‘Partnership’ as we enter recesssion – A farce and a con


What a farce! As the economy officially goes into recession, as electricity bills go up by 17.5%, as food bills are officially 6.4% higher than this time last year, the leaders of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions negotiate through the night and emerge bleary-eyed from the ‘social partnership’ talks with 1) a pay pause and 2) pay increases, when we eventually get them, lower than the rate of inflation. And then they have the cheek to tell us that this is “the best deal available in the current economic climate” (1). Lucky for them they’re not on performance-related pay if that’s the best they can do for their members.

Unluckily for us however it seems that this is what our trade union movement has been reduced to. The employers’ representatives must have a great laugh when they see the trade union delegation coming. The Construction Industry Federation – representing massively wealthy property developers who have made huge fortunes during the years of the so-called ‘Celtic Tiger’ plead poverty and the ICTU tugs the forelock and agrees that in the ‘current economic climate’ we would be grateful for any crumbs that the fatcats might deign to let fall from the table.

Social Equity?

When the first ‘social partnership’ deal, the Programme for National Recovery, was signed way back in 1987 we were told that we should moderate wage demands in the interests of “social equity” and to “regenerate the economy”. The economy was ‘regenerated’ all right but it doesn’t take a genius to work out that any idea that ‘social equity’ might follow was at best naïve. Throughout the boom years, while profits soared through the roof, we were told that through ‘social partnership’ we should moderate wage demands to facilitate investment in public services.

Yet at the end of the boom we are left with a health system that is unable to meet even the most basic health needs of the population, an education system that can boast class sizes which are among the largest in the OECD, and a crisis in homelessness with Focus Ireland recently pointing out that there are now five times as many people homeless as there were when Focus was founded 23 years ago. “In 1985, it was estimated that up to 1,000 people were homeless. There are now up to 5,000 people who are homeless at any one time.”(2)

‘Social partnership’ has been one of the greatest frauds ever perpetrated on the Irish working class. It never set out to provide ‘social equity’ or to develop public services. Its sole purpose was to emasculate the trade union movement, and to provide cover for the unbridled market-driven capitalism that has led us now from boom to bust. And guess who’ll be made to pay the costs!

Stand up

‘Social partnership’ has provided a cover for the wholesale raiding of our pay packets and a massive transfer of wealth from the poorer sections of society to the pockets of the wealthy. That our trade union leaders have connived in this fraud is nothing short of scandalous. But it need not continue to be so. Rejection of the current deal would be step number one on the road to reclaiming the true spirit of our trade unions. And as ‘the new economic reality’ comes thundering at us, now more than ever we need a strong trade union movement which will stand up for us and deliver a strong message that those who benefited most from the boom years are the ones who should pay for the bust years and that we, workers and the unemployed standing together, are no longer going to be the fall guys.

(1)Peter McLoone, IMPACT general secretary, 17th September 2008
(2)Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy writing in the Irish Times, 25th September 2008

From Workers Solidarity 106, Nov 2008

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Click on one of the thumbnails for an PDF version of the northern or southern edition of Workers Solidarity 106 which can be printed out on eight A4 pages.