Yes to industrial action, but a new political movement is needed too

ICTU head David Begg: an example of what Connolly thought of as the labour lieutenants of capital

ICTU head David Begg: an example of what Connolly thought of as the labour lieutenants of capital

by Philip Ferguson

Free State taoiseach Enda Kenny’s reaction to the public sector workers’ rejection of Croke Park 2 has been to declare that workers in this sector, by their vote, have stripped themselves of protection from redundancies.  In effect, on April 24 he was saying that public sector workers, no matter how they voted or how the bulk of people in the 26-counties see things, had to accept either pay cuts or redundancies.

Welcome to all capitalism has on offer to workers in Ireland, either side of the British state’s border.

Meanwhile the latest Red C / Sunday Business Post poll, the results of which appeared in last Sunday’s SBP (April 28), indicate that less than a third (30%) of respondents support cuts to public sector pay, while 56% of respondents said the government should accept the position of the unions following their rejection of Croke Park 2.  Just over two-thirds of people also thought that if there was any spare funds in the system these should be used to reduce taxes on working people.

The rejection of Croke Park 2 seems to have caught both government parties, Fine Gael and Labour, on the hop.  Labour’s Brendan Howlin, responsible for public expenditure, had already compiled budget figures based on acceptance of the deal; namely, €300 million of pay cuts.   On RTE radio’s This Week on April 28 Labour junior minister Alan Kelly reiterated that, while there was some scope for negotiation of where the €300 comes from in terms of public sector pay, it will nevertheless be coming from somewhere there.

Howlin’s figures allowed a little piece of theatre by Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein, whose TDs could safely walk out of a Leinster House committee meeting in opposition to Budget 2013 including the savings from pay cuts.  I say theatre because Fianna Fail in government had already launched a massive attack on workers’ rights and conditions and because the Sinners are busy implementing austerity in the north while verbally opposing it in the south.

The theatre isn’t confined to the main opposition parties.  Some union tops are threatening widespread industrial action should the government implement across-the-board pay cuts in the public sector.  However, experience suggests that the dominant leadership elements in ICTU have no stomach (or backbone) for a fight with the government.  They can march the ranks up and down O’Connell Street and then send them home; they might even organise some limited industrial action and then send the ranks back to work.  But put up a serious fight – no way.  Fancy risking their €55-60 million strike funds on, er. . . strikes.

ICTU head David Begg indicated these misleaders’ views on yesterday’s This Week, when he said that workers and unions opposed to Croke Park 2 and its cuts in pay and conditions were being unrealistic!  As RTE political reporter Brian Dowling noted a few hours later on RTE1 News, Begg fears a slide into industrial action.

In fact, industrial action is urgently needed, but so is political action.

What is required is a real union movement, one based on class-struggle principles like the ITGWU of Larkin and Connolly.  Arguing for such a movement on an all-Ireland basis can not only help win workers to the view that there is an alternative on the industrial front but, if the arguments are put consistently and on a mass scale by socialist-republicans, we can also win workers to the idea that a political alternative is possible.  Such arguments will be more convincing the more united socialist-republicans are amongst ourselves.

Posted on May 6, 2013, in 21st century republicanism and socialism, éirígí, Economy and workers' resistance, Independent Workers Union, Irish politics today, IRSP, James Connolly, Jim Larkin, Political education and theory, Provos - then and now, Republican Network for Unity, six counties, Social conditions, Trade unions, twenty-six counties. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Yes to industrial action, but a new political movement is needed too.

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