Why are the ICTU leaders refusing to fight the cuts - It's Time to Strike Back


Working people hit the streets in huge numbers on November 6th. The protests showed, once again, that there is a willingness to resist the government’s attacks on living standards. Most observers put the total number who walked out of work to take part in the eight protests at around 100,000.When 120,000 marched on February 21st the Irish Congress of Trade Unions followed this up with their plan for a general strike on March 30th, only to cancel it in return for the promise of new "social partnership" talks.

The prospect of new "social partnership" talks has been suggested again. Congress leaders want little more than to be ‘consulted’ and negotiated with. They want to moderate the government’s strategy but accept the “need” for income cuts.

Statements from ICTU general secretary David Begg and SIPTU president Jack O’Connor say they want the cuts to be implemented more gradually. Begg has said public spending cuts should be spread over the next eight years up to 2017 instead of the Government's target of 2013 “to minimise the effect the cuts have on workers”. They have agreed with the government’s argument that workers should bail out the rich, they just want it done over a longer time.

Some public sector union leaders have made it known they are prepared to support cuts in services, allowances, working conditions and even extending the working week as long as there are no more cuts in basic pay. This has led to a feeling among many union activists that the leaders have “sold out”.

With many senior union officials on wages many times higher that their members it is certainly true that they have no personal motivation when it comes to resisting pay cuts. INTO’s John Carr gets €171,313 a year, IMPACT’s Peter McLoone €171,000, ASTI’s John White €144,000, David Begg €137,400 and Jack O’Connor €124,000.

However, while it would be easy to blame this small but very influential group of overpaid people, it ignores the reality that the majority of union members voted for the ‘partnership’ deals. The agreement may be dead but the concept of a common interest between boss and employee still hangs over us like the ghost of yesterday.

There is no alternative to income cuts if we continue to “embrace the spirit of partnership”. If the bosses and government are our “partners” then it makes sense to go along with their priorities. That means bailing out the rich at the expense of working people. As SIPTU’s Brendan Hayes pointed out when he refused to sign the Taxation Commission report, “people earning more than €200,000 would not have to pay any more tax”.

This is a class conflict. There is an employers’ offensive to reduce wages and public spending. It is not about everyone taking a hit, it’s about the minority who own a huge amount of Ireland’s wealth preserving and adding to their holdings.

Employers unilaterally impose new contracts, pay cuts are imposed in profitable firms like Marine Terminals and Boots, pension schemes are changed to no longer guarantee a set payment and jobs are outsourced to low pay firms.

Instead of buying in to the fiction that the bosses’ interest is somehow a “national interest” we can start asking questions like, why can hospitals and schools have their funds cut but €54b be quickly found to bail out a handful of mega-rich property developers and investors?

Why are people like Tony O’Reilly, Margaret Heffernan or Denis O’Brien not being relieved of a chunk of their wealth when workers have to give up a chunk of our pay? Why are PAYE workers, who have absolutely no control over economic decisions, expected to foot the bill?

The alternative to pinning our hopes on David Begg getting a great deal over tea and sandwiches in the Taoiseach’s office is strong, combative unions. And that means shop stewards and activists who want to fight back getting together inside our unions to convince our colleagues to back an alternative based on letting the rich “share the pain”.


From Workers Solidarity 112 November - December 2009

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