Being a Brazilian student in Ireland allowed me to extend my disheartening attitude towards the government across the Atlantic, and while in my mind a voice proclaimed “Europe cannot get any worse than South America”, there are indeed embedded problems along the vast Irish green fields. Bureaucracy, the Catholic church, undernourished respect for private property and insensitive laws, all intertwine before their two almighty judiciary systems with the blessings of front bench politicians. The latest upsetting news to reach us and to affect my friends’ lives directly are always, somehow, related to the newest “scandal” or “strike”. This time the scandal took place in Brazil whilst the strike happened in Ireland.
Brazil’s meat market is one of the four biggest in the world and generates more than $60 million worth of meat on an average day. The government holds 20% of JBS, Brazil’s largest meat company and the world’s biggest poultry exporter, and is responsible for subsidizing major companies by lending them money through BNDES (National Bank for Economic and Social Development). In a classic pyramid scheme and a crystal clear example of corporatism, politicians (from two main political parties) and meat producers bribed state food inspection supervisors into re-branding rotten meat in order to keep the market functional.
Named “Weak Flesh”, the operation conducted by the federal police unveiled a cluster of contacts which extends for more than 3 states with favours from the Minister of Agriculture himself. At this point no one knows for how long this activity was ongoing, but the global market certainly responded faster than the judiciary system. On the very next day the scandal exploded, Europe, China and the US imposed sanctions or upheld imports altogether until further notice, bringing the Brazilian economy into serious trouble. Meanwhile, arrests have been made during that same week, yet not a single powerful person has been brought to testify before court.
As usual, small companies are unable to grow under the crony capitalist duo, which has been ongoing for a long time. Big companies and governments are best friends and it is practically impossible to break their symbiosis. Unfortunately, their relationship is not always transparent and often hides itself under the “we know what is better for everybody” flag. While we are able to trace back the beginning of food-inspection to Sinclair’s American socialist novel “The Jungle” (published in 1906), strikes were a direct consequence of dissatisfaction regarding work conditions on the ships on the other side of the Atlantic. Sailors’ gatherings in London were the beginning of today’s unions, therefore it is inevitable to draw a parallel between public shaming for not being associated with an union and an invitation to walk down the plank in the 18th century.
When a public sector or an entire industry backed up by government goes on strike, any city is likely to come to a screeching halt at some point. Bus strikes, like the one that happened in Ireland for the last three weeks, can directly harm lives due to the vital character of these services. We all rely on public transport, and if drivers decide to stop working for whatever reason (this time the demand was pay raises), we all lose. Almost 100,000 people, including 1,500 children, suffered from the commercial inter-city Expressway lack of services: they could not go to work, which affects local economies, and were unable to attend school. Besides, the company whose employees were on strike estimates its losses to around €10.5 millions.
As my friend Joseph Kavanagh pointed out, “the main problem is twofold: first you have the Unions (SIPTU & NBRU) exploiting political capital following recent wage concessions given to Luas and Dublin Bus workers; second, they are holding the public to ransom”. We both agree free market competition to be the remedy to such systemic irrational mentality because it is unacceptable for a company to lose over €9 million in 2016 alone without facing its end straightway. The Minister of Transport Shane Ross said he would not intervene in the industrial dispute, which makes the situation of this strike even more absurd.
We all know that the only way to raise employees’ salaries is to pass along the cost to the payer, yet the ones on strike believe their demands to be natural rights. To ignore the fact that money does not magically appear at the end of the rainbow (possibly granted to you by mythical leprechauns) is a dishonest attitude and proof of utter ignorance. Politicians cannot raise salaries by writing down on a piece of paper whatever the amount people think they deserve, and neither does any CEO. Regardless of common prejudice towards privatization, we all benefit from competition and decentralization. According to a study (Jerch et al., 2016), unions are responsible for the imposition of two major obstacles: they place substantial limits on the use of part-time workers, therefore making it difficult to balance the number of workers related to peak rush and midday lull hours, and at the same time enabling them to negotiate for wages above the marketplace (supply shortage associate with high demand equals higher prices). Strikes are the way unions singled out to subvert the system, but their actions are solely performed in order to benefit their members’ self-interests, not the taxpayers’.
Brazil’s meat scandal and Ireland’s bus strikes are just the tips of two sinking icebergs. Both countries experience the same problems, only differing in the shapes they take. Both countries are struggling with a political power suggestible to special interests, that being companies or unions.
It is easy to pinpoint where it all starts, and it has been proven countless times that society thrives best in places where the government’s power is reduced. Trust cannot flourish in a heavily regulated environment and cannot be forced upon anyone. We cannot hit back proportionally when our adversary has taken so much control away from us, yet we must try, wherever we find ourselves at: South America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East. Our ideological opponents have many faces and might have different positions in society, ranging from health inspectors to bus drivers, and it is essential to dissociate people from the positions they occupy.
If you find yourself questioning the libertarian perspective, keep in mind that we do not fight against people, we fight against the power structures that they represent.
Beatriz Gietner is a physicist and ESFL local coordinator currently undergoing a masters in Science Education at Trinity College Dublin.
This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. European Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions. If you’re a student interested in presenting your perspective on this blog, please contact [email protected] for more information. Header picture source: Kiwiev/WikiCommons.