Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Irish Postal Strikes: Initial Research

Initial research is showing that looking at the Irish Post Office strikes is going to be complex. I've been starting from keywords of "privatisation", "labour", and "strike".

Some Wikipedia articles, as good starting points:

Strike Action
Labour Relations

And a note on the right to strike in Ireland, from the US Department of State's Report on Human Rights Practices:

"The law provides for the right to strike, and this right was exercised in both the public and private sectors; however, police and military personnel are prohibited from striking."

I'm not yet certain if the right to strike is included in US law, or if it only applies to private companies. The Wikipedia article on Strike Action above says:

"The Railway Labor Act bars strikes by United States airline and railroad employees except in narrowly defined circumstances. The National Labor Relations Act generally permits strikes, but provides for a mechanism to enjoin strikes in industries in which a strike would create a national emergency."

Generally speaking, it looks, at least initially, as though strikes are far more acceptable at a policy level in Europe than in the US, especially for something as wide as the postal service. There have certainly been postal strikes here before, some lasting several weeks. I'll be looking into the effects of these past strikes next.

Meta: Comments

I've just noticed that there are some comments appearing on the Livejournal RSS feed of this blog. However, since it's an RSS feed, those comments don't get mailed to me, and they'll get lost when that particular article on the feed expires. That's rather a pity, and I suspect I've been missing some good discussions because of it. I'll try to include a direct link to the blog with posts in future, and in the meantime, if you're reading this and can remember what you said in comments on older articles, please do re-comment.

[A Political Education]

Monday, November 07, 2005

Agricultural Subsidies: Almost Conclusions

I've been doing a good bit more research into agricultural subsidies, and the effects they have on politics. At the heart of it, they're very simple - basic free market economics have a drive toward producing the goods that are most profitable, and to counter this, states offer money to produce goods that are necessary - wheat, milk, or the like. However, with demands now coming from various parts of the world (Brazil, most recently) for the USA to do away with subsidies, the response has been that they'll drop them when Europe does. And Europe is not quite unwilling to do so.

As I understand it, the Republican party in the USA is generally in favour of unfettered trade. As such, the current administration will probably be reasonably happy to stop paying subsidies. There are two reasons they can't simply do so. One of these is that with the subsidies gone, farmers will turn to more profitable crops, and the goods will have be imported from other areas, hence raising prices, with that money flowing out of the country. The second is the agricultural industry itself, and while it's not as powerful in terms of liquid cash as other industries, it reaches deeper and further in terms of influence. Washington is driven by industrial lobbying groups as much as any other mechanism, and a great many of the Republican states are stronger in agriculture than the more urban Democratic ones.

Europe's more left-leaning governments are much inclined towards subsidies to begin with, and agricultural subsidies are a major component of the economic functioning of Europe. The US offer to drop subsidies if Europe will do likewise has therefore led to some not inconsiderable campaigning, with France leading the pro-subsidy efforts. Ireland has thrown its weight behind France on this, at least officially, and probably with considerable public support. Part of this is because, two years ago, France did away with the connection between produce and subsidies, and agreed to pay each farm then in existence a standard subsidy for the following ten years, based on previous subsidies. The argument is that French farmers are now free to produce for the market, and after the ten years are up, the subsidies can be done away with. According to an article in The Australian, some French farms are now receiving 40-50% of their income in subsidies.

From that same article, "Across Europe, however, there is a growing view that the massive agricultural subsidies cannot be maintained. While gradually declining, agricultural subsidies still represent as much as 55per cent of the EU budget even though farmers account for less than 5per cent of the EU's labour force." Particularly considering the expansion of the EU, that number is becoming very significant.

At the core of it, the political maneuvering around subsidies come down to two points: money, and the principle of free trade. Money is a little alrge for me to examine just yet. I'll move on soon to examining free trade as a principle, but I want to look first at a topic that's having effects here in Ireland at the moment: strikes within essential services. One friend of mine in the US was surprised to find that the Post Office here is a company, not an arm of the state, and has asked me to comment on the effects of that. Given that there's no postal delivery today in Ireland, due to a strike that is sort-of going ahead despite some resolutions yesterday, this is rather timely. Of course, privitisation of services concerns free trade in any case, so I expect one to lead into the next.

Part of the point of this research, of course, is to make up my own mind on things. I haven't yet come to a conclusion about subsidies. It seems obvious to me that the production of necessities like wheat and milk should not be left to the market to determine, because it may choose simply not to provide them. Envoronmental concerns are also important, and they simply will not be addressed by the market. However, 55% of the budget for 5% of the workforce is clearly not sustainable. So I have more thinking to do, and while I'm moving my research on to other topics, I'll be keeping an eye on news coverage of subsidies.