The talks between the government and ICTU have collapsed following pressure from the FF back benches. Apparently they had been pressured from “the private sector” to oppose plans for unpaid leave proposed by the union leaderships. Make no bones about it. What this really means is that the Irish bourgeoisie and the multinationals are putting on the pressure and demanding that the public sector takes huge cuts. It raises the temperature in what is already a charged situation.
If the Irish Congress of Trade Unions had a fighting Socialist leadership, Ireland would be on the brink of a general strike. But that is far from the case. The public sector workers have demonstrated, struck and were ready to strike again. 250,000 were on strike on 24th November; that was the background to the talks over the last few days. But instead of using the militancy of the workers as a battering ram to stop Cowen and Lenihan from attacking the working class, David Begg and McLoone preferred a polite knock.
We have criticised the union leaders for their over reliance on social partnership and it is obvious that their political outlook and programme have brought them to this stage. The programme of “unpaid leave” was as much dressed up to give the membership the impression that something had been won, as anything else. As we explained last week it was short time working by any other name. Remember that we have had talks about talks for months now and each time the outcome has been more cuts. Sisyphus was a character in Geek mythology who was forced to push a boulder repeatedly up a hill for eternity, just to watch it roll down again every time it got to the top. This is the same scenario that the ICTU leadership find themselves in. Each time they try and resurrect the long dead promises of social partnership and troop in to see the Taoiseach they end up with more cuts and levies.
The bureaucratic apparatus in the unions are in the main extremely conservative in their outlook. Leon Trotsky in one of his last articles made the point that the union leaders will always try to find some sort of common ground or mutual arrangement with the state. It is after all the line of least resistance. But under conditions of crisis these cosy arrangements will always tend to break down. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the bourgeois are determined not to pay for the crisis and secondly, but most significantly, the working class can’t accept the burdens placed upon them. At a certain stage the workers are forced to struggle.
This is the point that we’ve reached today. The trade union leaders meet on Monday 7th December to discuss what to do next. Such is the pressure that they are under from the workers that they are most likely to call for further strike action. The alternative will be mere meek acceptance of the cuts; this would throw the movement backwards. The Irish working class deserves far more than that. But simply repeating the strike of the 24th would not be enough. Trade union organisations in every town and city must organise demonstrations and public meetings. Support must be garnered from workers in the private sector and plans put in place to maximise the affect of any action. The government must feel the bite of the action; the time has long gone when “letting off steam” will suffice.
The role of leadership in any struggle is of huge importance. To date the trade union leaders in Ireland have proven themselves to be very weak and indecisive. It is possible that Begg and McLoone could lead the magnificent movement of the public sector workers to a defeat. There is still time however to galvanise the movement and defeat Cowen and Lenihan. The FF/Green Coalition has a wafer thin position in the Dáil. A protracted industrial struggle could topple them, but that needs decisive action. One thing is for certain, Socialist and Marxist ideas will play an increasing role in this struggle.
- No Wage Cuts
- Defend every job
- Make the Bosses pay