Northern Irish capitalism: Misery and exploitation for workers and young people

Working class and young people have seen their wages eroded by an increasing cost-of-living, leading to a real downturn in standards of living. And the economy in the North seems to only be getting worse. Business insolvencies (effectively bankruptcies) in the last quarter of 2023 were 62% higher than in the previous year and were at the highest rate since the data series began in 1960.

By Paudie McKee

The strike wave that gripped the North over the last few years shows that working class people are fed up with low pay, poor conditions, and a lack of opportunities. Workers here earn 11% less than their counterparts in Britain, GDP per capita is 22% lower, and the region has the highest economic inactivity rate in the UK. 

Working class and young people have seen their wages eroded by an increasing cost-of-living, leading to a real downturn in standards of living. And the economy in the North seems to only be getting worse. Business insolvencies (effectively bankruptcies) in the last quarter of 2023 were 62% higher than in the previous year and were at the highest rate since the data series began in 1960. 

Economists often attribute Northern Ireland’s economic malaise to low levels of productivity. The ‘productivity gap’  between NI and Britain has remained steady between 15 to 20% since the Good Friday Agreement. 

This crisis can only be understood in the context of the broader crisis of capitalism globally, and specifically in the UK. Since 2008 the economy has seen little-to-no increase in productivity largely due to a complete lack of investment in manufacturing, infrastructure, research,  education and training. 

Capitalists will only invest money into an industry if they can secure a profit. While good, well-paid jobs, increased education opportunities and fully-funded public services are all desperately needed in the North, there isn’t  as much profit from these things as what can be gotfrom gambling on the financial markets or on other assets such as housing. 

Minister for the Economy, Conor Murphy, has promised to increase the number of workers in ‘good jobs’, address regional imbalances, improve productivity and reduce carbon emissions. But the current economic crisis didn’t come from nowhere, it has been fed by years of neoliberal capitalist economic policy from Stormont – for example PFI schemes that have transferred billions in public money to private companies, as well as ruthless cuts to our public services. The entire approach of Stormont has been to pander to the business owners and global corporations, for example through advocating for the reduction of corporation tax as a handout to the rich. 

With the Tories demanding a £113 million increase in revenue from Northern Ireland, Stormont will be looking to attack our public services to make the working class pay for this crisis. All that the Executive parties can offer workers and young is further misery and exploitation. It is urgent that working class people and their trade unions prepare to organise opposition to any attacks made on our living standards.

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