2 October 2019
Pre budget posturing
ICTU, in what passes as the
normal conduct of their relationship between the working masses and the
state would habitually involve themselves in some form of street protest
in the lead-up to the budget and this year as the budget looms we expect
the usual bit of theatre, the opportunity for protesters to vent their
frustrations. But nothing is happening. Even the usual bluster is missing.
Traditionally the pre-budget protest was a great day out for the leaders of the main unions, a chance to address the assembled masses and prove their prowess to the government all achieved with little chance of anyone raising anything embarrassing. Having been accustomed to years of social partnership Irish workers didn't raise an eyebrow. Par for the course they said, all part of the game!
The earliest demonstrations against austerity were very well attended, sometimes 100'000 strong, but with the announcement that the trade union movement's demands would stay firmly within the confines of the troika programme the process began to sour a little.
A change of tone
Following one of the usual “anti-austerity” speeches Jack O'Connor was heckled by groups of socialist youth inviting him to call a general strike. They were attacked from the platform and in the Press the following day where O'Connor disgracefully branded them as “fascists”.
Their demands that the Irish trade movement should defy the demands of the Troika to protect their members were deemed beyond the pale and bit by bit the protests were demobilised as the union leaders converted mass mobilisations in the streets in to little more than private political consultations with the Labour Party or lobbying of the state.
After making their position clear the top leaders of our trade unions then promptly withdrew from protest. Their road to recovery was the same as that of the bosses, the government's and the ECB's and it was clear that the working class were to pay.
The non existant recovery
With the announcement that the economy was in “recovery” many workers had expectations that the conditions of the austerity programme would peter out; that there would be a real repayment of what had been lost to them through a genuine restoration of pay; that there would be an end to two tier pay and the resolution of multiple issues arising from the financial emergency measures imposed.
But that was never the intention. The solution to the crisis was to increase the rate of profit by raising the rate of exploitation of labour. The cost of labour was to be driven down and kept down. Unsurprisingly then the so called “recovery” has failed to appear for workers.
The trade union leaders have been involved at every level and have acquiesced in the creation of these conditions through the Lansdowne road and Haddington road agreements and latterly through the Public Sector Stability Agreement which saw the deliberate demobilisation of the latest disputes in the health service through the virtually immediate recourse to the tender mercies of the Labour relations commission and labour court where many ex trade union leaders have also found themselves a nice little post retirement earner.
Now we have had more than 10 years since the banking collapse and workers are worse off than ever. Buying a house in a major city is generally beyond the average worker, pay is still suppressed, hospitals are struggling to find staff the wages are so low, and rent is consuming almost everything that many workers in key industrys earn.
This constant erosion of working class living standards is now to be compounded by further cutbacks as we face into another downturn exacerbated by the completely reactionary project of Brexit. The working class must pay again. At the beginning of the year the message was explicitly put to the nurses by Paschal O Donahue who arrogantly asserted that they should go without a pay raise because Brexit is looming. Like the banking crisis which produced the two tier pay, the wage and pension cuts, the closures, an increased privatisation drive and ultimately the housing crisis, now the economic cost of Brexit is to be transferred to the Irish working class.
What has been the ICTU response to Donahue's assertion that a more austere budget is being prepared for the eventuality of a 'No Deal Brexit'? Complete silence! They are not just silent, they are complicit! This is the fruits of the recovery strategy they shared with the state and their silence amounts to a de-facto truce that is now so complete that even the token protest day which we are accustomed to has been taken off the agenda. The ICTU leadership are announcing their intention to accept O'Donohue's budget and no pre-budget posturing is required. This time the workers must not only pay the price they must do so in silence as well!
Resistance will erupt but it must be aware of and resist the leadership that has led the working class to this juncture. The Irish trade union bureaucracy are not independent of the Irish state, they have organised and led the working class time and time again into positions of compliance with austerity and imperialist demands.
We need trade unions that are independent from the needs of Irish capitalism that will fight the imposition of the costs of the reactionary Brexit project and the imposition of austerity on workers by the European capitalist elite, which includes the Irish bourgeoisie. There are voices of dissent at the base of Irish trade unionism, those that oppose the leadership's betrayals but remain silent. This silence must end and the struggle to build fighting unions taken up.