Workers unite to defend jobs and wages

No to social partnership For democratic fighting unions   ONE HUNDRED and twenty thousand marched through Dublin in the biggest workers demonstration in 30 years. Following on from the success of the 21 February demonstration the ICTUs’ executive committee called for all of its affiliates to ballot their members in the South for a one-day national strike on 30 March. Here STEPHEN BOYD looks at the situation.
  • No to social partnership
  • For democratic fighting unions


ONE HUNDRED and twenty thousand marched through Dublin in the biggest workers demonstration in 30 years. Following on from the success of the 21 February demonstration the ICTUs’ executive committee called for all of its affiliates to ballot their members in the South for a one-day national strike on 30 March. Here STEPHEN BOYD looks at the situation.

AS ICTU general secretary David Begg explained, the real purpose of calling the one day strike on 30 March, is to push the government and the employers back to the talks table with the first item on the agenda – ICTU’s three year “social solidarity pact” – a new “social partnership” deal with the bosses and the government that are currently putting the boot into working class people – making them pay for an economic crisis not of their making.

Unfortunately for the hundreds of thousands who have and will lose their jobs, for the workers whose wages are being slashed through government levies, increased taxes and employer imposed pay cuts – the 30 March strike call is not a serious attempt by the union leaders to defend you.

For 21 years the union leaders through “social partnership” assisted the employers and the government in a massive transfer of wealth from the working class to the rich. During all of the years when the property speculators, the construction industry and the corrupt bankers along with the multinationals were making hundreds of billions in profits, the union leaders did their best to ensure there was industrial peace.

Paul Sweeney the economic adviser to ICTU wrote in the Irish Times on 31 January: “This global mess was generated by privatised, deregulated and ultra-free markets. All countries, including Ireland, must now abandon this redundant economic model.”

It is the height of hypocrisy that the ICTU leadership and its advisers should be coming out now attacking the “privatised, deregulated and ultra-free markets” which it helped prop up and support for the last 21 years through its involvement in successive “social partnership” agreements. The union leaders were in bed with the privatisers, the profiteers and the free marketeers!

Paul Sweeney also wrote: “… when the market comes out of rehab, it must be fundamentally reformed and learn to operate under greater public oversight, or we will have learned nothing”. It seems that the ICTU leaders are the ones who have precisely learnt nothing if they believe that the “market system” can be reformed and that their 10 point plan (see page 2) will provide a decent life for working class people.

The anger that exists throughout the working class and in the ranks of the unions has forced the ICTU leadership to bring tens of thousands out on to the streets. However the leadership are cynically trying to dispel some of this anger, to “let off steam” and in the process use the working class to further its “social partnership” agenda. The ICTU leaders are like a whining dog that’s been kicked out in the rain by its IBEC and Fianna Fail masters begging to get back in again or else it will organise strikes!

Along with the economic crisis there is also another crisis that is impacting on the lives of working class people and that is a crisis of leadership in the trade union movement. Faced with unemployment skyrocketing towards 500,000, €16 billion in public spending cuts that will decimate the health service, the education system, social welfare provision and a full scale race to the bottom in wages and conditions – the trade union leaders have raised the white flag of surrender before even engaging in battle.

Yet the message coming from many sections of the working class is that they are prepared to struggle against the impact of the recession.

The strike by 13,000 low paid civil servants in the CPSU on 26 February and the magnificent occupation by the workers at Waterford Crystal are examples that should be followed. The militancy that is growing in society is also expressed by the 120,000 who marched, in the protests by the taxi drivers for a decent income, the Gardai against the public sector pension levy and the announcement by PDFORRA, the soldiers organisation, that they would not be used as strike breakers.

Empty rhetoric

This militancy is not matched by a response from the union leaders. In factory after factory the union leaders have done nothing to fight job losses. In Bausch & Lomb in Waterford when they announced 195 job cuts a SIPTU representative said “Naturally we are disappointed as we had hoped that the recent switch to short-time working would have avoided the need for job losses at the plant. We are also disappointed that the company could not rule out the possibility of further redundancies in the future.”

That was it. From the biggest trade union in the country empty rhetoric, no plan whatsoever to fight the redundancies. The union had accepted the three-week month in the hope it would save jobs. Now they are accepting redundancies in the hope it will save the rest of the jobs. Yet workers leaving the plant were more realistic with one saying, “The fear amongst the workers is that this is just the beginning …Everyone is very worried and upset.”

This example gets right to the heart of the problem. The union leaders are working at “assisting” the employers to get through the recession! When the reality is employers who made mega-profits are throwing workers on to the scrap heap to protect those profits and their accumulated wealth.

Instead of issuing words of regret about the job losses at Bausch & Lomb a multi-billion dollar corporation, why has SIPTU not demanded that the company open up its books and show the workers where all of it profits have gone from the years of the boom. If SIPTU and the TEEU don’t fight to save these jobs then its possible many more if not all of the jobs could be lost.

As part of a co-ordinated strategy to drive down wages across the whole economy starting in the public sector with the pension levy, the government, Fine Gael, Labour and IBEC have been chanting the same mantra – Irish workers are uncompetitive.

The government and IBEC claim that Irelands’ exports have been falling because workers’ wages and the cost of the public sector are too high. These are myths peddled by the representatives of big business who can see an opportunity in the recession to lower costs, protect profits, lower public expenditure and even open up sections of the public sector to the profiteers.  The South has one of the smallest public sectors and lowest levels of public expenditure of all of the advanced capitalist countries.

The Construction Industry Federation, who represent those who made obscene profits during the boom are demanding that workers take a 10% pay cut. This has nothing at all to do with being more competitive – you can’t export houses – it is simply to protect profitability.

Irish exports have been falling and the main reasons are the world recession with the fall in demand for commodities along with the fall in the value of the US dollar and sterling.

In the first nine months of 2008 the South of Ireland had €65 billion in exports, 18.4% went to Britain, 19% to the US and 23% to other non-euro areas. Therefore the value of the euro versus these currencies has a huge impact on sales of Irish exports as does the fact that Britain and the US are in the depths of a major recession.

According to the OECD in a comparative survey of labour costs for 30 countries, Ireland (South) came 22nd. Irish workers are cheaper to employ than workers in Britain, the US and every other eurozone country and they also have one of the highest productivity rates in the world which has risen at three times the average rate of the eurozone countries over the last ten years.

The 30 March strike could be an important opportunity for all workers, private and public, to unite and give the employers, and all of the right-wing political parties a message – we are not going to pay for your economic crisis. It could be the start of a serious campaign by the trade unions to defend jobs and wages.  However, there is a very good chance that this strike will not take place because ICTU will have entered new “partnership” talks and the strike will be called off. 

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