Ireland: The Croke Park Deal; weakness invites aggression – unions must defend jobs and services

The outcome of the ballots among the ICTU (Irish Congress of Trade Unions) affiliated unions over the Croke Park deal will be finally clear by next week when the SIPTU (Services, Industrial, Professional & Technical Union) and IMPACT (public and services union) ballot results are counted. A huge amount of pro deal propaganda has been brought to bear on the membership of the public sector unions, backed up by the trade union leadership who have been desperate to present the deal as the saviour of the Irish working class.

In the event that deal is passed the outcome will be that the trade union leaders will have handed the government the opportunity to savage conditions of service, lengthen hours, introduce a process of redeployment and “reform” public services, on a promise of no wage cuts for four years. We have argued time and time again in the columns of Fightback that there is no chance of any sort of equitable “Social Partnership” under today’s conditions.

As we explained in May 2009:

“…there is truly ‘nowhere else to go’. The only way to stop the bosses’ onslaught is through coordinated national industrial action. If we give the bosses an inch they’ll take a mile and a country mile at that. Social partnership in a huge boom is an easy game; the bosses can afford to offer a few scraps to the workers. But under conditions of deep slump and crisis all bets are off.

“To rely on the old methods from the Celtic Tiger days is very short sighted. The bosses won’t make any concessions unless they absolutely have to do so. Relying on social partnership will be like firing a pea shooter against a tank. We know that weakness invites aggression. Just look what Thatcher did in Britain in the 1980s. The British trade union leaders held up the white flag and the Tories saw it as a sign of weakness.”

Any agreement with the government that there will be no wage cuts isn’t worth the paper that it’s written on. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, there is more than one way to cut workers living standards than directly cutting wages. We have already seen the pension levies and the various other impositions on working people that have been wheeled out over the past couple of years. Cuts in the “social wage” on the very services that low paid public sector workers have to access themselves will also have an impact.

The economic situation in the Eurozone is such that the there is also a very real threat of a double dip recession. The crisis in Greece, Spain, Portugal and now Bulgaria where the budget deficit has mysteriously doubled over night means that the general uncertainty and instability internationally is likely to have dramatic effects on Ireland on top of the policies of Cowen and Lenihan, which as we already know are simply to attack working people. A whole series of governments introducing austerity programmes at the same time would cut the market and potentially send the world economy back down the slippery slope. The bosses are “tobogganing to disaster with their eyes closed” as Trotsky said in the 1930’s.

Photo from ICTU day of action in November last year by Cian Ginty.Photo from ICTU day of action in November last year by Cian Ginty. As such the goal posts could be moved at any stage and it is quite likely that the Coalition will be back for more. The gloves are off, the FF (Fianna Fáil) and Green Party ministers know that they are going to be ditched at the next election. They have a job to do on behalf of the bourgeois; make the workers pay for the crisis. This is a one sided Civil war against the trade union movement and the working class. In these circumstances the role of the trade union leadership has to be to put forward an intransigent class position. This crisis is of the bosses making, The government will no doubt claim as will their counterparts in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Britain, that there is no alternative. But any policy that attacks working people has to be opposed, and more effectively than the trade union leaders have done so far.

If the deal is accepted by SIPTU and ICTU members it is likely that the deal will go through on a card vote. If however one of the big unions votes down the agreement then the deal is likely to fall. But if the deal goes through it will be a pyrrhic victory for the trade union leaders. The acceptance of the deal would represent a green light for the government and should the truth be told also the private sector employers to unleash a wave of attacks on working people.

By refusing to stand up to the government, McLoone and David Begg have weakened the movement through pursuing what is effectively a divisive policy within the movement. Had the leadership developed a strategy to escalate and spread the partial actions that have taken place since Christmas, it is quite possible that they could have defeated the wage cuts. But instead their vacillation and prevarication has confused sections of the movement and lead the members up a blind alley. The Croke Park deal is no solution to the situation faced by hundreds of thousands of members. It merely replaces one set of attacks on workers with another.

What are the prospects for the next period? If the deal goes through then it is probable that the government will soon begin to try and implement its programme of “reform”. It is likely that this will mean a series of attacks on different sectors at different times. This will inevitably generate opposition, particulary in those sectors like the civil service and among the teachers where the Deal was rejected by large sections. But inevitably it is going to be harder to defend services, conditions and jobs. After all, the Croke Park Deal doesn’t do away with an Bord Snip, in fact it means that the proposals will become part of “the reform programme”. McLoone and David Begg have sold the members short.

For active trade unionists and socialists the task is clear, to fight every cut and campaign to defend jobs and services. There is also a job to be done inside the trade unions and within the Labour Party also. The campaign that has been waged by workers against the Croke Park deal needs to be developed into a movement to renew and refresh the trade union structures, to build union organisation and strength at a local level and to transform the unions into genuinely democratic fighting organisations that defend working people.

Source: Fightback (Ireland)