Ireland: ‘Dell … Our chance to halt greed’

‘Joe Higgins Column’ from the Daily Mail (Irish Edition), 14 January 2009

The savage axing of 1,900 jobs by the Dell Corporation in Limerick was widely covered in the media but the restrained tone of that coverage was quite remarkable. It was as if a family death was being reported. There was talk of ‘sadness’ and ‘regret’ at the announcement and much ‘sympathy’ for the affected workers.

But the jobs in Limerick didn’t simply die – they were deliberately massacred by blatant corporate greed.

Michael Dell and the major shareholders of his company aren’t satisfied with the pre tax profits of €74.4million earned in Limerick in the year to the end of February 2008. Nor are they happy with the €546million profit worldwide earned in the three months to October 31, 2008. They want more, and too bad if thousands of livelihoods have to be laid waste in the process.

But there have been no headlines denouncing this antisocial and inhuman greed. Not even a whisper of criticism of Mr Dell &Co.

Now imagine another scenario. Imagine if Dell made their shocking decision after its 4,000 workers had joined a trade union and sought a pay rise of €5 per hour. Imagine the torrent of vitriol that would descend on the heads of the workers in such a scenario as editors, right wing columnists and politicians lined up to denounce them. Imagine the screaming headlines about ‘Dell workers’ crazed greed’, ‘job saboteurs’ and ‘economic terrorists’.

The blatant double standard arises because most of the media, columnists and politicians share the ideology of market capitalism which dictates that corporate greed must be facilitated over social need.

Dell has the kind of ‘model’ workers that multinational corporations crave. Very many of them earn around €11 per hour which gives an annual income a full €15,000 below the average industrial wage. With no trade union they are at the beck and call of their employers, models of ‘flexibility’.

But Dell wants the bigger profit it believes it can make with the €3 per hour it will pay in Poland. And when it suits, it will abandon the Polish workers with the same callousness and move on in search of even cheaper labour still.

Should society stand by and see up to 10,000 jobs –in Dell and dependent enterprises- massacred in this way? Recently the Government rushed in to save the banks with guarantees and recapitalisation amounting to many billions. It was argued, correctly, that collapsing banks would cause economic chaos and see thousands of jobs lost. There were calls for nationalisation.

Why should it be any different when thousands of production and service jobs are threatened? What will happen if other major corporations, like Intel for example, similarly abandon their workers as Waterford Crystal has already decided to do? Should we watch helplessly while the dole numbers swell to 400,000? Should we tolerate corporate greed laying waste to the livelihoods of older generations and to the hopes of a new generation?

The line should be drawn at Dell. The company wants to move a massive amount of equipment out of Limerick. They should not be allowed to do so. The workers should occupy the plant to prevent this. It is not too late to mount a fightback.

They should demand of the Government that it prevails on Dell to remain and if it doesn’t agree, campaign for the plant to be taken into public ownership. With the proven talents, abilities and commitment of the Dell workers and bringing them to the heart of the control and management of the enterprise, it would be entirely possible to develop a publicly owned , state of the art, computer sector. This could be the beginning of a move away from the chronic overdependence on multinational corporations toward developing a viable industrial base in public hands and geared to the wellbeing of society rather than corporate super profits.

Naturally, establishment economists, pundits and politicians will greet such a proposal with derision. It is they who should be derided however. They have colluded in fashioning an economy where the fate of tens of thousands of Irish workers are utterly at the mercy of people like Michael Dell. As a result we had the spectacle of the Deputy Prime Minister of this State in a gesture of utter helplessness going on a humiliating pilgrimage to Dell HQ in Texas to beg for the jobs of Irish workers. And as if she were a mere vassal in feudal times her corporate overlord curtly dismissed her petition.

Dependence on multinational corporations not only gives total control to largely faceless shareholders but also sees vast resources shipped out of this State each year in repatriated profits earned by Irish workers – €17.5billion in 2007 alone. That should put threatened job cuts and the shrill demands for cuts in public services and swinging attacks on workers’ incomes in perspective.

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