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Mobilise workers against austerity, racism and war

04 May 2024

This year workers are gathering for May Day events in an increasingly hostile environment. On a local, national and international level the lives and livelihoods of working-class people are under threat like never before.  Austerity and racism are the order of the day while the drumbeat for war sounds ever louder.

Stormont austerity budget

The restoration of the Stormont Executive, and the financial package that accompanied that, was welcomed as an opportunity to address many of the problems, in particular the deterioration of public services, that have been accumulating for many years.  However, such expectations have been completely deflated with the recent publication of the draft budget. It’s just more of the same austerity policies that have been in place for at least the last ten years.

The health service, which has the longest waiting lists and waiting times of all the UK regions, and was claimed to be a priority for the new Executive, is having its funding reduced!  The £187m (2.3%) less it will receive in the current financial year means a
reduction of almost 150 acute hospital beds, the reduction of 1.1 million hours of domiciliary care or the reduction of 500 care home beds.

The water and sewage system is facing another annual shortfall of nearly £100m with implications for housing and development.   Work to address the environmental catastrophe of Lough Neagh has been delayed.  Public sector pay claims have only been partly resolved. Pay parity has not been restored and with this funding only being a one off pay awards are likely to revert back to 0% or below inflation.

The leaders of the Executive talk about “tough decisions” and “priorities” but these are just bywords for austerity and could just as easily come out of the mouth of any Tory minister.

With most of the £3.3bn financial package already allocated the funding of public services is likely to deteriorate even further. This could be partly offset if the Executive made use of the property taxes at their disposal - lifting the gap on the regional rate or doing away with industrial derating - but they have already ruled this out.


Across Ireland racism is being whipped up against immigrants and asylum seekers.  Far right agitation is accommodated by the police while political parties pander to bigotry.

Racism is not a moral issue but a material one that is of fundamental strategic importance to the trade union movement. Migrant communities are overwhelmingly working class and racism is a poison that divides workers and weakens the cause of labour.


Hanging over, and motivating all of this, is war and the threat of war.  US imperialism and its allies are currently conducting a proxy war against Russia in Ukraine and supporting the genocide that is taking place against the Palestinians.  They also are pursuing an increasing confrontational approach to China.   All these conflicts have the potential to escalate into a global war that results in the deaths of tens of millions of people.   There have already been half a million deaths in Ukraine while nearly forty thousand have been killed in Gaza.   The deaths have overwhelmingly been among poor and working-class people.  And it is not only in the war zones where workers are affected.  Across Europe and North America democratic rights are being stripped away as dissent is crushed and whole populations conditioned for war.  Resources are diverted from public services into military spending.  As the imperialist drive to war intensifies so does the class war at home.

Working class organisation

The stakes for workers couldn’t be higher yet the response of working-class organisations, of political parties and trade unions, has been wholly inadequate.

In the north the trade union leadership has completely bought into the proposition that Stormont can be a vehicle for social reform despite its long record of pushing austerity policies.  Rather than shielding workers it is workers who have been sacrificed for the sake of bringing Stormont back and keeping it going.

Trade unions have done little to defend migrant communities and to challenge racism.  In the face of violent racism and a right-wing shift on immigration by the political parties of both government and opposition the trade union movement has retreated. ICTU expresses moral indignation but fails to address the material conditions, particularly in relation to housing, that fuel racism.

On the critical issue of war, the Irish trade union movement has been utterly reactionary, supporting the proxy war in Ukraine and remaining silent on the incorporation of Ireland into the structures of NATO.  While trade unions have been involved in the Palestine solidarity movement this has largely been at arm’s length.  They have confined themselves to marches and consumer boycotts that have failed to shift the position of the Irish government on diplomatic relations with Israel; the imposition of trade sanctions; or support for the genocide case in the ICJ. Sympathy is not solidarity.  It is nowhere near approaching the activity we saw in relation to Apartheid South Africa during the 1980’s when the strike by workers at Dunnes Stores forced a change to the trade policy of the Irish government

A new movement

All of this is a consequence of a trade union movement that has lost its independence.  In both the north and south trade unions identify with the bureaucracy of the state and regard the government as a partner. In practice they subordinate themselves to the narrow agenda of the government and employers; policing their own members and suffocating any attempts by groups of workers to free themselves from the straitjacket of social partnership.

In the view of a large swath of the population trade unions have become part of a discredited governing elite; just another sectional interest in the same category as churches, NGO’s and charities.  We saw the evidence of this most recently in the overwhelming rejection of the proposed changes to the Irish constitution in regard to the family and care.  This was by no means a reactionary vote but the failure of trade unions and parties of the left to address the anger and frustration within working class communities makes it more likely that opposition to the status quo will be captured by the far right and channelled in a racist direction.  The approach of the current leadership, in effectively making trade unions an arm of government, is courting disaster.

This reactionary trajectory is not inevitable.  The most powerful counter to it is the existence of an independent, militant, politicised working-class movement.   Class is the only identity that can really unify people.  The elevation and assertion of the class interests of workers is absolutely vital.  We know this is a huge task for trade union and socialist activists but given the real dangers faced by the working class it is one that must be embarked on with the greatest of urgency.  Socialist Democracy is committed to this and is willing to work with individuals and groups who hold a similar viewpoint.

Break with social partnership

Oppose austerity

Fight racism and the far right

Resist the drive to war

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