The outcome of the SIPTU ballot on Croke Park 2 means that the proposals cannot be ratified when the ICTU Public Services Committee meets. This a serious blow to the coalition, as the government’s “Plan B” across the board pay cuts backed up by legislation; would most likely provoke a huge wave of strike action and opposition.
To date SIPTU, INTO, UNITE, CPSU, AHCPS, TUI, MLSA, TEEU, INMO and the IMO, IFUT, UCATT not to mention the Vets have all voted to oppose.
From the outset it has been obvious that opposition to Croke Park 2 has been widespread and determined. It is now some 8 weeks since the 24/7 Front Line Alliance rally at Tallaght. What has been noticeable over that time has been growing opposition across the whole of the public sector. Particularly after it became clear how much the deal was going to affect the low paid workers, who rely on over time and shift payments to make ends meet.
From the point of view of the ruling class, the original Croke Park Deal was a big problem. Just imagine, not being able to cut wages and conditions as it suited them. No wonder the Fine Gael TD’s were getting hot under the collar. Combine that with pressure from IBEC and the press, the Troika and Enda Kenny himself trying to make his mark and it’s no surprise that the coalition have tried to tear up the original agreement.
The original deal reflected the weakness of the FF/Green coalition, which was in freefall as a result of the economic crisis. The government was desperate to reach an agreement with the unions. The union leaders however were desperate also to secure a deal. The general instability in the economy and uncertainty are what lay behind the original agreement. Now however, with the state finances in a (relatively) stable situation and a significant majority in the Dáil, the government clearly felt confident that they could force the new deal through.
As we explained in February 2012:
There will be enormous pressure over the next couple of years on the Croke Park Deal from the government wanting to attack wages and from workers defending services and conditions. That pressure will be most noticeable at the top of the Trade union movement. We already saw a similar process develop during the “talks about talks about talks” during 2009 and early 2010. This situation today is not fundamentally different. That is of course in spite of Eamon Gilmore’s much vaunted defence of the interests of working class people, the old the young and the sick in the aftermath of the General Election. (Croke Park Deal faces new attacks: Defend Jobs and Services)
We have explained many times that the Trade Union leaders will always seek a “deal” with the employers. Even with the most reactionary governments. However there is always a tendency for those deals to break down under pressure from the working class or from the bosses. This is what has happened in relation to Croke Park 2. It is worth recalling the arguments from Jack O’Connor himself who argued that the current deal was the best that could be achieved through negotiation. Clearly, he has been unable to sell this argument to his own members.
RTÉ reported Jack O’Connor as saying “In a criticism of last Monday's rally of members of the 24/7 Frontline Alliance, he said it would take a great deal more than the expenditure of hot air and windy rhetoric in basketball arenas to achieve a successful outcome in this battle”.
We would wholeheartedly agree, but we would argue also that the role of the Trade Union leadership ought to be to organise and mobilize the members to defeat the government’s proposals. Without a forthright leadership with a clear perspective and a campaign of industrial action the public sector workers are fighting these attacks with one hand tied behind their backs.
As we argued at the time:
We would agree that even the most militant rally won’t beat the austerity. But on the other hand we suspect that “talks about talks about talks” won’t be any more successful. The experience of the last series of talks is that the only way to budge the public sector employers and the government is coordinated militant industrial action.
Instead of criticizing those unions that have walked out of the talks SIPTU and IMPACT should be meeting with the 24/7 Front line alliance and discussing plans to campaign in every branch in every town and city for a 24 hour Public Sector General strike. (Croke Park walk out – fight for a 24 Hour Public Sector General Strike)
To put the €1 Billion wage cuts into some perspective, AIB was bailed out to the tune of €40+ Billion. If it was possible to bail out the bankers to that extent then defeating government plans to cut wages by 2% of that figure should be relatively easy. In fact the extent of thecrisis in AIB was so large that the amount of emergency lending reached €34.6 billion on October 29th 2010 up from €21 billion on September 24th 2010.
It is significant also that the move towards legislating to cut wages across the public sector would require the support of the Labour Party in the Dáil. A massive campaign of industrial action and demonstrations against pay cuts linked to a call for Labour to break the coalition would have an effect in the party. People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett is quite correct to raise the demand for Labour to resign from the coalition. The Labour leadership have nailed their colours firmly to Fine Gael’s anti working class programme. Labour needs to break the coalition and fight for a socialist programme, Eamon Gilmore’s claim to defend the working class through coalition has been proven to be utterly worthless.
But rejecting the proposals isn’t the end of the war, its only the beginning. In every workplace across every service preparations should be being made to combat the next set of attacks on public sector workers. Ultimately it is only the strength and combativity of the trade union membership that can defeat austerity. Most likely that will require General Strike action.