The Croke Park extension: What it is and how to fight it.


Early yesterday morning, the leadership of the public sector committee of ICTU emerged from talks with the government claiming they had achieved the best possible outcome from the negotiations. The best possible outcome in question involves extra hours at work, cuts in overtime rates and allowances for unsociable hours, delayed increments and revisions to flexitime arrangements and work-sharing patterns. 

"We are living under extraordinary circumstances and people are suffering extraordinary miseries.” – Jack O’Connor on Today FM’s The Last Word.  There’s more misery to come.

Much has been made of the fact that pay cuts will not be levied on those earning less than €65,000. However, an increase of between three and four hours per week at the same rate of pay amounts to a pay cut in real terms as does the delay of increments. As important to many people is the fact that these changes will take away one of the main benefits of a job in the public sector, flexible, “family friendly” working arrangements. Extra hours on the job, for front line staff that are already overstretched and over stressed will have a significant psychological impact and services will deteriorate.

Acceptance of these terms would mean acceptance of decades of indentured servitude. The €1billion euro of “savings” from the public pay bill, much of which will be extracted by making fewer people do more work, represents a direct transfer of wealth from public sector workers to the bondholders. The gains of the labour movement in the 20th century; the five day week, the eight hour day, holiday entitlements and in some cases where it still applies, job security, are all under attack. For now the promise is that pay rates will not be touched, but when this agreement has run its course, there will be nothing else left to give.

The terms of the agreement also have to be looked at within the broader context of austerity. While workers are coming home later from work with the same pay, they will be handing over more of their salaries to the government through the mechanism of the property tax and water charges. The sum total of these measures amounts to economic blitzkrieg as a tactic in the class war. To date this war has been one sided. It is high time we fought back.

We must prepare to strike and we must be prepared to stay out until we have struck a blow so significant that it shakes the foundations of the state. We cannot rely on the union leaders to organise resistance for us. They are not facing attacks on their living conditions. Their careers rely on their ability to find a solution that is acceptable to both bosses and workers. In this case that is not possible so we need to fight for ourselves.  

The discussion needs to start now in every work place on how we will conduct industrial action. These discussions can provide the basis for strike committees. We need to argue for the rejection of this agreement and for a participative approach to industrial action. Provisions should be made to prevent scabbing. We should discuss things like refusing to handle the implementation of the property tax and it’s extraction from wages and social welfare. Moreover, we need to take the debate on to the street and win the argument among the general population, to convince other workers that an injury to one, is an injury to all. 

WORDS: Mark Hoskins