Last Wednesday evening, in thick snow, as cars slid and sneaked tentatively past the wonderful Church of Ireland church In Monkstown – the one built like a chess set – I hopped on the 7 bus.
The driver was courteous and good humoured as he ferried dozens of people safely home.
There was no grumbling from him, just doing his job, lugging a 20,000kg people-carrier through Dun Laoghaire, up the Sallynoggin Hill around icy roundabouts, whistling as he went. As I waited to get off the bus, he looked in the mirror, winked, laughed and said: ‘‘Mind yourself now, head, Happy Christmas.” I thought to myself, he has taken me home, but how will he get home?
Where does he live?
He was about the same age as me, possibly with a young family, so where could he have afforded to buy and settle down in the boom?
Dublin Bus drivers earn â‚¬33,000 per year.
The chances are that he lives in one of the many new estates around Dublin and bought his house in the early 2000s. So he is in negative equity, facing higher taxes in the future – and, who knows, perhaps cutbacks at Dublin Bus.
As a driver of the number 7, he will be based at Donnybrook garage.
There are not too many bus drivers living in the D4 or D6 areas, so how will he get home? Who will take him home in the snow after the last bus, which he will be driving, has stopped running?
It is public sector workers like this man who have kept the country running in the snow. It is lads like this on the average industrial wage who get up early, trudge into work and take the rest of us from A to B. People like this didn’t cause the bust.
People like this didn’t lend to Anglo – or borrow from it. People like this won’t be bailed out by Nama; nor will they get paid obscene salaries to transfer bad loans from one state entity, AIB, to another state entity, Nama.
Rarely has the gross unfairness of our country been put in such relief as it will be this Christmas.
Our government believes that it is fair to ask this bus driver to pay for the gambling debts of the people who lent to Anglo Irish, AIB and Bank of Ireland.
The bus driver has already paid in decreased services and negative equity, but now he will be asked to pay again, this time in the form of higher taxes, to bail out the likes of Deutsche Bank that lent to AIB. If this corporate heist isn’t evident now, it has to be stated again and again, and every single day up to the next election.
The reason it should be is because this is a system called capitalism. If we drop the very essence of capitalism- rewarding success – and we replace it with a system that rewards monumental failure and gives the bill to the average worker who is innocent, then we undermine the entire country.
As a consequence, the election in March has to be a referendum on the banks. This country can remain solvent and can recover, but only if we separate the banks from the state.
Once we have done this, we must answer the question: who pays?
Who will pay for the misadventures of the European banking system? I say the European banking system because, for every borrower on the periphery of Europe, there was a lender in the core of Europe.
The euro has led to a huge cascading of funds out of the core banks into the periphery banks. Trichet has presided over a huge inter-bank, inter-country Ponzi scheme.
According to the Bank of International Settlements, the Irish, Greek, Spanish and Portuguese banks owe the German and French banks â‚¬984 billion.
They know they have very little chance of getting their money back because most of the money is gone, ploughed into construction sites and grandiose building projects which currently stand idle.
Because someone must pay, there are only five ways out of this:
(1) The periphery banks go bust.
(2) The core banks take a huge hit to their capital, with massive write-downs on these dodgy loans to the periphery. ( 3) The periphery taxpayer pays.
(4) The core taxpayer, mainly in Germany, pays.
(5) The ECB pays by printing more money and ‘‘giving’’ cash to the banks on the periphery.
Up to now the solution in Ireland has been that taxpayers in the poor periphery (like my bus driver last night) pay for all the mistakes of the periphery banks, in order to bail out the core banks for their mistakes.
It isn’t so much a policy of ‘‘burn the bondholders’’, as ‘‘burn the bus drivers’’.
This conceit keeps the periphery banks open, screws ordinary workers in poorer countries, and prevents the core taxpayers paying extra – and it is all presided over by the ECB.
But it is grossly unfair and, in extremis, it undermines the euro – because the long-term implication of all this is a prolonged recession on the periphery and the related and ongoing threat of a default.
This default threat is what has been driving up Spanish bond yields, because the markets know that, when they come back from their holidays, this problem will be there to face all of Europe.
2011 will be the year when the euro comes under enormous pressure, and it is hardly likely to end the year the same currency as it started.
This is Ireland’s best opportunity, because an EU-wide crisis gets us off the hook.
An EU-wide crisis is the only event that will prevent Dublin bus drivers paying for the sins of the likes of Sean FitzPatrick and all the Seanie Fitz wannabes at AIB, INBS, EBS and Bank of Ireland.
What does it say about our political elite that it will take a continent-wide crisis to protect the average transport worker, who has worked heroically in the past few days of ferocious snow?