More strikes needed

By Bernie McAdam-League for the Fifth International

In what is widely regarded as the biggest strike in the state’s history, 250,000 public sector workers in Ireland came out on strike on Tuesday 24 November. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) had organised the action as widespread anger welled up amongst workers at the government’s attempt to slash public sector wages by 7 per cent. In fact this 1.3 billion cut in wages is part of a 4 billion cuts package which the Budget on 9 December will sanction.

Schools, colleges, courts, civil service offices, hospitals and many local authority services were closed down. Only emergency services and flood stricken areas were exempt. Thousands of workers joined picket lines and teachers in their thousands protested outside the Department of Education. The strike was a brilliant display of workers’ action and will be followed by a second strike on 3 December if talks with the government prove meaningless.

This massive defiance by workers shows that victory is possible. Unfortunately ICTU leaders’ willingness to do a deal with Cowen’s government will lead this movement down the road to defeat. They still hold to the tired old concept of social partnership with the bosses and the government. In reality this means accepting the cuts package but arguing over the time scale and the way it is implemented. By focussing on pay cuts they seek to deflect the huge assault the cuts as a whole will have on public services.

But even on pay cuts Peter McLoone, IMPACT and ICTU chair of public services committee, is preparing a sell out saying ‘it would be necessary to agree some temporary measures to cut payroll costs in 2010 because reforms were unlikely to deliver the necessary savings before 2011’. This might include cutting overtime rates, introduction of unpaid leave, elimination of privilege days, introducing a 8 to 8 core day during which no overtime payments would apply, etc. This is totally unacceptable.

Already families have been hit with 5,000 euros in additional taxes and levies in the two budgets since the end of last year. Unemployment has reached 12.6 per cent and expected to rise to 14 per cent next year. The recent OECD 2009 report on the Irish economy boasts that post tax incomes could have fallen by 10 per cent by the end of 2010. No wonder that consumption of goods has decreased by 9 per cent.

The seriousness of the crisis facing the Irish economy is there for all to see. All seem to agree that working people did not cause this recession. But Cowen’s Fianna Fail government is resolute on workers being made to foot the bill. Yet 54 million is to be found to set up NAMA as a ‘bad bank’ to remove toxic loans. Cowen has already forked out 11 billion of our money to bailout the banks, but workers’ jobs, pension schemes and essential services are to be sacrificed to pay for the fat cats responsible for the economic crisis. But no bail out for workers!

In response to this ICTU should be saying ‘enough is enough’ and ‘tax the rich’. If the government won’t give way then they should organise an indefinite general strike. Instead we have a conciliatory approach based on the presumption that all of us must make a sacrifice. Rank and file workers must reject this strategy and start to organise within their unions independent of the bureaucratic leadership against the social partnership. Rank and file movements within and across the unions need to be built with the aim of developing a new fighting leadership. Militant action including solidarity strikes, well organised pickets and occupations can turn the tide in the battle to stop the cuts. Strike committees democratically run and controlled by mass meetings should lead and decide on strike action and hold their union officials to account.

More strikes needed

What we need is an general strike strike. We have already seen massive job losses and collapsed pension schemes in the private sector. The construction industry has taken a huge hit and foreign companies continue to scale down and relocate. Public services are now under the guillotine. We are witnessing a class wide assault on all workers by the government and its business backers in IBEC. Workers need a class wide response and that demands a general strike to stop the cuts and job losses.

When Minister of Finance Lenihan says that public sector workers “experience during this recession is far more benign than that of many in the private sector” he is deliberately trying to divide the public from private sector workers. We should say the cuts affect all workers; the fate of all our public services is at stake. Unite in joint action!

Tuesday’s stoppage is a good start though long overdue but by itself will prove inadequate to roll back all the cuts as the government can easily weather it and hope it will let off steam. Even a strategy of more one day strikes will take too long to stop the 9 December Budget. The best and sure fire way to victory is an indefinite general strike where public and private sector workers unite in a common battle to save jobs and protect our services.

Time is not on our side. Unions should launch mass indefinite strikes now and not wait for ICTU to prevaricate and sell out. Action Councils should be built in every area of Ireland to co ordinate such strikes and all resistance to the government. These should draw in trade unionists, students, pensioners, migrant workers and the unemployed. These councils should tap into the vast well of anger out there and organise demonstrations and occupations in a mighty movement against the government.

A workers government

A serious strike movement would undoubtedly lead to the downfall of the Fianna Fail government. A general strike actually poses the question of who holds power in society - the workers or the bosses. Workers will be severely disillusioned if they think a new Fine Gael/Labour coalition government will back their demands. Workers need to fight for a genuine workers’ government accountable to mass democratic organisations, such as action councils, based in the workplace and the community.

Such a government would side with the workers and strike out against capitalism. It would tax the rich and provide jobs for the unemployed with a public works programme that can build schools, hospitals and better public services. Socialism is the only alternative and a workers government would expropriate the rich, their industry, banks, property and finance companies and put it all under workers control.

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