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Croke Park II Building a real fightback

It is hard to underestimate the dangers of the new Croke Park deal to all sections of the working class, public and private. The long decades of social partnership and absence of industrial action have left minimum wage rates benchmarked by the standard set by public service rates. 

The first Croke Park deal was based on the fiction that these wage rates were being preserved. The new deal leaves them in freefall, with ICTU leading the offensive against the workers. 

As with Croke Park I the government is left free to keep coming back for more. This is especially the case with the claim that there will be no compulsory redundancies - a claim not supported by the document. 

Yet this is only part of the story. Government, the Troika and union leaders have also agreed a reform agenda that involves a mass privatisation of services and resources. Anything left in the public service will be subject to internal markets and the target culture which is demolishing public service in Britain. 

The law is being changed to ensure debt forgiveness does not extend to the working class. Fines, seizures and mortgage evictions lie ahead for many. Others will face steadily escalating rents. Property and water charges will force families into penury. 


The campaign to sell the deal began with intimidation from Jack O'Connor of SLPTU, in words identical to statements at the time of the first Croke Park deal, offered members a choice - vote yes now or vote yes after losing wages in a strike led by Jack that would surely be defeated. 

Again in echo of the first agreement, government and union bosses joined together to indicate that unions that opposed the deal would be punished by being excluded from side deals that would exclude small sections from the most punitive impositions. 

The government then stepped forward, as in the first agreement, to indicate that any majority, no matter how small, would be taken as applying to everyone - even unions who vote against. As a final backstop it indicated that it had legislation available that would be used to over-ride a no vote. 


However those promoting the new offensive are operating in a much more hostile environment. Workers have already experienced Croke Park I. Union bosses are no longer able to claim that a new deal will protect workers and are reduced to the claim that, without them, the blows would fall much harder - a weak claim given that they were unable to shave a penny off the government's €1 billion cuts bill. 

It is the case that the deal has won praise from the right for wielding the scalpel rather than the machete, but this is simply confirmation that the bureaucracy, rather than being hapless victims of cuts, are the governments partners in applying the austerity and in pointing out specific targets. 

A second theme of the bureaucracy is that of fairness. They supported the overall budget on the basis that the new property tax be greater for properties over €1 million. They claim that Croke Park II deal involves a cut in the pensions of top politicians. Unfortunately the Irish capitalists are reluctant to tax themselves, and in both cases the amounts involved are tiny and provoke derision rather than providing a justification for the collusion. 

Behind all the justifications is a nationalist ideology that has informed the many decades of social partnership - that workers and capitalists stand together to save the nation. This expressed itself recently in a mobilization to "lift the burden" by joining with the government to lobby Europe for debt relief. 

But the outcome of government lobbying has resulted in Ireland's second bailout. This contains no debt relief and extends the amount of debt by €30 billion and repayment time to 2054. A public relations offensive presents this as Ireland's salvation, as are announcements that the unlimited bank guarantee has ended. The government announces a "programme for jobs," but this turns out to be a wish list based on further sponsorship of private industry. 

Few realize that the government programme is largely identical to the Trade Union policy for dealing with the crisis. Called a " Better, Fairer way," it calls for more time to pay, investment for jobs and progressive taxation. Their role is to lobby government for move investment and more wealth taxes. 

The arguments of the right wing bureaucracy boil down to the assertion that there is no alternative to capitalism and that the workers must sacrifice themselves to preserve it. 

None of this can convincingly be used to persuade public sector workers to agree to their own immiseration. The difficulty is illustrated by the Irish National Teachers Organization. Its executive is abstaining on a recommendation even though the INTO secretary was instrumental in drawing up the deal. 

Substantial opposition 

Today there is a more substantial opposition to the new agreement. Besides the usual group of "left" unions led by UNITE there is substantial opposition from the frontline unions of medical, fire and police organizations. This group, whose members will be hit particularly hard by the removal of allowances, accuse the major unions of sellout and betrayal and have gone beyond verbal opposition to organise protests. Behind both groups is the growing desperation of many workers. Basic arithmetic tells them that a new pay cut, piled on top of years of pay freeze and with the imposition of new charges and taxes, means that they will no longer be able to afford all the necessities of everyday life. An enormous debt overhang in mortgages is likely to collapse, leading to a new crisis. 

Yet the existing level of opposition will not be enough. The left unions protested before. UNITE voted against Croke park I, only for their secretary to overturn the vote when the agreement was passed by the major unions. The frontline emergency workers base much of their case on a call for special treatment that could be met by adjustments to the new agreement. We can see from examples in Europe that desperation does not lead to revolution and may in some cases lead to racism and fascism. 


The obstructions to a successful campaign rest on the fact that it is an electoral campaign rather than action to prevent the coming offensive. It is an electoral campaign limited to public service workers when everyone is involved in the outcome. It is vote within the less than democratic structures of many unions, where a full discussion or criticism of the leadership may well be restricted. Finally the question of an alternative will not be discussed. Union leaders will maintain the fiction that a no vote will be respected, even as the government inform us that it will immediately be overthrown. 

The resistance would have to start with proposals to prevent the ongoing offensive. At the very least it should call for debt repudiation, for the expulsion of the Troika, demand that Labour get out of government and that union leaders supporting Croke Park II be forced to resign. The economy can not be run just on "tax the rich" proposals, so we would be aiming for a movement that could occupy and directly expropriate unproductive capital and financial resources. 

Resistance committees would operate at a local level, uniting union members with communities, public and private sector workers acting on the street and in the workplaces to obstruct the Troika and its agents, moving towards a national convention of the workers and oppressed. 

Many will argument that this sort of politics, this sort of national structure, can not be built in time. In time for what? In time for a voting timetable that we already know will be overturned if it reaches the wrong conclusion? 

We have had our protests. They have been ineffective. We have followed political and trade union leaders. They have led us to disaster. Now is the time to build a real resistance.


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