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Trade Unions and Stormont cuts

A Walk in the Park

3 November 2014

A "walk in the park" in trade union circles refers to a demonstration held to establish that the movement has a campaign and to satisfy the more active members. There is however no movement towards a set goal. 

That was the nature of the Trade Union demonstrations in Britain on 18th October and the companion Belfast demonstration on the same day demanding "A pay rise for all."

The organisers carefully avoided explaining why a demonstration was thought more likely to achieve this miraculous change in the living standards of the working class rather than the traditional method of withdrawing their labour or why a number of unions had called off strike action just days before.

Instead they employed another technique called "boo hoo." This involves speaker after speaker listing the very genuine suffering of their members. The implication is that if the government and employers understood the terrible effect of austerity they would change their minds and that someone, somewhere, should do something.

Of course the capitalists understand very well the results of their actions and no amount of boo hoo will divert them. What we are seeing is an existential crisis of the Trade Unions themselves. 

In Britain the strategy is to elect a labour government which would (they hoped) impose a lighter form of austerity. Now, with the Scottish referendum, the collapse of the Labour party vote and the rise of UKIP, all they can hope for is a rump government in a landscape dominated by the far right, with a straight right-wing victory more likely

The situation in Belfast is even worse. Having dismissed the revolt against partition and British rule as sectarian the unions embraced with fervour the sectarian settlement sharing out corruption in Stormont and their central tactic has been constant lobbying of politicians there. Now even that illusion of action has gone. Stormont is in meltdown, the Unionists demand more sectarian privilege and Sinn Fein have dropped the left mask to bring forward an austerity budget. The small trade union march trailed past taunts by semi-fascist Loyalist demonstrators who could have been cleared from the streets by a handful of genuine radicals.

Interviewed as the austerity details, involving the loss of thousands of public sector jobs, were announced, Belfast Trades Council leader and leading Communist Party member Brian Campfield remarked with a shrug that that was the way things would go for several years unless the politicians changed their minds.

In both Britain and the North the Trade Union agenda is to dance in the cracks and soften the edges of austerity. As supporters of the capitalist system they were bound to take this option.

The task of socialists is to put forward a real alternative. In the North a starting point would be to abolish a Stormont administration that is clearly incompetent and whose main function is to administer and maintain the sectarian division of the Irish working class. 

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