Ireland: Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) ballots for 30 March general strike

Scrap the ‘pension levy’ – Make the bankers, speculators and big business pay for the crisis!

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) is conducting a ballot all their affiliate members for a general strike on 30 March 2009. If the strike goes ahead, this significant and welcome development will be the first time since the tax movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s that a general strike will have taken place.

The call by ICTU reflects the massive and growing anger felt by workers against attacks by the government and employers on their working pay and conditions. This anger was reflected in the tremendous turn out at the demonstration in Dublin on 21 February (see ‘Ireland: Over 100,000 workers demonstrate against government cuts, 24 February 2009 on when 120,000 workers took to the streets against a new pension levy that the government have imposed on public sector workers. The levy, which is, in effect, a pay cut, will slash the wages of an average public sector worker by 5 – 6%.

Despite Saturday’s mass demonstration, the government is playing hard ball and has refused to back down. It is pushing to pass legislation that will bring make pension levy Irish law.

However, notwithstanding that ICTU leaders are calling for a general strike, they are not completely opposed to the pension levy. They simply want it changed, believing that higher paid workers should take more of the burden from the lower paid. The government hinted they may be open to “tweaking” the levy, as long as the overall savings remain the same.

An aspect of the call for a general strike for ICTU is therefore to get the government and employers to come back to the negotiating table and to re-establish a three-year social partnership deal. Social partnership discussions broke down last month precisely over the issue of the pension levy.

This is a hated, right wing government intent on making working class people pay for the crisis. Their current approval rating is a paltry 16%. It is pathetic that the union leadership is striving to maintain the pretence of social partnership. Instead the general strike should be a mass mobilisation to roundly defeat the government and its policies.

Union leaders attempt to do deal with government

It is likely that there will be concerted attempts by the union leadership to try and get the government to make changes to the pension levy before the strike is due on 30 March. They may be successful but whether this will be sufficient to placate the anger felt by workers is not clear.

The economic crisis is deepening and the government finances are in tatters. The government is determined to make these cuts in public sector wages and will not back down easily. However, if the levy was recalibrated towards workers on higher wages, to lessen the burden on low paid workers it could diffuse some of the anger and be used to cut across the general strike.

Any such compromise would likely enrage many who are on slightly higher wages, such as civil servants, teachers and police. It is possible that the momentum behind the strike may become too much for the union leadership to hold back, even if they wanted to agree some rotten compromise.

There will be a one-day strike of lower paid public sector workers this week. Bus and rail workers have balloted for strike action and other unions are also balloting. Protests involving taxi drivers and the police are also taking place.

A deepening economic and banking crisis, a weakened government implementing a vicious programme of attacks on living standards, the return of mass unemployment – not seen since the 1980’s – all mean there is real anger building up in Irish society and the potential for explosive developments is inherent in the situation.

The Socialist Party says:

  • The one-day general strike on March 30th must be a mobilisation to defeat the pension levy and the policy of making working class people pay for the crisis
  • Scrap the pension levy for all public sector workers – no to any cuts in worker’s wages
  • No to ICTU’s proposal for a ‘Social Solidarity Pact’, which would mean working class people paying for a crisis they did not create – make the bankers, speculators and big business pay
  • No return to social partnership – for an independent, democratic and campaigning trade union movement that fights to defend the jobs, pay and conditions of all workers
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