Ireland: Croke Park Deal - The cracks are beginning to show

Recently we reported on the vote of the public sector unions to back the Croke Park Deal. We argued that despite the apparent victory of the ideas of “Social Partnership” as espoused by Peter McLoone and David Begg; under the present conditions it would be extremely difficult for any deal to be brokered that was worth the paper it was written on.

As we explained at the time:

“The experience of the policy of 'social partnership' has been that sooner or later the illusions of the trade union leaders have been wrecked either on the basis that the government have shown Begg and McLoone the door as they did with the two week unpaid leave proposal in December, or the pressure has built up from below and forced the trade union leaders to organise demonstrations and actions, and in many cases against their better judgement.

"Trotsky pointed out in the Transitional Programme written in 1938 that the trade union and labour leaders represented the most conservative layer in society. Again in 1940 he explained that no matter what, they would try and reach an agreement – any agreement with even the most reactionary government. He explained further that under conditions of crisis these agreements will always fall down on the basis of pressure from the bosses or the workers. Those words ring very true today.”

(Ireland: Croke Park “Deal” agreed - Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile…)

Now less than a couple of months after the deal was signed it is clear that the cracks are beginning to show. Unions in the four Dublin local Authorities and in the Health Service Executive West have voted for action. The problem that the government faces is in trying to actually implement the public sector reforms. The threat of job losses and attacks on conditions, such as the increase in teacher’s working hours, the revision of shift patterns in the hospitals and the redeployment plan will inevitably create a reaction. In truth the scale and extent of the “reforms” means that disputes could potentially break out all over the place, at different times.

Its quite obvious that sections of the Bourgeois Press in Ireland and the Bosses themselves see the Deal as a problem. Their view is that it represents a bulwark for the Trade Union leaders to lean on. As the Sunday Post 1/8/10 explains:

“Unions can’t bank the guarantees in the Croke Park agreement and then proceed to muscle management with threats of strikes. These actions are obviously a warning to the government not to go too far with its public sector reforms. So much for Croke Park.”

The uncomfortable truth for Cowen, Lenihan and Peter McLoone and David Begg, is that under the present conditions and for contradictory and conflicting reasons, neither the bosses nor the Public Sector workers can rest comfortably for long with the Croke Park deal. Many of the unions that opposed the Deal are faced with a more immediate problem in that their members never voted for it. But, given the national vote they are expected to go along with the deal, and more significantly the employers will expect them to.

As we pointed out in the article quoted earlier:

“It’s likely that the smaller unions in the Public sector will be forced to fall in line with the decision on Croke Park . Unite has done so recently. But the problems will emerge quickly once the Government tries to introduce the 'reforms'. The objective difficulty however will be the 'Deal', which will be wheeled out whenever the opportunity allows. In that sense the Deal will become far less a shield to defend the members and far more a means for the government and the unions to police the members.

"It’s quite likely that the deal will be faced by widespread opposition. But unless the government blunders into an all out confrontation with the public sector unions, it’s possible that the industrial mood might be dampened down for a period. Having said all that, Ireland is a small country with a limited internal market and a huge reliance on trade. If the eurozone goes into melt down that all bets are off and it will become increasingly evident that the deal and 'social partnership' isn’t worth the paper its written on."

The next few months will test the Deal and “Social Partnership” to the limits. The ongoing crisis in the Eurozone; pressure from the bosses and opposition to the cuts and “reforms” from the working class mean that there is little chance of peace breaking out. While localised struggles and disputes in the various sections of the public sector will tend to predominate, it’s quite likely that the Coalition will blunder into another national confrontation with the unions. Privatisation, cuts, attacks on pensions and working conditions are all on the order of the day, as are further levies and tax rises. The Irish Trade Unions need a resolute and determined leadership armed with a socialist perspective and a programme to end the anarchy of capitalism and the crises it brings in its wake.

Source: Fightback (Ireland)