It’s hard to work out what’s happening to the Unions these days. When I first started work thirty years ago, there were two unions in the NIE: the bolshie one that by reputation was quick to call people out on strike, and the one that always agreed with the bosses but were good at fighting individual cases. Since leaving for college as a mature student I’ve not worked in a unionised sector since. In ideal terms they should be looking after the interests of their members in the broadest sense. But the threat of further industrial action if the Irish government imposes as 5%, 6% or even 7% public pay cut looks like a man sawing off the branch of the tree upon which he sits.
For Gerard, we are getting close to the island of the sirens… Time for Ulysses to climb the mast and stuff wax in his ears? He quotes David Eagleman:
…the present holds more sway than the future. Recently, researchers used brain imaging to monitor people making money-now-or-more-later decisions, and they discovered that the neural networks involved in short- and long-term decision-making are fundamentally separate. In situations of choice, the two systems are often locked in battle against one another.
… People manage the influence of the short-term systems by proactively binding their future options. We see this when a person in good health signs an advance medical directive to pull the plug in the event of a coma, when an alcoholic rids the house of drink to avoid future temptation, or when a person socks money into a Christmas account to keep himself from spending it before December.
Such deals with oneself are what philosophers call Ulysses contracts, after the hero who decided in advance to lash himself to a mast to resist the sirens song.
This lengthening the shadow of the future is something that is common to left and the right. And even in the unions there are a few chinks of light… But the heavy anti intellectualism that currently has some union leaders in its grip is not helping the country negotiate a clear path into the future…
Nor is it serving the unions (so long a part of the disastrously pro cyclical plans of the establishment through the social partnership) well in their attempt to remain relevant in an era when disintermediation is trashing the predictable career path with which many of my own (now aging) generation became so comfortable.