When ICTU’s general secretary David Begg spoke about the government’s plan to cut public spending by €4 billion he said “What they are trying to do is too brutal, too soon and will militate against the possibility of any short-term transition to a new environment”. David Begg and many other ICTU leaders are not actually opposed to what the government are trying to do – they only differ on the scale of the cuts and the timeframe over which they should be implemented.
David Begg has made it clear that he opposes the governments’ plans to implement major cuts in public expenditure in order to reduce borrowing by 2013 to within the 3% range set by the European Central Bank. Begg says they should go more slowly and make the cuts over a longer period with the target date of 2017. He still supports the cuts, just spread out over a longer period of time!
These cuts will decimate the health service, damage our children’s education, impoverish people dependent on social welfare and put thousands of workers on the breadline.
ICTU’s decision to stage a day of protest on 6 November was arrived at after much “wailing and gnashing of teeth” at the Congress executive. Trade union leaders are divided over which is the best way to deal with the crisis facing their members.
The union leaders are divided not over how to fight and stop the government’s attacks and the employers’ race to the bottom but over the terms of entering new “social partnership” talks!
Most of the trade union leaders are out of touch with reality. Not surprising when many of them earn over €100,000 a year and haven’t a clue about the lives of ordinary workers. But more than this – a majority of the union leaders support the capitalist market system that caused the economic crisis and they believe there is no alternative to the government or the opposition’s plans for major cuts.
Working class people are enraged by the impact of the economic crisis on their lives. For them it is not about doing deals with Fianna Fail and the bosses but about trying to survive.
The anger of trade union members has pushed the union leaders further than they wanted to go. IMPACT is balloting for strike action in the event of a threat to their members’ jobs or pay despite the fact that some of its leaders are opposed to organising the 6 November protests!
SIPTU has lodged a 3.5% pay claim for its 34,000 members in the HSE. Yet SIPTU and ICTU president Jack O’Connor has said he would engage with the government in fresh talks if it had a proposition worthy of consideration!
Important and powerful forces are now aligned against working class people. The government has been joined by the media, IBEC, ISME, the ESRI and Fine Gael in a concerted campaign to get social welfare payments cut, the minimum wage reduced and to slash public sector workers’ pay. Twenty thousand public sector jobs are under threat. This will mean that thousands of teachers, nurses, doctors and others will lose their jobs.
The response of the ICTU leaders is not enough. The Socialist Party believes that the 6 November protests should be turned into a one day general strike that could stop all of the cuts by bringing down the government.
The union leaders have it in their power to mobilise all 650,000 of their members and their families in the biggest day of strikes and protests this country has ever witnessed. Brian Cowen’s weak government would crumble at the feet of such a movement.
Unfortunately, unless the union leaders have a “road to Damascus” experience a general strike will not be called. The majority of the union leaders are a liability and should be removed.
Get active in your union. Get organised. Let’s build a major opposition based on the idea of returning the trade unions to the control of the members, to use their power and resources to fight for jobs, oppose all cuts and create a society that puts the needs of working class people first.