In Brian Friel’s acclaimed play, Philadelphia, Here I Come, the conflict between public and private is central to the play.
Gar O’Donnell, the central personality, is a dual character. Gar Public is “the Gar that people see, talk to, talk about”, while Gar Private is “the unseen man, the man within, the conscience”.
There is always conflict between public and private, and none more so than in the world of employment. When news broke last week that employees at Leitrim County Council were to continue getting a half-day off (outside their annual leave) in recognition of a traditional local festival that no longer takes place, that conflict heightened just another notch.
When Dublin Bus drivers decided to strike unofficially because of collectively agreed changed work practices, inconveniencing most people who live and work in the capital, private sector outrage at the public service jumped yet again.
As one colleague said, “I think I hear the sound of my suitcases packing themselves”.
Just like Gar Public, public sector workers are the ones being scrutinised and talked about.
Local election candidates out canvassing at the moment are reporting a strange phenomenon; civil, almost friendly welcomes from many of the newly unemployed who have been dropped in their droves from the private sector workforce… and doors in the face from their public sector neighbours who still have their jobs.
Public sector workers have suffered an unfair pension levy. Private sector workers have suffered either the loss of their jobs, or equally unfair pay cuts.
While there’s a huge divide, there’s one simple uniting factor. We might be in the soup, but we are all in it together, and whingeing is not going to help us.
For Gar, the answer to his conflicts (with himself, his father and his life in Ballybeg) is simple: Philadelphia. Unfortunately, emigration isn’t currently an option for either private or public sector workers.
While our solution may not be so clear-cut, one thing is clear. Like Gar, we are fighting ourselves. So maybe it’s time to pull together and act, not like two dogs with a bone, but like one society facing the biggest threat to our common interests in generations.