Will global tax reform make the world a fairer place?

Will global tax reform make the world a fairer place?

Will global tax reform make the world a fairer place?

crowd holding a biden 2020 banner
Aoife McDonald

5th August 2021

 

In April of this year, US President Joe Biden proposed a reform of the global tax system that would set a minimum global corporate tax of 15 per cent.  

 

Agreed upon by the Group of Seven (G7) nations in June, the G20 in July, and now backed by 131 countries worldwide, the potential agreement will be the biggest overhaul of the international tax system in decades. All going well, the new tax rules will be legally binding worldwide by the end of 2023.  

 

The idea of a global taxation system, however, is not new. Some of the early ideas, which surfaced following World War II, were aimed at funding the United Nations or repairing war-torn economies. By the 1960s, the discussion had shifted toward international taxation as a form of multilateral aid for developing nations. 

 

In 1980, the discussion surrounding global taxation came to a head due to a report published by the Independent Commission on International Development Issues, known as the Brandt Commission. The report, entitled ‘North-South: A Program for Survival’, called for “universal taxation” – the collection of revenue from rich countries which would be redistributed to poor countries.  

 

Unfortunately, the timing was not right. Soon after the release of the report, President Ronald Reagan came into power in the US. His tax-cutting agenda quickly shut down the possibility of a global tax regime, and since then, tax regimes have been caught in a race to the bottom.

 

“Today, fewer than 20 countries have corporate tax rates over 30 percent, in comparison to more than double that number at the turn of the century.”

Between 2000 and 2018, 76 countries cut corporate taxes, while only 18 kept them the same or increased them. Today, fewer than 20 countries have corporate tax rates over 30 percent, in comparison to more than double that number at the turn of the century.

 

Now, in the wake of a global pandemic, President Biden has seized the opportunity for serious reform. Following the G7 negotiations, Janet Yellen, US Treasury Secretary, announced that “The G-7 economies came together to agree the post-pandemic world must be fairer, especially with regard to international taxation.”

 

But will it really be fairer?

 

The proposed global tax reform asks nations to agree to a minimum corporate tax rate of 15 per cent, with an aim to reduce the incentive for large multinational companies to shift their profits to the so-called ‘tax havens’ – Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Singapore, Switzerland, and, of course, Ireland.

 

These countries all have one thing in common – they are small. And because they are so small, these countries have to use competitive tax rates to survive in the globalised economy, because they are too tiny for competitive, large-scale production of goods. On top of this, they do not have many natural resources.

 

The natural course of action, in this case, is to prioritise attracting investment over collecting tax. So, while on the face of it, it seems unfair that huge multinationals can declare their profits offshore to avoid paying taxes, for Ireland and the other tax havens, this strategy is a means of survival in a globalised system not designed in their favour.

 

In fact, the term ‘tax haven’ may not be an entirely accurate description.

 

According to popular Irish economist and broadcaster, David McWilliams, at least, this label is misleading. It implies “a place where companies have a fictitious presence with little or no real impact in the greater society,” he writes.

 

That is certainly not the case here in Ireland, where last year alone, €15.1 billion in wages was generated by the multinational sector, and 20,000 new jobs were created, thanks to a low corporate tax of 12.5 per cent.

 

As a result, Ireland has refused to join the G7 and G20 in backing proposals for a restructuring of corporate taxation, warning that it may cost the exchequer over €2 billion a year.

 

“Whatever the effect of global tax reform on Ireland, it pales in comparison to the possible implications for the developing world.”

However, it may not all be bad news, as some commentators highlight the possible opportunities of increased taxes in Ireland – the ability to invest in housing, health and education.  

 

Whatever the effect of global tax reform on Ireland, it pales in comparison to the possible implications for the developing world. Even if the implications for Ireland are as bad as we expect, the country has the support of the EU and a highly educated workforce to cushion the blow.

 

In contrast, the plan offers little for countries with few corporate headquarters and lesser purchasing power.

 

The ongoing pandemic is deepening global inequalities, as the health systems and economies of developing countries struggle to keep their citizens safe, while rich countries keep vaccine production secrets to themselves. While we in the West begin our recovery, pandemic-related poverty is on the rise in the rest of the world.

 

In response to the proposed reform, Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam International said in a statement:

 

“Rich countries are forcing developing countries to choose between a raw deal or no deal. It is just another form of economic colonialism. This is not an ‘historic’ deal ―it is history repeating itself. Those who shamelessly rigged the global tax system to their benefit over a century ago have again ring-fenced the game for themselves.”

 

Only a redistributive global tax could attempt to tackle the public health emergency, climate crisis and widespread poverty of today.

 

A tax reform that would actually benefit the world’s poor would recover billions in underpaid corporate tax for all countries – but the rate of 15 per cent does little to end tax competition. Only 3 per cent of taxes recovered will go to the world’s poorest countries, while over two-thirds will go to the G7 and EU.

 

Instead, the proposed reform targets small rich countries (like Ireland) for the benefit of big rich countries (like the US).

 

As Bucher concluded: “It is bad news for tax havens, but will fail to levy funds developing countries desperately need to save lives and propel sustainable economic recovery from COVID-19.”

 

 

 

Featured photo by Gayatri Malhotra

This article was supported by: STAND Opinion Editor Olivia + Programme Assistant Alex

 

Greyhound racing is fast approaching its final lap

Greyhound racing is fast approaching its final lap

Greyhound racing is fast approaching its final lap

closeup of black greyhound
alex mulhare

29th July 2021

 

The greyhound racing industry is responsible for the deaths of up to 6,000 dogs in Ireland each year. 

 

In 2017, a business analysis report was prepared for Greyhound Racing Ireland by Preferred Results Ltd. 

 

The report notes that the high number of dogs culled each year in Ireland is due to the following factors: the dog “failed to produce qualifying times,” a “failure to produce desired entry-level times,” and an “unacceptable decline in performance.”

 

In 2020, there were 12,000 dogs bred in this country for the sole purpose of racing. 

 

As a direct result of high numbers of new dogs bred each year, Ireland supplies around 80 per cent of the greyhounds that race in the United Kingdom.

 

Although this is a decline on figures seen in previous years, the Irish greyhound industry continues to breed 1,000 per cent more puppies than it actually needs to maintain the sport. 

 

Speaking to STAND News, Petra Meyer of Clare Greyhound Sanctuary said, “the whole system is geared to produce and then discard surplus dogs, which is untenable from a welfare perspective.”

 

“There is waning interest in the sport, and the welfare issues are concerning to the general public,” Meyer continued. “But even if racing itself stopped, breeding might continue, and with the domestic market closed, breeders might look to developing markets…There is also a risk of illegal racing taking the place of regulated, legal racing, and that is a welfare nightmare.”

 

The sport is banned in many countries but continues to operate in Ireland, the United Kingdom, Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, and in four US States. 

 

Within these territories, greyhound racing tends to be a core component of the gambling industry, much like horse racing. 

 

Not only is the Irish greyhound industry benefiting from the exploitation of its dogs, but it also contributes to the country’s colossal gambling addiction. According to the Department of Health, Ireland is resident to approximately 30,000 people with gambling problems. 

 

“Irish people are the fourth-biggest gamblers in the European Union, losing about €1.36 billion in 2020 alone.”

Irish people are the fourth-biggest gamblers in the European Union, losing about €1.36 billion in 2020 alone. This would average out to a loss of €300 per resident in the Irish State.

 

Greyhound Racing Ireland is also in receipt of €19.2 million of State funding. This figure includes the additional €2.4 million that was allocated to the industry in Budget 2021.

 

In 2019, a RED C opinion poll commissioned by the Irish Council Against Blood Sports (ICABS) and Greyhound Action Ireland (GAI), revealed that 66 per cent of the Irish population believe that the Government should defund greyhound racing.

 

Irish greyhound racing lost several of its sponsors after RTÉ Investigates: Greyhounds Running for Their Lives aired on television in 2019.

 

This documentary exposed the darker elements of the industry, including 15 licensed knackeries that agreed to kill unwanted greyhounds for a fee of €10 to €35 per dog.

 

The Department of Agriculture told RTÉ Investigates that, “Dogs, including greyhounds, are classified as a Category 1 animal and cannot enter a Category 2 plant (knackeries), dead or alive.”

 

Writing for the Journal in 2020, Social Democrat TD for Cork South-West, Holly Cairns, said, “Attendance at greyhound racing meetings fell by 55 per cent between 2008 and 2018 and the combined loss for tracks between 2019 and 2022 is predicted to be €30 million.”

 

With public interest in the sport waning rapidly, perhaps it is time to listen to those who are left to deal with the repercussions of the greyhound racing industry.

 

Across the country, animal welfare organisations are vastly underfunded and struggling to stay afloat.

 

Gillian Bird of the DSPCA (Dublin Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) said in a comment to STAND News, “One of the main issues currently is that there is not enough emphasis or funding put into the after-race care of retired or injured animals.”

 

“Also, there is the issue of overproduction of greyhounds to fulfil the high standards required for the Irish sport,” Bird noted. “If the time trials were less high, then dogs of a lesser speed could be raced and not destroyed or shipped to god knows where when they fail the speed trials.”

 

In February 2021, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, announced Ireland’s first Animal Welfare Strategy 2021-25.

 

This strategy will “introduce a new system to improve greyhound traceability led by Rásaíocht Con Éireann.”

 

Minister McConalogue then launched the Animal Welfare Grant Programme for Registered Animal Charities for 2021 on 5 July.

 

In 2020, Homes for Unwanted Greyhounds (HUG) was funded through this grant programme.

 

The Irish greyhound industry has not yet been encouraged to contribute funding towards retirement programmes for its dogs despite its continued State support.

 

 

 

Featured photo by Derek Story

This article was supported by: STAND Programme Coordinator Aimee + Programme Assistant Alex

 

Is the EU migrant return policy ethical?

Is the EU migrant return policy ethical?

Is the EU migrant return policy ethical?

sign draped across a building that reads refugees welcome
Ellen Coburn

28th July 2021

 

The EU migrant return policy aims to increase return rates of asylum seekers to their country of origin by making border procedures as efficient as possible. Nonetheless, it remains one of the most contentious yet foundational elements of the Common European Asylum System. Since the increased amount of people fleeing wars in 2015 and seeking refuge in Europe, EU asylum policy has been polarising, with Europe often being dubbed “Fortress Europe” – an impassable fort with watchtowers and border guards prepared to stop at nothing to keep those seeking refuge out. In April 2021, the EU unveiled its very first strategy aimed at encouraging rejected asylum seekers to voluntarily return home and begin a process of reintegration in their country of origin.

 

On the surface level, this new scheme is marketed as being hugely cost efficient for EU member states and as a “more dignified way” for asylum seekers to return home, according to Ylva Johansson, EU Commissioner for home affairs. But does the voluntary returns and reintegration scheme really promote a more humane, compassionate approach to rejected asylum seekers and demolish the xenophobic backdrop of “Fortress Europe”?  Even so, the system of voluntary returns begs a wider question, one that brings ethics and humanitarian concerns to the table and one that asks, is the right of asylum threatened?

 

“If a migrant chooses to voluntarily return to their country of origin or transit, member states may offer to cover travel expenses to assist the return of the applicant and also offer financial assistance for a period of time upon arrival back to the country of origin.”

Before answering these questions, what positives, if any, arise from the EU’s new proposal? The new voluntary return strategy represents a key objective under the New Pact on Migration and Asylum which represents a holistic and inclusive approach that gathers together relevant EU policies to create a long-term and sustainable asylum and migration system. It differs from previous schemes in that the 2021 proposal provides a clearer framework for setting up assisted return programmes focusing on the reintegration of migrants who do not have the right to reside in the EU. If a migrant chooses to voluntarily return to their country of origin or transit, member states may offer to cover travel expenses to assist the return of the applicant and also offer financial assistance for a period of time upon arrival back to the country of origin. According to the Commission to the European Parliament and Council, the new system will focus on reintegration as a core component of a common EU system for returns and will theoretically help defeat the psychological and socio-economic difficulties that can arise from migrants returning to the community they fled from.  But what happens when voluntary return is neither humane nor ethical? Already the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights and the European Parliament have criticised the new returns scheme and have presented studies outlining the drawbacks in implementing a procedure merging asylum and returns, particularly with regards to cases concerning non-refoulement (the practice of not forcing refugees or asylum seekers to return to a country in which they are liable to be subjected to persecution).  

 

In 2018, a case involving voluntary return was brought to the European Court of Human Rights. The case originated in an application against the Republic of Finland by an Iraqi national who alleged that the expulsion of her late father to Iraq violated several articles in the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. After multiple assassination attempts were made on the applicant’s father’s life following his line of work, he sought international protection in Finland. However, over a year later, the asylum application of the applicant’s father was rejected by Finnish Immigration Services. Finnish Immigration Services accepted the facts laid out by the applicant’s father of the assassination attempts made on his life including shootings and car bomb attacks but stated that what the applicant’s father disclosed was hearsay and that these incidences had nothing to do with his personal circumstances or background. Finnish government officials believed that there was no imminent threat to this man’s life and he was to be returned to Iraq. Assisted voluntary return was granted to the applicant’s father and in November 2017, he left Finland. In December 2017, the applicant’s father was murdered by gunshot wounds to the head and body.  

 

The story of this case is by no means an isolated incident. Rejected asylum applications are a narrative known all too well by migrants around the globe who flee their homes, families, and friends because of imminent danger in search of a brighter, more hopeful future. Those who suffer the most unimaginable hardships, harrowing journeys and inexplicable losses are rejected and failed by a system that focuses more on how the EU can send away those who are the most vulnerable instead of prioritising reform of EU immigration services. Instead of focusing on returns, immigration services should instead be more focused on ensuring proper integration for those seeking asylum and proper alternatives to returning migrants. While the prospect of financial assistance and reintegration plans seem theoretically sound and optimistic, they stand for nothing when one must return to a country where political unrest, violence and war are rife.  

 

If the shoe was on the other foot, wouldn’t we want to be treated with compassion and empathy without the fear of deportation to a country that puts human life in imminent danger? Would the EU care more if these migrants were white Americans and not dark-skinned Middle-Eastern people? Perhaps this is a one-dimensional way of thinking about what is a very complex policy, but when a rejected migrant’s only option is to leave the country they sacrificed so much to get to, it makes me wonder, how ‘voluntary’ is voluntary return?

 

 

 

Featured photo by Maria Teneva

This article was supported by: STAND Programme Assistant Alex

 

Fianna Failing: can Micheál Martin hold on for much longer?

Fianna Failing: can Micheál Martin hold on for much longer?

Fianna Failing: can Micheál Martin hold on for much longer?

person casting their voting ballot
Sean Creagh

21st July 2021

 

It is September 2021: the Fianna Fáil TDs (Teachta Dála) have finally arranged to meet and reflect on both the abysmal Dublin Bay South by-election loss and equally poor performance in the general election of last year. All the TDs are gathered in a circle. “Okay Micheál, we are going to play a game of blind man’s bluff. Put this blindfold on and get in the closet,” Barry Cowen (TD for Laois-Offaly) instructs the Taoiseach. “Will there be anyone else coming in with me?” questions Martin. “Just get in the closet,” Cowen repeats with an exasperated sigh. The Taoiseach wanders unknowingly into the closet, the door slamming behind him. The rest of the Fianna Fáil cabinet continue their conversation in peace.

 

I will not be at this recently announced Fianna Fáil “think-in” meeting on September 1st, but I can only imagine it will go something like that. The tension between party members is palpable, combined with the prominent “leaking and sniping” going on and the unrest is almost too difficult to disguise at this point. Fianna Fáil is only going one direction in the polls; and now members want out.

 

The Dublin Bay South result was straightforward. Candidate Deirdre Conroy won just 5 per cent of the vote, finishing in a distant fifth place – an historic low for the party. This is in stark contrast to when back in 2011, even after bearing the brunt of the blame for the financial crisis, Fianna Fáil still managed to win 10 per cent of the same constituency. Now, they are trailing behind most major political parties and struggling to remain relevant in a rapidly changing Ireland. Ironically, the candidate that ran for them in Dublin South-East 10 years ago (Chris Andrews) has since switched his allegiance to Sinn Féin, possibly symbolic of what was to eventually come.

 

Naturally, a lot of the dialogue now centres around Taoiseach Micheál Martin. After all, he is the face of the party and the country itself. A growing number of TDs want him to step down before the next election, including one rebel Marc MacSharry (TD for Sligo-Leitrim) who was seeking 10 names for a motion of no confidence in the Taoiseach last week. However, for others, focusing on Martin alone is merely a distraction to the wider issues in the party. “It’s not all about the leadership. There are issues that need to be addressed that go much wider than that,” says Niamh Smyth (TD for Cavan-Monaghan).

 

So, if not Martin, then what are the issues at stake here? It is not like Fianna Fáil has been floundering for that long. They did win 44 seats in the Dáil back in 2016, a not-so-distant memory. Most of the key figures have also remained the same. So, what is the problem?

 

Put simply, most of the instability in Fianna Fáil support comes down to a lack of effective communication with voters. Particularly, they struggle to engage with voters below the age of 34, an age group only polling at 10 per cent first preference votes in the latest Business Post Red C poll. This perhaps correlates with the fact that Fianna Fáil have been mostly absent from social media for the last number of years, leaving Fine Gael and Sinn Féin TDs to joust it out over Twitter themselves. There at least seems to be some recognition in this department with Kildare North TD James Lawless, who addressed  the Dublin Bay South by-election results on Today with Claire Byrne. He acknowledged the disconnect between the Taoiseach and his ministers from voters.

 

Fianna Fáil has typically been the party of housing and social protection. But where are they when this is exactly what the voting public are crying out for? Where are these affordable estates for working families, and where are the council houses?”

There are also policy choices that no longer resonate with voters in 2021. Fianna Fáil has typically been the party of housing and social protection. But where are they when this is exactly what the voting public is crying out for? Where are these affordable estates for working families, and where are the council houses? Sure, there has been the COVID-19 pandemic at play in shutting down the construction industry, but that ultimately will not matter when people go to the polls. In a matter-of-fact sense, housing will either be there, or it won’t. Other political blunders such as the handling of fair wages for student nurses and the everyday financial consequences of the 2020 Finance Bill could also be considered factors in the party’s widening unpopularity.

 

In the end, there is no denying that what was Ireland’s dominant political party is now on thin ice. They still represent the status quo for many, which isn’t really a very exciting mantra to go with. As well as this, most of their voter base lies in the over-65 age group, which is an ageing demographic. is. Unless the party recognises the prevalent public desire for radical change, they too will be seen as an ageing, irrelevant political party.. There will need to be swift political shifts and pivots into how the party operates and manoeuvres, with some new faces at the helm.

 

There will need to be some hard conversations about how the organisation goes forward from here. Change can be painful, but nothing will be as painful as stagnating until you plummet down through to the ugly pit of irrelevancy. The facts are there: the Fianna Fáil brand is not as strong as it once was. This will be a case of knocking down the house foundations to build back better, ridding the party of any Bertie Ahern era ghosts for good- including Micheál Martin himself.

 

For now, it seems that TDs are at least aware of their party’s failings. They are happy to snipe at the Taoiseach from a distance and disassociate themselves from any major gaffes that the party makes (much to the chagrin of Martin). It seems they are happy enough to move away from him if it means that they themselves can survive a little longer. However, what they might not yet realise is that when you oust a political leader, there is always room in the closet for one more. “Who is next for blind man’s buff?” questions Barry Cowen spitefully.

 

 

Featured photo by Arnaud Jaegers

This article was supported by: STAND Programme Assistant Alex

 

Inside Amazon warehouses

Inside Amazon warehouses

Inside Amazon warehouses

warehouse worker looks at shelves stacked high
conor doyle

19th July 2021

 

At the start of April in Bessemer, Alabama, we saw the first unionisation drive of Amazon’s US history. The vote came against the backdrop of a plethora of complaints of poor working conditions lobbied against Amazon and, more broadly, the deepening inequalities we’ve seen as a result of the pandemic. It would ultimately fail, but what can we learn from this? And why should we care about it in Ireland? 

 

The poor working conditions in Amazon facilities have garnered a lot of attention. The most prominent, for the visceral reaction it invokes – is the urinating in bottles accusation. Many workers at Amazon’s ‘fulfilment centres’ and drivers alike have claimed the need to urinate in bottles – stemming from Amazon’s ruthless efficiency and productivity standards which doesn’t leave time for bathroom breaks. Amazon surveils its employees, tracking their ‘time off tasks’, with excessive time-off-tasking leading to write ups. Speaking to Vice, one employee said that they try not to go to the bathroom or get water for fear of being fired. This would not appear to be an unfounded fear, either. Bloomberg reported in 2020 that many Amazon workers are fired within a year or two of starting for productivity infractions.

 

Amazon of course denied this being the case – on Twitter. Proclaiming that if the urinating in bottles charge were true, no one would work for Amazon. However, much evidence that this does in fact take place was proffered to Vice reporter Lauren Kaori Gurley. And yet, people do still work for Amazon. In fact it’s the second largest employer currently in the US, behind Walmart – and growing. The sweet blowback of Amazon’s quippy tweet was that it laid bare the balance of power between Amazon and it’s workers. Amazon’s working conditions are such that people have to pee in bottles. Yet they still work there. In huge numbers. Bessemer, Alabama is a relatively poor town, with less than 15% of its population having attained a Bachelor’s degree. The notion that those warehouse workers – in a pandemic especially, are making a choice is nonsense. One Amazon worker who spoke to Vice, Catherine Highsmith, was laid off from her job because of the pandemic. She had heard bad things about Amazon and it’s conditions, but she was desperate.

 

In New Jersey, warehouse workers earned $24 an hour before Amazon moved in. By 2019, warehouse workers in New Jersey earned $17.50. In 68 countries where Amazon has opened one of its largest facilities – average industry compensation drops by more than 6% during the facility’s first two years.”

Amazon pay their workers $15 an hour. The same $15 that leftists in the US tried to force Joe Biden to install as the federal minimum wage earlier this year. This is also higher than the average for an order and stock filler in the US – according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, at $12.92. Amazon also provides healthcare to their workers. Two weeks ago Amazon also launched their AmaZen Zen Booth for meditation and wellness practice. Good right? Not exactly. 

 

In unionised positions, warehouse workers earn upwards of $30 an hour in the US. Bloomberg reported that one man – Joey Alvarado makes $30 an hour working with Stater Bros Markets – a southern Californian supermarket chain. Also, Amazon drives down warehouse wages. In New Jersey, warehouse workers earned $24 an hour before Amazon moved in. By 2019, warehouse workers in New Jersey earned $17.50. In 68 countries where Amazon has opened one of its largest facilities – average industry compensation drops by more than 6% during the facility’s first two years. 

 

Amazon has also adopted a gig economy model for its delivery workers where drivers download an app to accept assignments, Deliveroo or Uber style. The pay is $50 for three hours. When factoring in the cost of their own vehicle and fuel, it comes out at more like minimum wage. UPS, by contrast, has a similar model where drivers are paid by the mile and given a stipend for phone internet. They are members of a union. Many of Amazon’s workers struggle financially. There is little opportunity to move up or earn more money and more than 4,000 of Amazon’s employees are on food stamps in the US.

 

Only a few months after the facility in Bessemer opened up in March of 2020, a few employees met to discuss the possibility of a union. The working conditions being the catalyst. They met with members of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) to discuss the potential unionisation effort. Having weighed up the pros and cons, they decided to do it. 

 

So set in motion the historic and laborious effort of unionising in one of the most union averse companies and sectors in the US. Long shifts into the night, sleeping in cars, grabbing two minute conversations with workers as they were stopped at red lights, accumulating signatures. However, they weren’t the only ones working hard to sway worker opinion.

 

Anti-union leaflets were passed out and workers were sent texts almost daily. Workers were also forced to attend anti-union seminars during work hours. Amazon says this was simply to allow workers understand all the facts of joining a union and give them a chance to answer questions.”

Amazon turned its attention and thus ruthless efficiency into stopping its workers efforts at collective action. A shiny new anti-union website was set up – doitwithoutdues.com, apparently replete with cartoon infographics, dancing dogs and of course, fear mongering anti-union sentiment. I say apparently, because by the time I went looking – it had been taken down, such was the clearly unforeseen public distaste. The information on the website told its workers that if you’re paying dues it will be restrictive – meaning it won’t be easy to be helpful and social with each other. Care packages were sent out complete with t-shirts, pins and instructions on how to vote ‘NO.’ Anti-union leaflets were passed out and workers were sent texts almost daily. Workers were also forced to attend anti-union seminars during work hours. Amazon says this was simply to allow workers understand all the facts of joining a union and give them a chance to answer questions. 

 

This radical information campaign had the desired effect, too. Before the vote had taken place, workers spoke about Amazon cutting their wages and potentially shutting down the facility. When it was all said and done – the unionisation effort lost by 1795 votes to 738.

 

Why do we care? Especially some 6,000 kilometres away. 

 

Earlier this year it was reported that Amazon had attained planning permission to build a warehouse, not unlike the one in Bessemer, in Dublin. Only the latest in a long line of large tech facility openings in the Silicon Bog, or the Silicon Isle or the Silicon Republic or… Ireland has loads of tech jobs, is the thing.

 

Not only is this a problem for existing warehouse jobs – as previously mentioned it drives down warehouse wages. But Amazon also has a long history of bullying states, particularly around payment of taxes. In 2010, following pushes from Texas officials to pay $270 million in taxes, amazon closed its facility in the state and scrapped its plans of expansion. In Seattle in 2018, the city council debated a tax on large employers which was meant to pay for homeless services and affordable housing. Amazon opposed it publicly – telling a newspaper columnist in the state that it would halt plans to build one tower and reconsider its lease for a second. The tax was eventually repealed.

 

A lot has been made about how Ireland already shows it’s arse – otherwise known as it’s 12.5% corporation tax incentive – to attract foreign investment. But even apart from that, Ireland has a thriving tech industry with other ways of avoiding both tax and employment responsibilities. 

 

Martin McMahon, activist and host of the ‘Echo Chamber Podcast’ has been talking about bogus self-employment for a long time. This is the practice of falsely classifying a worker as self-employed, when they in fact carry out their work exactly as an employee. This is in order that the company needn’t pay PRSI or provide basic employment rights – maternity pay, holiday pay, protection from erroneous dismissal etc. He went before the Committee of Public Accounts in March and told that, extrapolating from figures from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) in the construction sector, that  €1 billion was being lost in tax revenue from this. 

 

He also mentioned that this practice was big in the technology and multinational sector, where the use of intermediary companies – third party companies which hire workers for tech firms, is prominent. It’s unclear what percentage of tech jobs in Ireland are misclassified as self-employed. However, I was in contact with a worker from a very large and ubiquitous social media company earlier this year regarding a piece of collective action he and his colleagues were taking. He and his colleagues are not classified as employees, despite working full time with the large social media company, on company provided laptops with a contract without an end date. They were pushing for basic sick pay. My understanding is that they got it. 

 

All this is to say that the multinational and tech industry in Ireland already uses its considerable weight to get its way. States like Ireland are either unwilling or unable to take action against these companies. Workers on the other hand, might be better placed.  

 

In Germany, where union culture is strong, Amazon warehouse workers went on strike and though not able to unionise, were able to get improvements in overtime scheduling, an increase in break rooms and a pledge by Amazon to pay Christmas bonuses – a standard practice in German industry. This piece of collective action in an industry with a long history of anathema to unions, both blue and white collar, is something.  

 

A Christmas bonus and a second room for tea seems a monumentally small something though, when considering the last year’s developments – I will admit. In a totally not deranged indicator of a perfectly unbroken society – Jeff Bezos added $74 billion to his net worth in 2020. The same 2020 that saw massive job loss and financial insecurity. 

 

Though the pandemic exacerbated it, Bezos’ feudal level wealth is not, of course, exclusively a consequence of his multiplicity of courier tentacles being our only connection with the outside world for the last year. His wealth has been growing in parallel with deepening inequality for a long time. 

 

Amazon’s size and influence is growing. 1.3 million people now work for the megacorp worldwide, and it looks as though a fulfilment centre is coming to Ireland. If there is any hope that Ireland won’t be bullied into accepting poor and dangerous working conditions in exchange for meagre taxes and a loss of autonomy in tax policy – it’ll be workers, not the state who does it. Perhaps that, rather than a win, is what we can take from the Bessemer effort. That there is worker consciousness growing out there, however burgeoning a stage it might currently be in. And that a worldwide worker consciousness, class consciousness, is what could bring about a reckoning for these companies. Failing that, we can learn meditation.

 

 

Featured photo by Nina Smirnova

This article was supported by: STAND Programme Assistant Alex

 

Cuba’s green revolution: what to expect when you’re expecting

Cuba’s green revolution: what to expect when you’re expecting

Cuba’s green revolution: what to expect when you’re expecting

a bowl of tomatoes is shared in the hands of two people
Ciaran Boyle

8th July 2021

 

Ripe ‘n’ ready but never really ripe or ready avocados on supermarket shelves. New bougie Ethiopian-Bosnian-Plant-based-Fusion food truck parking down the road. The bewildering stroll through an Asian supermarket searching for the eight poxy ingredients needed for the ‘quick and easy’ recipe you saw on Instagram. The unlimited options Deliveroo throws at us when we’re lying in bed at 3pm on Sunday dying a slow death caused by the night before. One of the benefits of living in the neoliberal (a pro-capitalist belief system that favours a freer trade market) age is the excessive choices we can make about what to shove in our gobs on a daily basis.  With the sheer volume of food available to us, of course we feel secure in knowing that a Big Mac is only a languid mash of our phone screens away. 

 

With the oncoming climate catastrophe, we’re about to see how insecure we really are. We’re standing in a nice warm shower about to step out into the cold harsh light of a winter morning. And realising we forgot a towel. And realising we’re in our partner’s parents’ house. And realising the bathroom is on the bottom floor. And realising your partner’s room is on the third floor. And realising you’re going to have to waddle through the kitchen covering your bits with a hand towel past your partner’s ma making breakfast. And their dad who is about to be abruptly disturbed from reading the Sunday paper to see the flash of your bare arse darting past. 

 

Sounds like a bit of a recurring nightmare but this is the state we’re in. The old neoliberal model of food production, that is ‘export what you’re good at, import the rest,’ leaves us teetering on the edge of catastrophe. Neoliberal globalisation, agricultural intensification and the push for high-yielding crops in the Global South has left us with fragile supply chains and more complex bureaucracy than Stalin ever dreamed of. The fragility of this system is deeply embedded but almost counter-intuitively, it’s also pressing the fast-forward button on the inevitable collapse. Monocropping culture (growing the same crop on the same land every year) destroying biodiversity, the overuse of fertilisers and pesticides ruining fertile soil and local ecosystems, and not to repeat myself but our ever-growing demand for more choices leaves us with a house of cards that is ripe ‘n’ ready to collapse. There’s a reason why food security is an urgent priority for everyone involved in climate change mitigation and adaptation. This is all without even mentioning the exploitative and oppressive socio-political aspects of the global food production system – that’s a can of worms for another day.  

 

The old neoliberal model of food production, that is ‘export what youre good at, import the rest, leaves us teetering on the edge of catastrophe.”

Our current response to this problem is based off of a conceptual framework called ‘ecological modernisation’ or the more commonplace waffle of ‘greening the economy.’ This basically amounts to let’s do everything in our power to keep the current economic and political systems intact while the tech bros plaster up the leaks as they spout.’ GMOs (genetically modified organisms), hydroponic farming (substituting soil with water) and plant-based meat alternatives are some of the solutions we’ve come up with under this self-deluding paradigm. We’re stuck in a rut of trying to tweak a system that creates the problem and leaves us more vulnerable to the consequences. It’s not all doom and gloom though, there are numerous examples of more stable and sustainable food production systems that can be replicated if we just took the time to look over the parapet.  

 

Right, so imagine if you can: overnight, Ireland is excommunicated from the EU. Facebook and all of the other Yank companies pack up and leave (ugh, the dream), all trade ties are cut and we’re left floating, lonely in the Atlantic and entirely dependent on ourselves. Pretty hard to picture. Well, this is a fairly similar scenario to the one that Cuba faced three decades ago. Cuba relied heavily on the USSR for subsidies and most of their imports, from oil to tomatoes, leaving them with a food system even more vulnerable than ours. With the collapse of the USSR, US embargoes and an economy over-dependent on sugar plantations, Cuba was left in the dystopic scenario that keeps people up at night thinking about climate change. According to the UNFAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), calorific consumption dropped by more than half of what it was from the late 1980s to 1993 while Cuba lost 80% of its international trade.  

 

During what was known as the Special Period, instead of crawling back to the US and asking for a handout, Cuba decided to look inwards. Without the oil needed for industrial agriculture and no way of importing fertilisers and pesticides, Cuba needed to be revolutionary for the second period in its short history as an independent nation. The focus of  its economy was shifted to maximise food production with the limited resources available. This shifted Cuba away from the exportation of mono-cropped agricultural goods, allowing it to focus on small organic and urban farms. Without degenerating into a click-bait article, you won’t believe what happened next… 

 

In the Cuban capital, Havana, 90% of the fruit and vegetables consumed are provided by these  ‘organopónicos.’ This provides income, employment and access to cheap, healthy and organic foods for the majority of the population in Havana.”

Cuba now boasts over 7,000  ‘organopónicos,’ small allotments in the centre of tower blocks, rooftops and gardens. In the Cuban capital, Havana, 90% of the fruit and vegetables consumed are provided by these  ‘organopónicos.’ This provides income, employment and access to cheap, healthy and organic foods for the majority of the population in Havana. Quotas are given to the government to make sure that the people of Cuba are well fed and the rest is allowed to be consumed by the farmers or sold in the markets for a small profit. The urban allotments were matched with the Programme for Local Agricultural Innovation that sought to push small scale organic farming and agroecology beyond the city walls. This has led to over 50,000 small farming cooperatives taking part in the programme where they can share knowledge, network and help tender a vision of the future of Cuban agriculture.  

 

The (very limited) international attention on Cuba’s green revolution has been portrayed with heady socialist idealism and the typical ‘we should go back to the good ol’ days of subsistence agriculture’ belief that is persistent in some sectors of the environmental movement. Romanticism aside, let’s be realistic. We’re not going to get your deeply cynical uncle Gerry to step away from his pint of Guinness on a Thursday evening to join the Ballywhatever Urban Farm Co-op. What we can do is look to Cuba as an example of a food production system that has built stability, provides cheap and healthy food, and is relatively invulnerable to external shocks, and say ‘’Hey, that might be a more straightforward solution than growing a steak in a Petri dish.” There are already examples which take this re-localised approach to the food economy such as, Transition Towns and Urban Farming Initiatives. We don’t have to go the full Castro but Cuba serves as an example of simple solutions to our ever-growing list of problems.  

 

 

Featured photo by Elaine Casap

This article was supported by: STAND Environment Editor Anastasiya + Programme Assistant Alex