Ireland North: 13 March public sector strike against austerity

Dead-end of rightwing, sectarian politics – new anti-sectarian party which fights for working class needed

Tens of thousands of public sector workers are set to take part in a 24 hour strike across Northern Ireland on Friday 13 March. Schools and hospitals will be shut, as will be public sector workplaces. The public transport bosses at Translink cancelled all scheduled buses and train services this Friday after a vote for strike action by Translink unions.

The one-day strike is against the Stormont House Agreement, which was signed up to by the local parties in the local Assembly. The Agreement will see the loss of up to 20,000 public service jobs and other draconian budget cuts.

Yesterday Sinn Fein, which along with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) makes up the governing Executive, did an abrupt U-turn, and announced that it was no longer supporting the passage of the Stormont House Agreement, in its present form, through the Assembly. This is a reflection of the huge pressure that all Assembly parties are coming under from angry public sector workers and local communities facing drastic cuts.

Below we publish the text of a Socialist Party (CWI Ireland) leaflet (produced before Sinn Fein’s statement), supporting Friday’s strike and calling for a stepping up industrial action to kill-off the Stormont House Agreement austerity package. More analysis and strike reports will follow.

The politicians in the Northern Ireland Assembly are united around an austerity programme that will see the destruction of thousands of public sector jobs and plans to sell-off public assets. After years of cuts, which have stretched health and other services to breaking point and crippled the economy, all Stormont government has to offer is four more years of austerity. Members of the Legislative Assembly say have ‘no choice’ and that Westminster government ‘holds the purse strings.’

Yet, it was the local parties, not Westminster, who pushed for a cut in corporation tax. This will mean at least another £300 million in cuts and bigger profits for fat cat bosses! On March 13th, we need a solid strike to put down a marker and send a message to the Stormont politicians. The protests on Friday should be a show of strength by workers, young people and the communities that will be devastated by Stormont’s neo-liberal agenda of cuts.

However, one day alone is not enough. It must mark the opening shot in a campaign of sustained, co-ordinated and escalating action. The trade union movement should now call for a second day of strike action in the lead up to the general election, to show this will be a real fight-back.

We must learn the lessons of the battle against pension cuts in 2011. The public sector strike on 30 November 2011, saw millions of workers united in struggle across Britain and the North. The power of the organised working class brought society to a standstill in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately this movement was then sold out by sections of the trade union leadership who made a rotten deal on pensions with the ConDem coalition. Pressure must be applied on trade union leaders and officials to ensure the same does not happen again. United and determined action can win!

While some posture as being against this or that cut, all the Assembly Executive parties peddle the lie that ‘there is no alternative’ and there simply is not enough wealth in society. This is a sick joke when you consider that the wealth of the UK’s billionaires has quadrupled since 2008 and that big business avoids paying £120 billion in tax every year! All the Executive parties are all actively imposing cuts. The trade union movement should not give an ounce of political support to any party which is implementing austerity.

The Stormont House Agreement also exposes the inability of pro-austerity, sectarian parties to solve the contentious issues which divide us. They were able to agree on cuts but little else. This should come as no surprise. These parties have a vested interest in maintaining sectarian division. Rather than relying on them, we need to build a movement which unites Protestant and Catholic workers in struggle for their common interests and against sectarianism.

The election of Syriza in Greece and the reaction across Europe reflects a growing desire to break from the austerity agenda and build a different society. Increasingly, working people in the North are becoming disillusioned with the dead-end of rightwing, sectarian politics offered by all the main parties. The trade union movement must actively support the building of a new anti-sectarian party which fights for the interests of the working class and all those who face oppression.

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March 2015