The middle ground
In the civil service in Ireland there are 22 stated pay grades, from secretary general grade I at €190,233 to a cleaner starting at €37,769. This info was gleaned from https://mywage.org/ireland/salary/public-sector-salary/civil-service-salary-scales-2017 (My guess is the ‘cleaner’ is actually a company of cleaners contracting a service as opposed to a single person.) Now, if all these grades are lined up in increasing order of pay, the 11th pay grade, the one in the middle or the median, is a ‘higher executive officer’ earning €56,415 (after six years good service).
What about the median salaries in the private sector? Take the example of a big employer relying on large quantities of human capital. These kinds of employers will always have far more people working at the bottom than at the top. So, lining up all those 1.3 million Amazon workers across the world, — with Jeff Bezos at the top with his $1.3bn net wealth and the tens of thousands of basic workers in the fulfilment centres at the bottom — my guess is the median Amazon worker will be close to the most basic level of €12.50 per hour.
Because this is capitalism
Huge supermarket chains will have a similar story needing high numbers of checkout and shelf-filling staff to keep the show on the road and dividends flowing to directors and shareholders. So, given that our elected politicians are in charge of the whole thing — would it not be fair if they were paid an average of the median salary in the public service and the median salary in the private sector?
In tandem, it would be helpful to the average punter if all businesses had to publish their median salaries. The conscience of the directors might be pricked when they realise that more than half their workers are dwindling at the bottom barely making ends meet. And if you are in that group at the bottom, a knowledge of the median salary offered by your employer might politicise you towards setting up a union or joining a political party to get a better rate of pay and conditions. Another bonus for society would be the legal requirement for every company board to allocate one position to a representative of the lowest paid workers in the company.
Solutions to the inequity
One solution to these fundamental problems of inequity is obvious: taxing corporate profits above €500,000 at a higher rate, for example, 30%, to provide the money to pay for the handsome salaries being maintained in the public sector. What’s left over then pays for maintaining and developing public infrastructure, social housing, greening the economy, living wages, hospitals, schools, policing…. etc. etc. The list goes on and on and on.
Corporation tax at the low rate of 12.5% in Ireland is bluntly applied across profits in the whole private sector. Imagine how unfair it would be if income tax was applied uniformly, at the single rate of 12.5%, no matter what you earned, €24,000 or €2 million.
A caveat: what must to be understood by the public sector is that it can't exist without a private sector generating wealth; wealth which is taxed and redistributed to pay for it (the public sector).
Meanwhile, the private sector can, of course, exist without a public sector — but it is the wild west — no regulation or safety nets — and only the strong will survive.
#fairness #taxation #public #private #wealth
First posted 27 September 2022
Just over eight years ago I was writing about an art installation in the RDS. As a flashback Wednesday blog I'd like to share it again today.
8 June 2014
I spent this morning invigilating (policing actually, sans uniform) at the RDS exhibition of the Student Art and National Craft Awards. This diverse and engaging array of art and craft is all home grown – just what we need during these globally troubled times. I was delighted to see that Julianna Szabo has some striking work featured: a three-dimensional paper cut illustration of Dublin City centre with Stephen’s Green and Grafton Street.
A sculptural series by Camilla Hanney constructed from desiccated fish bones and displayed in an antique chest, is called Fish out of Water (not for sale so don’t get too attached). The pieces look like delicate shells - ethereal and beautiful. On the craft side Fiona Harrington’s Deserted Cottage is the Lace category winner – her framed abstract landscape, which uses both a traditional and unconventional approach to lace, is a fine-tuned balance of design, art and craft. Sorry, too late. Already sold. I also set my eyes on Saidhbhín Gibson’s semi-decomposed holly leaves ‘mended’ with needlepoint lace, which mimics the decorative venation of the leaves. Alas (but no surprise) that one gone too. The RDS Award of Excellence went to Eleanor Irwin’s A cabinet of Natural Curiosities: wasps, bees, mineral rocks, butterflies, sea coral and cacti are created out of cotton threads and thin copper wire crocheted and embroidered in layers. Up close these are simply stunning.
But the compassionate piece that almost moved me to tears I must write about. This is not a piece that a photograph conveys well – the photograph reduces it to a two-dimensional grotesque. It is only by seeing it live and experiencing it that you can come to your own conclusion, and reflect on your own personal reaction. Consequences of a Life Lived is the title Conor Frizzelle gives to his installation. It is a representation of an old Irish bachelor’s house by way of a room, but exposed to us as half-a-room, into which we stare, like on a film set; so we are at once the viewer and the voyeur. The inspiration for the work comes from Conor’s uncle who lived alone all his life (this info is in the catalogue notes).
In this room there is the life-sized model of a man sleeping in an arm-chair, head thrown back, mouth agape; he snores gently, his head also moves gently. Around him there is a scene of neglect in a gathering pile detritus. A cigarette burning down between his fingers has a teetering totem pole of ash about to fall off - and this same ash grey dust lies embedded in and around his fingers, just where thousands of other cigarettes have been. Time is standing still in this snapshot. Papers are strewn on the floor, old records, empty bottles, dirty plates; a typewriter on the table; an airmail pen-written letter on his lap is about to slip to the floor. But, it is the massive tumorous growth pouring out of the back of his head - a lumpen veined ugly mass contained within his skin, twice the size of his head and stretching towards the floor - that is profoundly shocking and disturbing. It is hard to believe that such a growth could be possible. I watched others viewing the exhibit, the sadness etched on their faces as they grappled with the story being told and what it meant; that it wasn’t a fictional horror story; it was a representation of a life known. And I wonder if the artist had, as a young boy, witnessed his uncle in this state, and later, in trying to make sense of the world through his child’s eyes, the depiction became a gross exaggeration. But I fear it is actually close to the truth; this is the world of his uncle; it’s as close a representation as he can get, in making this documentary piece. I am struck that this is how this artist wants to express himself: in this honouring of his uncle’s story, warts and all. An existential loneliness pervades this piece. We are all alone; and we only meet others on the bridges that we sometimes build between our islands. See it if you can. This is art of consequence.
Exhibition ends Sunday 10th August 2014
More info about this installation is available online (including a video). Search for Conor Frizzelle, artist, Consequences of a Life Lived.
#Art #Installation #Life
The "cell unit" of capitalism
Karl Marx observed in Das Kapital that "wage-labour is the basic 'cell-form' (trade unit) of a capitalist society” (Wikipedia). A business will be cold-hearted about the feelings of the trade unit whether it is machine or human. The more productive a cell-unit is per hour the more the business owner can turn a profit. Businesses game the system and the labour laws to maximise profit. A good example is the split shift in the food service industry.
An eight hour day
Roster worker from 11am-3pm
Lay worker off 3-6pm
Roster worker from 6pm – 11pm
So the business has a worker (a cell unit) it only has to pay for eight hours but forces them to be available for 12 hours. The worker has no dignity trapped in a low paid job with lousy conditions. What do they do during those three unpaid hours while they wait for the next shift to start? Find other work? Hang around in the park? Go to the library? Go to a café and spend money they can’t afford? Go home if they’re lucky enough it is nearby? In addition to this our laws changed some years ago so that workers are no longer paid anything extra on weekends or bank holidays. The industry especially needs its workers working hard those days (while all the rich people spend their surplus on eating out). But the worker has zero social life, working Friday, Saturday, Sunday and getting home late every night, exhausted. Not much to live for except the miserable wage.
The right to dignity
This is unconscionable and an exploitation of humans — a form of trafficking going on under our noses. All politicians should stand up for workers who are looking for better conditions. Their role as public representatives must be to help their constituents negotiate (their offerings of human capital) with employers, whether in the public or private sector. When the social agency of workers is being crushed by the system, there is no 'society' and we cannot call ourselves civilised.
Ireland should change the law, go on record as no longer willing to support this sort of unfettered capitalism that has gripped the western world. Everyone has the right to dignity in the workplace.
Politicians, it is time to step up no matter what your political hue happens to be: red, green or blue.
© Alison Hackett, posted 8 Aug 2022
Last October Sally Rooney decided not to give the rights to an Israeli publisher, Modan, to translate her latest book into Hebrew and publish it in Israel. Admirable of her to take a stand when we learn that Modan, a large Hebrew-language press, has ties to the Israel military. So far, so political. And the Boycotts Divestments and Sanctions movement must have been thrilled — global attention for their cause.
What happened next? Did a Palestinian publisher approach Faber, to buy the rights to translate Beautiful world where are you into both Palestinian, Arabic and Hebrew and publish it in Israel and the occupied territories? Let’s hope Faber/Rooney offer a small Palestinian press a good deal.
It will be a shame if those people who speak and read primarily in Hebrew or Palestinian Arabic don’t have an opportunity to reflect on her writing: the ‘polemic chapters’ presented in the form of Marxist and modern-day-gig-economy debates narrated in long emails between the main protagonist in the novel (a famous author) and her friend (a literary editor); the dialogue, artfully and seamlessly placed within paragraphs, so you often don’t realise you are reading a conversation buried within the characters’ unarticulated inner feelings. No need for Rooney to use the crudity of quotation marks and pressing a line-return TO LET YOU KNOW THE OTHER CHARACTER IS SPEAKING.
And the third element, her closing out of chapters with poetic notes. Small flourishes revealing the writer she is; bringing us stillness, the moonlight, the day sighing, the universe against which her imagined world rolls by.
It will be a sad thing if the Israeli and Palestinian people don’t have the opportunity, while living in their own territories, to buy and read this novel which has no questions to ask itself, just a desire to start a conversation.
#SallyRooney #publishing #Israel #Palestine #politics #writing #literature
This blog is another 'unpublished' letter, first written in October 2021.
© Alison Hackett, 27 July 2022
Alison Hackett — Director and founder of 21st Century Renaissance; author of The Visual Time Traveller 500 Years of History, Art and Science in 100 Unique Designs