Thursday, February 24, 2005

Plucky little Ireland

Is no more. Not so long ago, the Irish Republic could still plausibly play the role of the rebel child of the western world -- a little less wealthy, a little bit nonconformist, less cynical and less tainted by the imperial legacy of its bigger neighbours. And the travails of Irish emigrants in Britain and the USA were part of the foundation of progressive political movements in these countries (at least before the latter mutated).

Two disparate news stories bring to mind how much this has changed. First a little item way down in the RTE headlines notes allegations of disciminatory pay practices on Dublin's Big Dig:

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is to investigate claims that Polish workers employed on the Dublin Port Tunnel project are paid less than Irish employees ... The company says the claims have arisen due to a misunderstanding.

This is merely the latest of recurring allegations that overseas workers on big transport projects are, not to put too fine a point on it, screwed, with a willfully complicated corporate structure of consortiums, contractors, and subcontractors concealing who exactly is doing the screwing. The workers in question are nearly always from our fellow EU countries, which in theory would heighten the legal peril, but that hasn't dissuaded the capitalist running dogs from their behaviour.

As for this 'misunderstanding,' it'll be interesting to see the details. But P O'Neill's sources have explained that a standard scam on these projects is to pay the foreign workers what looks like the proper wage, but then impose massive deductions for local accommodation and trips home -- costs far in excess of what these services would actually cost if the worker was directly purchasing them. This of course is just the old company store scam from the Victorian days, but with a cheery leprechaun on top to make it OK.

But wait, there's more. Thursday's Washington Post has a damning story on how global corporate money is supporting the bizarre and ruinous personality cult in Turkmenistan -- one of Dubya's allies in the War on Terror. The cult itself:

The president's image [Niyazov, not Dubya] adorns vodka bottles and is shown constantly in the top right corner on national television. A 36-foot-tall, gold-leaf statue of the president rotates atop a 250-foot base to follow the sun. The streets of the capital, Ashkhabad, are shut down when he chooses to whiz around town in one of his cars. And he has renamed months of the year after himself, his mother and his book.

In what sounds like a nice synergy between bribes and flattery, foreign companies get business in Turkmenistan by agreeing to translate and distribute copies of the dude's book, and amongst those companies:

The Irish firm Emerol, which has contracts in Turkmenistan worth tens of millions of dollars, published the book in Lithuanian -- one of its directors is Lithuanian, according to company registration documents filed in Dublin.

A quick Google search reveals that this company seems to be an aspiring Halliburton, but with this stunt, it seems that the student may have already surpassed the master. One advantage that the Oirish company may have had is our deeper experience with personality cults, since we've been doing them in Ireland for quite some time now. Dev of course, then Charlie Haughey, and in an essential scaling up of the cult model, the drawing in of other family members as with Bertie Ahern. Maybe this will be something for Bertie and Dubya to compare notes on during St Patrick's Day.

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