Ireland’s public sector strike day: Crocodile tears won’t stem the tide

Well over 250,000 Irish workers in the public sector were on strike on the 24th of this month. There would have been many more, but the unions guaranteed emergency cover including flood relief in the west, the midlands and the Shannon area and in Cork City. It’s a feature of every major strike, not just here, but throughout the world, that the well fed representatives of the bourgeois and particularly the mean spirited and greedy petty bourgeois attempt to criticise and attack the worker's movement.

These fine gentlemen and ladies are always the first to reach for the box of tissues as they weep crocodile tears about the poor and the vulnerable who they claim (wringing their hands in woe) are being let down by the strikers. The fact that the government have been slashing and burden public services for the last year and attacking the vulnerable seems conveniently to have been forgotten.

Here’s what IBEC and friends had to say about the action according to the Herald:

“The Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) said it was 'unacceptable' and 'wrong' for public sector unions to drag the general public, including the most vulnerable in society, into a dispute that would not create a single job.

“Instead, those who have the most secure jobs and pensions are adding to the burdens of the country, as we struggle to put our finances back onto a sustainable path,” they said.

Mark Fielding of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises association (ISME) argued that unions needed to realise that the alternative to Government cuts in the public sector is bankruptcy, leading to the IMF, the EU, or both, taking over the financial affairs of the State.

“Strike action will serve no purpose, except to create hardship for those in need, inconvenience the public and undermine the economy internationally, which will have negative consequences on future investment,” he added.

Well, we might as well all go back to work chastised! Nonsense, these are crocodile tears. Remember these are the people who reneged on the national wage agreement, the people who are trying to destroy the Registered employment agreements and who are “putting on the poor mouth” to justify cuts in our wages, services, pensions and conditions. It’s the language of class war. It wouldn’t have looked out of place in Thatcher’s Britain. This attitude is precisely why the strikes are so important and why the pressure needs to be kept up.

Workers don’t strike because they just fancy doing so, strikes are forced upon workers by the policies of management and the government. The workers in Galway, Athlone and Cork were working yesterday to save life and limb in the floods, workers are reliable sensible people in the main. That’s why when you have well over a quarter of a million on strike then there is something up. There is indeed something serious up. It is a crisis of capitalism that is corroding the economy and the state and affecting the consciousness of all classes in society. These crocodile tears are something else though, these are the people who filled their boots in the Celtic Tiger years, now they are attacking workers for defending their families. It's sheer hypocrisy.

The truth is many workers in the public sector are on poverty wages, the bosses are only trying to divide workers against each other. The private sector workers won’t wear the bosses lies, in fact many recognise that the action in the public sector is holding back the likes of IBEC from their worst excesses.

Yesterday’s action was solid with pickets out all over the country in big numbers. Firefighters, civil servants, teachers – the education system was shut down, huge numbers of workers. It was a serious error on behalf of the ICTU leaders not to organise mass demonstrations to crystalise the mood, but the strength of the movement was self evident.:

“The negative affects of today's protest are likely to be felt for weeks with 16,000 hospital appointments being cancelled and HSE swine flu vaccination clinics being closed.

Embassies in London and Brussels, where staff are paid by the Irish Exchequer, were also hit by the strike.

The Army had to be drafted in to carry out security duties at several Government offices, including Leinster House.

Some 65,000 teachers and lecturers working in primary and second-level schools, further education colleges and third-level institutions also refused to work.

It is the first time since the controversial ASTI strike in 2001 that schools across the country closed because of industrial action.

Gardai are barred from strike action, but while officers did report for work this morning, most choose to avoid issuing penalty points.

Only emergency services are guaranteed up until midnight, when normal service will resume.”

As we explained recently when even the Gardai are taking action – some off duty Gards turned up on picket lines - then the government are in serious trouble. With a wafer thin majority, its clear that there is a lot of “putting on a front” going on at Leinster House. Cowen and Lenihan are after presenting the image that they are "totally in control of the situation". No doubt Father Ted and Dougal would have said the same thing when they were in a predicament - although they had the great advantage of being funny. Cowen and Lenihan will deliver their budget on the 9th December and doubtless not many workers will be laughing. The only smiles will be on faces in the boardrooms, in Dublin, Washington and the City of London.

The Fianna Fáil and Green coalition looks like it will be driven out of office at the next election – if they last as long as that. But although the so called “thoroughbreds” in the “soldiers of destiny” might be taking a long walk off a short plank, the evidence is that Enda Kenny and the Fine Gael offer very little better. Eamon Gilmore has been choosing his words very carefully recently and no doubt there will be pressure growing within the Labour Party as well. We believe that if Labour adopted a clear Socialist programme that presented a genuine alternative to the failed capitalist system then it would receive huge popular support. Starting with nationalising all the banks and big industry under workers control and management.

Significantly, new layers are being drawn into activity and the pressure from below within the movement will only increase. It needs to as well, it is evident that McLoone and other sections of the leadership are determined to drag the movement back in the direction of social partnership. But we have to be absolutely one hundred per cent clear: Social partnership at this time means selling the movement short. For sure Cowen is all in favour of sitting in a smoke free room with Peter McLoone and making polite politics with the members livelihood. But how is that going to help families in negative equity with looming redundancies and wage cuts? Workers and especially the active trade unionists need to keep a close eye on the leadership. There is to much to lose to allow a few trade union leaders to play percentage politics with workers wages and jobs, as the Herald continues.

There is a due to be another strike on the 3rd December, just days before the budget, that movement needs to demonstrate an escalation from this action. There should be demonstrations in every town and city and plans should be drawn up to ensure that these actions are backed up with further action that has the capacity to disrupt revenues and affect the operation of the government. The mood is there to fight these cuts. The mood in Irish society is such that a one day general strike involving both the private and public sector workers would receive huge support.

25 November 2009

Source: Fightback