‘We like successful companies’

Interesting exchange from the Dáil the other day, for the light it casts on how things work.

In the government, you have a party known as the Labour Party which, while laying claim to socialist principles, scorns the notion that workers should get paid more when their productivity increases, and instead identifies quite explicitly with the owning class (‘we’ cannot afford increased wages).

A four-year-old can figure out that any firm with increasing profits can afford increased wages. That it does not choose to do so has nothing to with the affordability of such a measure, but the measure’s desirability from the standpoint of its owners. This is the reason you have things like unions, and, in days gone by, social democratic political parties.

The point of all that was that whereas owners of capital would seek to maximise profits by simply maximising the exploitation of their workforce, collective action by workers, in both the workplace and the wider political realm, would seek a greater share of the surplus for the people who, after all, produced it in the first place. From the point of view of the current government, this is stuff from medieval times. By its lights, all it takes for a company to be successful is for it to be profitable. That’s the way they like it.

The steely, single-minded and bone-headed conviction with which Fine Gael and Labour TDs articulate their commitment to pursuing the interests of the owning class in this short extract, illustrates it is buck madness to expect the government, in its dealings with any other party, to represent the interests of the population. The only thing madder, I reckon, would be to imagine, on top of this, that the publicly expressed devotion to screwing labour -as supposedly commanded by the ECB or the IMF or whoever else- is merely a strategic or tactical ruse, that it’s amazing just how well a turd can polish up, and that there’s a secret plan being hatched for the time when labour need no longer wait and when Progress and Providence can rhyme at last.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein) Perhaps this is to be reasonably expected but one might ask who is benefiting from the increase in exports. It is not the Irish taxpayer.

Brendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour) Thousands of workers.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh
(Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein) They are by virtue of the fact that they are working. However—–

Bernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael) It is a help.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein) —–they are not benefiting from increased profits. These profits are not being translated into increased wages.

Brendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour) Jobs.

Bernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael) How in the name of God can you come up with an argument like this? Do you think you are going to have increased wages in the present climate?

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein) I am not making an argument. I am stating that companies in Ireland are increasing their export levels which means their profits are increasing but no new jobs have been created in these fields. I am not giving out about these companies; I welcome that fact. What I am stating is that the workers in these companies are not benefiting additionally. They are benefiting by the fact that they have a job but they are not benefiting additionally because they are not benefiting from increased wages in those companies.

Brendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour) We cannot afford that.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh
(Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein) This has always been a problem and I am surprised at the Labour Party. The whole idea is that workers have—–

Brendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour) We like successful companies.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein) Yes, and we also like that the workers, those who create the profits, should benefit most from it and not just through jobs.

Bernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael) I never heard an argument like this in my life. It is ridiculous.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein) If profits increase, wages should also increase. This is the definition of socialism and I am surprised—–

Damien English
(Meath West, Fine Gael) That is not how business works.

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5 Responses to “‘We like successful companies’”


  1. 1 William Wall May 9, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    It’s an indication of how sheltered our politicians are from the realities that pertain elsewhere in the world. If Bernard Durcan lived anywhere else he would have encountered the socialist arguments a little earlier in his life. I weep for his innocence. To be exposed, at this late stage in his career, to the idea that workers might benefit from profits. I hope he survives the shock. He must be in need of the priest. Someone should point out to him, though, that this heretical notion has been going the rounds for some time.

  2. 2 Gavan May 9, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    I’d love to hear the exchange back; there’s something magical went on in Howlin’s head between the first reply, which has a default quality – ‘we can’t afford it’ – and the follow-up, ‘we like successful companies’. In the first, he is merely kicking for touch with the rote dismissal afforded by ‘crisis’,and the routine, elite ‘we’ that once partied and cannot now afford nuttin social. But the ‘we’ shifts in the second reply to mean we the Labour party, as Howlin, in successive interviews, has been fashioning a role for himself as the ‘third way’ ideologue of Labour. He at once recognised the politics he was being asked to engage – basic social democratic demands – and was in such a hurry to repudiate it, he could only come out with a line that is part David Brent and part Mary McAleese. It’s Blair’s ‘totally relaxed with filthy richness’, just calibrated for the relative poverty of politics in Ireland.

    The Labour party; like insisting on calling the Aviva the Palindrome, can we start not calling them by that name?

  3. 3 Eoin May 9, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    It’s the royal We, in advance of her Maj’s visit.

    You can hear the Stalinist rhetoric right from the words of the LP deputy in this passage.

    We Like Successful Companies is screaming out for some photoshopping work.

  4. 4 Frank O'Dwyer May 12, 2011 at 11:35 am

    “A four-year-old can figure out that any firm with increasing profits can afford increased wages. That it does not choose to do so has nothing to with the affordability of such a measure, but the measure’s desirability from the standpoint of its owners”

    Not really – it has to do with the fact that wages are set by how much workers can earn somewhere else, not by a company’s owners.

    In other words wages have nothing to do with the profitability (or otherwise) of the company, but rather the scarcity of what the workers offer. If the workers can get paid more by doing the same thing working somewhere else, or for themselves, then they can leave and earn more.

  5. 5 Hugh Green May 13, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    Wages get set by decisions taken by the firm (through institutional mechanisms), and often on the basis of decisions taken by the firm in league with other firms in the same industry, and even also on the basis of decisions taken by the firm in league with other groups of firms that are not in the same industry at all, and furthermore in relation to legal and political institutions.

    So even if we confine ourselves to the explanation of economic phenomena on account of the optimising behaviour of individuals, there would still be a long way to go before you could conclusively demonstrate that supply of a particular worker skill required for production is the explanatory principle for the upward and downward movement of wages (even though I do accept that if supply of a worker skill becomes more scarce, then the likely impact will be higher wages for that worker).

    Sorry, that’s a bit waffly, but hope you catch my drift.


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