Huge public sector strike brings Northern Ireland to a standstill

NIPSA picket line, 28 January 2024

Hundreds of thousands of nurses, teachers, civil servants, and other public sector workers took strike action in Northern Ireland on 18 January in one of its biggest ever strikes. Below is the text of the leaflet used by Militant Left (the Socialist Party’s sister party in Ireland) on the day:

The 18 January strike is historic for the trade union movement.

Workers from health, education, public transport and civil service are participating in the biggest strike in generations.

Chris Heaton-Harris, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, has attempted to use economic blackmail to force the parties back to Stormont. He is also seeking to exploit the failed politics of Stormont to deliver an anti-worker agenda. He seeks to squeeze public sector workers’ pay, advance privatisation and impose brutal taxes and charges.

Today shows that workers here will not accept his agenda. But, while the politicians are hopelessly divided, workers across all parts of our community are standing together, united in determination to win a better future for everyone.

Trade union Militant Left activists have played a critical role within the trade union movement, alongside others, to bring about what is a powerful and united demonstration of mass working-class opposition to the Tory agenda.

Extending the struggle

We need to be aware that even if some funds are released for a pay increase for public service workers, the money being offered by the Secretary of State does not ‘touch the surface’ of what is needed to reverse the crisis and deliver decent public services here.

Our NHS services are at crisis point, our schools are facing chronic underfunding, and there is inadequate investment in public transport and other key services.

Regardless of whether Stormont sits or not, these threats will continue and workers will need to organise to defeat them.

Militant Left is working to extend and better coordinate strike actions between the unions to make them more powerful and effective.

We also call for working-class people from all backgrounds to mount protests and mass civil disobedience to help build a powerful struggle to beat back the attacks.

A political opposition

The 18 January strike is powerful and historic first step but if we want to change things in the long term then the workers’ power demonstrated in this strike needs to be expressed politically.

We know the Stormont parties don’t have any answers so, if we want solutions, we need to do it ourselves.

We need a cross-community and socialist political party of labour which stands for the priorities and the interests of working-class people above anything else.

Militant left is actively engaging with other trade unionists, community activists and campaigners to discuss building such a cross-community political party – one that will reflect the politics of today’s powerful strike action. Join us.

  • Militant Left members distributed the above leaflet at picket lines and at several of the main workers’ rallies held throughout the North of Ireland on 18 January, including in Enniskillen, Magherafelt, Omagh, Cookstown and Belfast.  Several Militant Left trade union members spoke on the rally platforms.

Carmel Gates, General Secretary of NIPSA, the main public sector union in N Ireland, and Militant Left (CWI Ireland) supporter, addressed thousands of public sector strikers at Belfast City Hall on the day of the strike, below is what she said:

“Comrades, they’ve dangled some money in front of you before Christmas and they think, out of desperation, we will say ‘give us the money’. We say: ‘Is there enough to settle all the pay awards? Now and next year?’ Because if there is not – then we will be back! If there are not inflation-busting pay awards then we will be back again and again. We say to the Treasury, we will not settle for less than we deserve.

We want the Assembly back but we want it fully funded, so there is no choice between paying public sector workers and feeding children. And we know children are going hungry! And workers are working two jobs or using foodbanks. And we say: ‘enough is enough’!

Lives are at stake. Health waiting lists are so long that people go from curable to incurable. And we say: ‘enough is enough’! We don’t have enough money for services, we don’t have enough money for pay, and we’re not going accept anything less than what we need.

If today does not make the Treasury take notice then we will be back, and get bigger and bigger. There has been a vacuum of leadership and the trade union movement has stepped into that vacuum. Workers are standing together and are united. We are as one, and workers united will never be defeated!”

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