Ireland: Stop the cuts, bring down the government

All out on 6 November – for a 24 hour General Strike!

There can be no doubting that Ireland is a country of ‘Them and Us’. For them: NAMA’s (National Assets Management Agency – a new body set up by the government to preside over the buying up of bad debts from Ireland’s banks) €54 billion bank bailout, €216,000 expenses for ceann-comhairle (parliament speaker), John O’Donoghue. For us: pay cuts, social welfare cuts, child benefit cuts, health cuts, education cuts and new taxes. €4 billion worth of cuts this December are to hit the quality of life of every working class man, woman and child!

The day of protest called by the ICTU (Irish Congress of Trade Unions) for 6 November is an opportunity for working class people to show their opposition to the government’s attacks. On 21 February, 120,000 marched against cutbacks and ICTU followed this up with their plan for a general strike on 30 March, only to call it off for nothing more than getting into new "social partnership" talks.

Mass protests against cutbacks in February

This "sell out" by the union leaders angered and demoralised many. Workers should question the motives of the Congress leaders for calling the protests on 6 November. The prospect of new "social partnership" talks has been mooted once again. Statements from ICTU general secretary, David Begg, and president, Jack O’Connor, indicate that their horizons are as low as ‘gaining leverage’ for these talks in order to mitigate the worst aspects of the cuts.

Some public sector union leaders are prepared to concede cuts in services, working conditions and even extending the working week as long as there are no pay or job cuts. 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 have not 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. The IMPACT trade union 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 (Ireland’s biggest general union) has lodged a 3.5% pay claim for its 34,000 members in the HSE (Health Service Executive). 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 (bosses’ organisations) and Fine Gael (main right-wing opposition party) 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 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.

For a 24 hour General Strike!

The Socialist Party completely rejects their approach. The starting point for any movement against cuts in public services and threats to public sector workers pay, jobs and pensions should be how to defeat the government’s plans.

The 6 November protests should be upgraded to a 24 hour general strike. A call by the trade union movement for a one-day general strike to defeat the government’s budget plans would receive the overwhelming support of all workers as well as the unemployed.

The Fianna Fail/Green coalition is weak. If ICTU was to really take "the gloves off", they could bring the government down and stop the cuts dead.

The media will soon be filled with the "cries" of government ministers, big business leaders and the bought and paid for charlatan economists who will be collectively condemning the unions for threatening the "nation’s" recovery and international reputation. They should be ignored!

The country has been brought to the brink of bankruptcy by Fianna Fail and those who slavishly support the capitalist market, in whose name 450,000 have been condemned to the dole.

Workers, young people and the unemployed must give them their answer by coming out on 6 November in their hundreds of thousands. The unemployed, the communities faced with cuts in vital services, health and education workers and private and public sector workers must be united in a common struggle to defend jobs, wages and conditions.

Fundamental political change is needed. The capitalist market that caused the crisis should be rejected. We need a mass working class party committed to establishing a socialist society in which the needs of the majority come first.

"I would urge all working class people, the unemployed and those who fear Minister Lenihans’ savage cuts to join the protests on the 6 November. Let us make this a day that Fianna Fail and the Greens will never forget. Let’s make this the start of a real movement to defeat the cuts"

Joe Higgins MEP (Socialist Party – CWI in Ireland)

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October 2009