The 1% get richer while we get poorer - 1% Network speech at the Dáil


As part of the budget protests at the Dáil Dec 7th 2011 Andrew Flood gave the following speech for the 1% Network at the left bloc rally. "If we wish to build a new society based on equality and real democracy, we need to find a way to take political power as well as economic wealth away from that 1%"

In 2007, according to the Bank of Ireland 'Wealth of the Nation' report, the richest 1% of the population owned 34% of the wealth of this state. In that, the last year of the boom, the bank was trying to drum up custom rather than pinpointing the fact that a very small number of people have a huge amount of wealth. Seizure of some of that wealth could be an alternative to the attacks taking place inside on workers and the poor.  This may be the reason they have not provided a public update in the last couple of years - it's a little embarrassing to those in high places to point out the incredible wealth held by the 1% when child benefit and the dole is being cut, or while you are cutting the minimum wage and making low paid workers pay tax.

Now in Britain you find a very similar figure. When you exclude dwellings, the top 1% there in 2003 owned 34% of the wealth.  I mention this because the poorest 50% in Britain, in contrast, owned only 1% of the wealth.  There is no reason to expect the contrast between rich and poor to be significantly different here, yet to protect our wealthy 1% this budget attacks the poorest 50% and those on average income.

The changes in the tax credits will mean someone earning €40,000 will pay €1800, the exact same figure as someone on €500,000. The interests of the 1% are not just being protected in Ireland.  The IMF-ECB deal robs from our pockets to cover the losses made by wealthy gamblers on the international financial markets, the global 1%. Foreign banks and private investors – both Irish and foreign - decided to take the risk of investing money into private banks in Ireland in an attempt to profit from the property boom from 2000 until 2006. That money was lost when the bubble burst. Those investors took a gamble. They got their risk assessment wrong and they should lose their money. But their losses are now being transferred onto the shoulders of ordinary workers in this so-called bailout. We are being made to pay through cuts in our wages, cuts in social welfare, and the wholesale dismantling of our public services. Meanwhile the bankers and property developers and the rest of the wealthy 1% remain relatively unaffected.

What has the crash meant for our 1%? Some, like Bernard McNamara, appear to have gone from riches to rags, although rags doesn't quite describe a custom built double mansion on Aylesbury Road complete with ballroom and indoor swimming pool.  The crash has shifted some wealth within the 1%, but overall they own as much if not more of the total wealth.

International figures show the wealth of the 1% has grown rather than shrunk in the recession. Even here in Ireland, in October 2010, just two months back, the economist Tom O’Connor estimated the total ‘net worth’ of the 33,000 Irish millionaires at €121 billion. A simple proposal - why not take €6 billion off that 1% now as an alternative to today's savage attacks on our living standards and our public services?

The reason we won't see that happen is that not only do the 1% control vast wealth, they also effectively control political power in this state.  As an example the Irish media is almost universally either controlled by the government, or owned by the wealthiest elements of the 1%.  The O'Reilly family, Denis O'Brien, and Dermot Desmond own virtually every other newspaper, TV station and radio station.

Anyone who came with us on either of the 1% Networks walking tours of Dublin 2 and 4 when we visited the city mansions of these characters will have heard us sketch out in detail the connections between this wealthy elite and the politicians who run the country on their behalf. Desmond's town house is just the other side of the Dail at 71 Merrion square with O'Reilly's up the road at 2 Fitzwilliam Square.  Back in 2000, the Sunday Business Post revealed that twice a year PJ Mara brought Bertie Ahern to O'Reilly's townhouse, no doubt to pass on the latest instructions.

If we wish to build a new society based on equality and real democracy, we need to find a way to take political power as well as economic wealth away from that 1%.  The 1% have not shied away from using the crisis as a form of 'Shock Doctrine' to push the attacks the likes of IBEC have long talked on on the low paid. Our fight should not just be defensive, we should fight for the world we want to see, and not a return to the dog-eat-dog inequality of the Celtic Tiger. The economic elite are not going to give up their power easily. Marches, and even one-day symbolic strikes, will not force them to surrender power or to pay for the crisis that there capitalist system created. But we are many and they are few. And in striking together we have the ability to defeat their attacks on our standards of living and our public services.

The way in which the 1% can be defeated is through a general strike. And there is a growing demand for one, to the extent that after the ICTU march Jack O'Connor felt the need to go on Joe Duffy, of all places, to explain why he couldn't call a general strike 'at the drop of a hat'.

He needn't have bothered, it’s clear that the ICTU leadership is not going to call a general strike. ICTU have accepted the government’s cuts agenda, they just want the cuts to be 'better and fairer'. Therefore it is up to each one of us in our workplaces, in our trade unions, in our residents and community associations to build the needed networks and contacts that will see a state wide general strike organised from the base of the unions with full community support. Organised, if need be, against the wishes of the ICTU leadership.

The challenge for the Irish left, those organisations present today, is how we can make a real contribution to transforming such talk from militant sounding rhetoric to reality.  Nothing else can stop the vicious attacks on our living standards that are in progress and that are escalating in this budget today.