A summer of Discontent?


As we as workers and unemployed continue to bear the brunt of the rising cost of living and economic downturn weasel words from current British prime minister Gordon Brown and local administration that they understand ‘our concerns’ and tighten our belts is ok for some with their fat cat salary and the perks. It’s seems that our bosses including trade union bureaucrats are clearly divorced now more than ever from the everyday realities and concerns facing our class.

In the words of Alexander Berkman,
"With growing success in elections and securing political power they turn more and more conservative and content with existing conditions. Removal from the life and suffering of the working class, living in the atmosphere of the bourgeoisie . . . they have become what they call 'practical'. . . Power and position have gradually stifled their conscience and they have not the strength and honesty to swim against the current. . . They have become the strongest bulwark of capitalism."

Ring any bells?

Workers Solidarity reports on the last round of class struggle in the North never forgetting the fact that workers perhaps in a less visible way are fighting back against their bosses from ‘sickies’, sabotage to go slows and theft highlighting that we have nothing in common with our bosses.

Picket lines were formed on the 16 & 17 July across Northern Ireland and Britain by thousands of local government workers. The strike was supported by all the main unions including NIPSA and Unite closing schools, libraries, museums, sports centres, impacting refuse collections and council offices. Gerry Trainer, SIPTU shop steward commenting on the strike in Belfast stated, “In 1907 there was only one Jim Larkin in Belfast; in 2008 there are thousands of Jim Larkin’s.” (Andersonstown News, 19/07/08)

Derry city airport was also closed during duration of the strike. Local political parties such as Sinn Fein councillors joined picket lines and they should have been shown the door. Their Thatcherite anti-working class agenda in Stormont speaks for itself from undermining the classroom assistants strike earlier this year to imposing water charges and privatisation....... Workers went on strike after rejecting a 2.5% ‘final’ pay offer by the Government which well below the rate of inflation. Speaking on behalf of N.Ireland Local Government Association, DUP councillor Jimmy Spratt claimed, “We have proposed increases in pay that are at the limit of what we can afford.” Strange, considering there is always have plenty of money for their imperialist adventures, handouts to the rich in the form of state subsidies to multi-national companies or cutting the corporation tax?

During a mass union rally in Derry during the strike Unison’s Patricia McKeown stated, “We now call on all our elected representatives to stand in support of our members....their voice can make a real difference to what happens at the negotiating tables in London”.(Irish News, p 8, 18/07/08) The only real difference our political class in Stormont is making is attacking our standard of living and rights as part of the global neo-liberal offensive. We as workers have a voice, much more effective than empty platitudes from trade union officials such as Patricia or crumbs from Westminster/ Stormont’s table. We have the power as workers in our communities and workplaces based on class interests in solidarity and self-organisation without political parties, using the weapon of direct action and class war from wildcats, go-slows to the ultimate social general strikes to improve our conditions in the here and now and transform society for the benefit of all. At the end of day we are the majority and they are the minority!

On the same week 700 staff at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency joined their colleagues on a three day strike in support of higher pay.

On Friday 18 July, Unite members and health sector workers in a show of solidarity demonstrated outside the Royal Victoria Hospital in a dispute over pay during lunchtime. WSM members also participated in solidarity with fellow workers.

The following week, workers from the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) who are members of PCS joined their colleagues in Britain began a 3 day strike over pay and conditions.

Meanwhile, Health minister Michael McGimpsey has announced their latest ‘cost-efficiency savings’ on public services by reducing the expenditure on essential ambulance services by 3% resulting in frontline ambulance services being replaced by Rapid Response Vehicles which are ill-equipped in delivering a health service fit for the 21st century. Recent leaked proposals by the Irish News also point to plans by the health minister to slash over 400 ‘home help’ jobs including privatisation further down the road. Home help is an essential service particularly for elderly people providing food, rehabilitation and often their first point of social contact. The cosmetic exercise of ‘efficiency services’ rather than improving services essentially amounts to attacks on both workers and patients alike in terms of pay and conditions.

The Workers Solidarity Movement supports all workers in their struggle for better pay and conditions against the bosses. It is only through practicing solidarity and collectively fighting back where we live and work will we win and we can only secure this! One thing is clear that on the workplace front struggle is beginning to pick up so watch this space........


“In 1907 there was only one Jim Larkin in Belfast; in 2008 there are thousands of Jim Larkin’s.”
(Gerry Trainer, SIPTU shop steward, Andersonstown News, 19/07/08)

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