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“Scissors” of collaboration, emergency powers aimed at rebellious teachers

The combination of the recent budget, the acceptance of the Croke Park III (Haddington Road) cuts to public sector pay and the introduction of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (FEMPI) to impose wages and conditions seem to mark the crushing of working class opposition to austerity in Ireland. 

The key weapon in the capitalist's hands is a scissors. One side of the scissors stands the union bureaucracy. They have stood alongside government and employers, imposing 7 austerity budgets and an even more savage "modernisation" programme. The other side of the scissors is the FEMPI emergency powers which allow the government to step in at any time and dismiss workers’ rights. 

However, like any weapon, the scissors have to be applied in practice. One arena is Dublin Bus, discussed in another article in this issue of Socialist Democracy. In this article we will focus on the group holding out against Croke Park III, members of the teachers union ASTI. 

In this case emergency law and union collaboration come together. The threat of FEMPI is that, in any particular school, all teachers will face the cuts involved in the Haddington Road agreement, but that members of ASTI will have more extreme sanctions applied to them. The difficulty for the government is how to find out which teachers are in which union and which teachers are non-unionised. 

At the very least this requires other teaching unions to accept the use of the emergency law, which the unions have voted to oppose and campaign against, to punish colleagues teaching alongside their own members. The unions may be required to aid the government by acting as informers and providing membership lists. 

It also has to be taken into account that as a "left" union, the executive of ASTI have a long history of grandstanding and then falling into line. One positive factor, however, is the existence of a small layer of organized activists within the union. 

So how can activists organise to break the scissors and throw back both Croke Park III and FEMPI? 

As with the bus workers, standing on the narrow ground of pay and conditions and organising only within your own union is a recipe for defeat. The struggle against the bailout demands the widest solidarity, and the grounds for such solidarity are the call for a free and comprehensive education service. Around such a call it is possible to unite teachers from all unions who are also facing unbearable pressures on pay conditions and teaching load, and parents who are being saddled with the overwhelming costs of what is essentially a privatisation process, pressure within the moribund union structures is balanced by solidarity and organization outside. 

Beyond this initial step there are many difficulties, but we would be bringing together the two strands of union and community activists, declaring our independence from the bureaucracy and the pro-independence parties, and building the firm foundations of solidarity from which effective resistance will emerge.


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