is in better shape thanks to the close co-operation between the Troika and the Irish government?

We are seeing a lot of spin in relation to the state of the Irish economy. You have Oli Renn saying that Ireland has decisively turned round its fortunes but the truth is none of the fundamental problems have been resolved. We still have high levels of unemployment, 30% among young people, despite 125,000 people under the age of 25 emigrating since the start of the crisis. We have the highest net rate of emigration in all of the EU.

Despite six years of austerity, the debt to GDP ratio is now at 125% and rising. GDP growth this year is predicted to be around 0.1%. With another turn in the saga that is the Eurozone crisis which could be unleashed at any time by political or economic developments, this will have strong implications for the Irish economy. It is quite possible that Ireland will be forced back into another so-called bailout programme after the elections next year.

So Ireland’s economy and society is in a worse state as a result of the implementation of the Troika dictats. Wages have been pushed down, public services have been destroyed and hundreds of thousands have been forced out. There are some beneficiaries however – those for whom austerity is designed. The international bondholders continue to have their debt repaid – this year 26 billion years in taxpayers money between payments by the bailed out banks and payments on the national debt. That is more than twice the total deficit for 2013.

Big business has also benefited. Profits are now up 22% since 2007 – while unit labour costs have fallen by around 13%. This illustrates how austerity is not some wrong-headed policy, it is a weapon of class war and a classic example of what Namoi Klein described as the “shock doctrine”.

Ireland has a small and relatively well-educated population, and has been hit extremely hard by the global financial crisis. Are you surprised that, to date, there hasn’t been a more vocal protest against austerity, or more of a swing towards the left politically? Why do you think Ireland has, by and large, accepted austerity blindly?

I don’t accept that normal Irish people have by and large accepted austerity. There is mass opposition to austerity. This was seen in the wipe-out of the traditional largest party of Irish capitalism, Fianna Fail. So much so that in the last general election [2011], while they won one TD (MP) in Dublin, four TDs were elected on radical left platforms. Now, with the Labour Party in coalition government, it is in free-fall in the opinion polls and will likely be entirely wiped out from the European Parliament in next year’s elections because of its implementation of austerity.

When a lead has been given, such as in opposing the regressive household tax, people are prepared to actively fight. In that struggle, 50% of ordinary homeowners boycotted that tax and tens of thousands participated in protests and meetings. The problem in general is that you have an absolutely rotten trade union leadership, with some honourable exceptions, who have completely abdicated responsibility for leading any struggle against austerity. The failure of the trade union leadership to give a lead has implications for other struggles as there is a lack of confidence that people can take on the government and the troika. This can mean fear wins out over anger and people are bullied into accepting measures, as we have seen in the second Lisbon treaty, and when the  government brought in a property tax together with draconian repressive measures to force people to pay.

The hampering of struggle by the Trade Union leaders also plays a role in creating political confusion but there clearly is discontent with the parties of austerity. It is shown by the increase in support for Sinn Fein, who posture as being opposed to austerity, despite implementing austerity in the North and more importantly with dramatic rise to 26% for independent or smaller parties. The task for the left is to forge this into a principled anti-austerity challenge in the upcoming elections, this why the Socialist Party has launched along with other activists the Anti-Austerity Alliance (AAA,) which we think can make a positive impact in the elections.

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