Ireland: 2010 – 15 billion Euro for banks…

Savage budget for workers

Below we publish two articles from the January edition of the Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland)

2010 – 15 billion Euro for banks…

First it was the flooding of November. Then the country ground to a halt because of freezing temperatures. While the real impact of climate change is been shown, these events also show that the policies of the government are putting the general public in serious danger.

They promoted house building anywhere, including on flood plains, to make a quick buck. State agencies ignored reports on the dangers of flooding because they didn’t want to spend the money to keep the public safe.

Transport chaos because of the freezing weather is not inevitable. It is much worse because of their transport policy that relies on cars and roads rather than building a proper public transport system, particularly based on rail and trains. Then they didn’t have the stocks or staff to grit the roads or pavements properly. The potential for public services particularly the health service, which is already reeling from cutbacks and mismanagement, to collapse under pressure in these types of emergencies is clearly shown.

The need for proper public services and infrastructure is shown by these events. In fact without the existing emergency services and public servants, the problems could have been much worse. There were also many examples of ordinary people up and down the country who selflessly came to the assistance of people who were stranded or in difficulty.

In contrast, promoting privatisation and greed instead of safeguarding and developing public services has been the central policy of government for years. They don’t care and in fact they are intent on using the financial crisis to force through much more draconian cuts on public services over the next four years.

The chaos caused by the weather is just the latest reason why this government must go. It’s part of a long list of reasons. That the cuts and attacks on public services are taking place so the wealth can be used to bail out bankers, builders and to continue with the profiteering policies of the capitalist market, is a disgrace.

The billions of cuts in the budget will depress economic activity. The cutting of public sector workers pay is already being used by bosses in the private sector to impose more pay cuts. The result can be a downward spiral where mass unemployment will be here to stay and living standards will be slashed. Young people will be denied a job and a future and for their trouble will be harassed by the department of social welfare and denied their rights.

The weather did what the trade union leaders refused to do – bring the country to a standstill and undermine and expose this government.

People are very uncertain about what the future holds. Many are disappointed or even a bit demoralised at the state that the country is in and the lack of real fight or alternative being put forward by the trade union leaders.

After some crashes there is recovery. But in Ireland, because of the policies pursued, after this crash we are facing years of serious crisis. We need to kick out this government but we also need to fundamentally break with economic policies that put profits before peoples needs. The future of this country is not represented by this government but by the likes of the emergency workers and other ordinary people who have made a difference during the recent problems.

It is now necessary that workers reclaim the trade unions and turn them into fighting organisations that will defend living standards. We also need a real political alternative. The Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland) is campaigning for the establishment of a new mass party that opposes the domination of the economy by big business and fights for socialist policies that cater for the needs of the majority not the profits of the few.

ICTU leaders fail – By Stephen Boyd

ICTU’S (Irish Congress of Trade Unions) "plan of action" to oppose the pay cuts imposed on public sector workers is vague and doesn’t outline a clear strategy as to how the cuts can be reversed.

ICTU’s Public Services Committee is attempting to do the impossible.

They are trying to come up with a plan of industrial action which will have a minimal impact on their members pay and on services to the public, while at the same time putting sufficient pressure on the government to force them to overturn the pay cuts. It can’t be done.

If there is to be a fight to reverse the Euro 1 billion in public sector pay cuts, then it won’t succeed without major strike action that directly impacts on the functioning of government and the provision of public services.

Many public sector workers view the events of the last 12 months through jaundiced eyes. Trade unionists had their hopes raised on a number of occasions when the union leaders actually called major demonstrations and strikes. Yet, instead of driving home their advantage and following up these actions by escalating the strikes and mass mobilisations against a weak government, the union leadership chose the path of conciliation, "partnership talks" and compromise. What they got in return from the government was a kick in the teeth, the ending of "social partnership" and savage cuts in pay and funding of public services.

It is not surprising therefore, that many public sector workers question the purpose of taking further industrial action. This is not because they accept the pay cuts but because they have no faith in the union leaders. The dogged adherence to "social partnership" by ICTU as a substitute for a concerted campaign of strike action has directly led to the major cuts in public sector workers pay.

The culmination of this strategy that was doomed to fail was the humiliating spectacle of ICTU trying to negotiate a deal with the government to deliver fundamental "reform" in the public sector.

"Reform" that would have resulted in thousands of job losses, major cuts in overtime and allowances (which many depend on to supplement poor levels of basic pay) in return for a "voluntary" 12 day lay off, in effect a 5% pay cut.

The trade union leaders’ failure to stop the imposition of the public sector pay cuts has laid the basis for a major assault by employers on pay across the private sector and in semi-state companies. The government has also made it clear that they intend to impose further pay cuts in the public sector. The cuts in unemployment benefit and in particular the draconian cuts in rates for young people are preparing the ground for a cut in the minimum wage.

A major attack on the pay and living standards of every worker is now on the cards. Yet we keep being told there is no alternative – "we" need to be more competitive. According to trade union economist Paul Sweeney, "It is worth noting that Ireland still has one of the highest levels of productivity in the world. However, the last three quarters … saw the biggest fall in unit labour costs in the 30 state OECD occurring in Ireland … This again undermines Minister Lenihan’s claim that Irish unit labour costs are the highest in the Eurozone".

The government outrageously claimed that if they had not cut public sector pay then they would have run out of money to pay wages by this spring. Yet an RTE (public TV broadcaster) ‘Prime Time Investigates’ programme on the banking system estimates that a further Euro 15 billion will be given to the banks this year. They can find Euro 15 billion for the banks but nothing for public services or wages!

This fact alone is proof that all of the cuts in funding for public services and the public sector pay cuts are avoidable. The budget cuts are part of a strategy to maintain a low tax regime for big business, who if they paid tax at the same rate as PAYE workers, would be contributing an extra Euro 10 billion this year towards the funding of public services.

Jack O’Connor (President of country’s biggest union, SIPTU) has said the unions need a concerted campaign of industrial action and even spoke of the need for an all-out public sector strike. Yet behind the scenes, he is apparently involved, along with others, in talks with Fine Gael (main right wing opposition party) and Labour about resurrecting the failed "social partnership" system after the next election. Is this an indication that some union leaders have accepted defeat and are pinning their hopes on getting their "foot back in the door" with government after the next general election?

Instead of engaging in a long drawn out campaign of work to rules, selective action and lobbying of Fianna Fail TDs (MPs), from which there is little prospect of victory, there should be a united struggle that collectively involves every public sector worker.

The government and the employers have embarked on a full-scale assault to cut wages. The trade union movement needs to respond with the same type of vigour – take off the gloves and fight to defend pay and jobs.

A campaign of strike action beginning with a one day public sector strike and escalating towards and culminating in an all out strike is the type of action needed to defeat the government.

ICTU’s shambolic proposals need to be challenged by union members and activists. All workers (public and private) are faced with a choice.

Either struggle to defend what you have or accept further pay cuts, job losses and stealth taxes. Further strikes and struggles are inevitable as the government and the employers are determined to drive down pay and conditions even further. To stop the sell outs and rotten deals which have been a feature of the last period workers need to get organised with the aim of gaining more control over their disputes. They need to reduce the influence of full time officials and impose the democratic will of the membership based on a bottom line of what we have we hold!

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January 2010