Twenty-four hours ago, we suggested that the way ahead for the Irish public sector trade unions was to build towards a 24-hour public sector general strike. We didn’t pluck that idea from the sky; it seemed inherent in the situation, following on that it is, from Saturday’s monster march.
Now the ICTU has called for a national strike day on March 30th because the employers in both the public and private sectors are reneging on the national wage agreement. The ICTU explained to the press that they have been trying to negotiate with the government around their 10-point plan as a way of providing some economic stability over the next three years. Absolutely correctly they argued that they can’t accept wage cuts when profits are untouched. As we have argued, the workers shouldn’t be made to pay for the bosses’ crisis.
September’s national pay agreement “Towards 2016”, has now been more or less torn up by the government, IBEC (the employer’s group) and the CIF have all resigned from the deal. The next three weeks will see ICTU’s affiliated unions ballot their members. Meanwhile Taoiseach Brian Cowen has told the Dáil that the government is happy to talk but it won’t change its mind on the decisions it has already taken. That sounds like a monologue. Its also reflects the fact that the bosses have very little room to manoeuvre, they couldn’t make the bosses pay for the crisis after all, could they?
The Irish Trade Union leaders are clearly under enormous pressure and have no doubt also been emboldened by the mood of the workers and the show of force on Saturday. The call for action on the 30th is absolutely correct, but it also requires them to take the lead. It is however quite a dangerous game if they aren’t serious about it, if for example it is perceived as merely a bargaining point or a threat they would rather not be asked to carry through.
A national one-day strike of this proportion could essentially be a general strike. The call has to be taken into every union branch and into every factory, shop and office. The bosses’ attacks have to be stopped dead in their tracks. But there is a risk as well. It would be a fatal error to assume that this action is a done deal; that automatically the ballots will roll in. Every vote has to be fought for and every ballot won. The national day of strikes should be forged into one united 24-hour general strike against the crisis and against the bosses’ attempt to make the working class pay for it.
IBEC have been trying to wheedle their way out of the National Wage Agreement and have asked that it be suspended for a year, but the private sector unions have responded by pointing that there is plenty of scope in the deal to assist employers in genuine difficulty and that no one should be allowed to back out. All workers need to be brought into the struggle. The employers will no doubt try and divide the unions and the different sections of the class, the big and the small firms, the private from the public sector.
This Thursday’s Civil Service strike will be an important measure of the mood as will a whole other series of forthcoming industrial action ballots in the public sector. In the private sector 12,000 engineers have been balloted with the prospect of a further 40,000 being brought into the action if the dispute isn’t resolved this week. Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann are meeting unions on the 25th, to discuss Saturday’s forthcoming strikes over cuts and job losses. The movement is bubbling up everywhere; the bosses and the government are on the ropes. The role of the leadership of the movement will be decisive. Many workers will be beginning to question the system that has brought them to this point. Ireland was recently voted one of the best places in the world to live. Now it’s in freefall.
March 30th is a crucial date for the Irish working class, Ireland needs a socialist solution. The ideas of James Connolly as well as Karl Marx and Lenin have never been more relevant.