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INTO congress: selective memory and dubious announcements

25 April 2019

At the Easter 2019 congress of INTO, president Joe Killeen, has told delegates “that the INTO did not aid and was not complicit in the cutting of the salaries of so-called 'new entrant' teachers” and that it was imposed by the government. Well who would have thought!  Especially when the INTO lavished the Croke Park deal which saw teachers go on to two tier pay from Jan 1st 2011 with such praise!

In a circular to members on the implementation of the deal in 2011the INTO instructed their members to co-operate with the “implementation of change” and praised the deal as one that had “as a core objective the need to ensure that the Irish public service continues its contribution to the return of economic growth and prosperity to Ireland, while delivering excellence in service to the Irish people.” Any resistance to two tier pay by the INTO bureaucracy, as Joe Killeen recalls, is difficult to find here!

As a matter of fact, among the teachers' unions the INTO bureaucracy successfully led the charge for acceptance of the Croke Park deal. At that time they launched a concerted campaign for acceptance using the tried and trusted methods which nurses are currently enduring as their leaders attempt to cajole them into compliance with government policy.

The INTO leadership did not have it all their own way and they met with a good deal of resistance at the “Information Meetings” roadshow they put on.  A ‘Show this deal the Red Card’ campaign by members opposed the leadership's poster campaign in union branches and workplaces with their own version entitled “10 Reasons to Vote No”.

The eventual result was close and followed an “intense” debate at the annual Congress but the leadership position won the ballot. Shiela Nunan “welcomed the result”, even though it did nothing to reverse the pay cuts of the previous budget and gained acceptance of the very thing Joe Killeen now says they were against all along, two tier pay. For something which they say they “did not aid” and were “not complicit in”, it was something the union bureaucracy fought pretty hard to get accepted!

No matter how they try to shuffle away from responsibility, they vigorously supported acceptance of government pay policy and when it came time to renew it as Croke Park II, Shiela Noonan publically argued that the government would be “mad to break the deal” when it “rendered the economy such benefits.”

The subsequent Lansdowne Rd and Haddington Rd deals also met with acceptance from the INTO leaders and indeed the entirety of the union bureaucracy who stood behind them holding the government line while the rank and file members of various teachers' unions struggled against it. The Trade Union leaderships' policy sounded a lot like complicity at the time and it still sounds the same in spite of their claims to the contrary.

A Ballot for Action?

The President opened the congress with his hyperbolic rewrite of history against the background of an excited announcement by ICTU's Public Services Committee, (PSC) of a breakthrough in negotiations on two tier pay. In one of life’s amazing little coincidences the PSC is chaired by Shiela Nunan who is also the outgoing General Secretary of INTO. Of course there had been no such breakthrough but the yarn was being spun at congress for an obvious reason. Under considerable pressure from their members the INTO bureaucracy had committed to balloting for industrial action by this May if no deal had been reached on the ending of two tier pay.  So following talks with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform this 'important announcement' was arrived at. Right on time!

The incoming General Secretary, John Boyle, was more cautious in his claims and described the announcement merely as a “statement of intent” by the government, to arrive at a “pathway to pay equality”.  A modest cause for such celebrations, especially when it is considered that the extremely vague proposals have no extra money attached to them before the ending of the stability agreement, the PSSA.

Boyle's claims for the state's intentions are tempered by his caveat that; "The management side understands that these outstanding matters will be given full consideration either by 1) any pay review mechanism agreed by the parties or 2) in the context of the next round of pay talks.”

So the first point means that the usual medicine for a disappointing pay offer, a pay review body, is being announced early and the second point merely means that the pay round is next year, we'll talk then … no need to push for a strike ballot!

To be concise, two tier pay has not been got rid of and there is no money until the present PSSA deal ends. It is due to expire in 2020 and this mixture of hyperbole and bluff is designed to stabilise the union bureaucracy, to “get them across the line” and prevent any anti-deal momentum building up.

Both the union bureaucrats and the state are extremely keen to prevent discontent spilling over from the very dissatisfied rank and file of the nurses’ dispute. Their greatest nightmare would be a rejection by the Nurses of their deal and a spill over into successful ballots for industrial action in the teaching unions.

While playing to the concerns of teachers on the lower tier of pay INTO's leadership is signalling their acquiescence to the state's pay policy, as they did in 2010.  They hope that ICTU's carefully timed statement and the smoke and mirrors gets them through.

Stability for employers, decline for the workers

The same contradictions that exists for the nursing profession exists for teachers. The costs of rent and housing are rising to exorbitant levels while public sector wages are suppressed and like the health workers, teachers are also voting with their feet and seeking employment in Doha, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Almost half of schools have unfilled teaching vacancies and in the last six months over two thirds of positions advertised received no applicants.

Pressure is building. State employees are tired of hearing of the success of the recovery while their pay is still suppressed and costs continue to rise. The state is keen to avoid a confrontation and the bureaucratic mis-leaders of the trade union movement are in full agreement with them.

Trade union members in many unions are looking for answers and those answers lie in the same self-organisation that flares up sporadically to oppose the union leaderships' sell outs. Each strike exposes the reactionary position of the leadership a little more, the latest one seeing the disgraceful spectacle of Siptu officials openly call on their members to scab on the nurses’ strike.

Resistance has taken the form of the 'Red Card' campaign in INTO in 2010, the flying pickets and wildcat strikes of the transport workers in 2017, and the vocal international resistance of nurses in 2019. They have all been isolated and have left little legacy of organisation. These upsurges must become more organised and reach out to other disaffected members in all the unions affected and pool their efforts in a fight for the end of two tier pay; for the repayment of all wages lost to austerity measures and most importantly, for an end to the mechanism through which this pay restraint is policed, the PSSA - which means stability for the employers and decline for the workers.

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