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Union mobilization against Stormont House

Another walk in the park?

John McAnulty

2 February  2015

Given the history of collaboration with government and employers by the Irish trade union movement there was much surprise when ICTU repudiated the Stormont House agreement and announced that they, in association with community groups, would launch a campaign against it.

It appears however that ICTU are moving back from this new radicalism.

An update was provided by Belfast Trades Council President Paddy Mackel at a meeting of the West Belfast campaign:

The unions would not campaign against the political capitulation to sectarian reaction at the heart of the agreement - only against the economic component.

The aim of the demonstrations is to lobby the politicians and ask them to change their mind. Alternatives to supporting a right wing regime are not to be considered.

The unions were united in agreeing that they would do something - translated that means that they disagree and only some will take strike action.

The campaign would be controlled by ICTU alone. They would direct the trades council, who would direct area groups whose only function would be to give out leaflets and help organize meetings.

So the idea of a broader campaign is off the table. The trade unions know very well how to organize broad campaigns. The left bureaucracy was the catalyst that launched the right2water campaign in the 26 counties. They cannot believe for a moment that community support can be built simply by asking people to obey orders. It seems that all we are left with a day of action and some industrial action on March 13th. 

A broader campaign would involve a political programme and democratic structures, with political and community groups given a voice. We are back to slavish surrender to local sectarianism, keeping a low profile and the usual standing argument in trade union circles: capitulate immediately or have a token protest - a walk in the park - and then capitulate.

The power and credibility of the trade unions is negated by their capitulation to reaction. The last major industrial action brought 40,000 unto the streets of Belfast, only for the union leaders to throw the mobilization away with a return to fruitless negotiation.

The issues around the Stormont House agreement will not be so easily solved. The consequences both of the new sectarian deal and of the austerity extend forward for years. A new ongoing mobilization will require an independent movement of the workers outside the control of the union bureaucracy. The road to that movement lies in political and community activists organizing independently while realizing that they must constantly demand that the trade union movement hold to their word. They have spelt out the damage that Stormont House will do to the workers no background deal with Stormont will alter that reality!

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