By Seán Burns
Up to 1,000 council staff in the Newry, Mourne & Down District area – members of Unite, NIPSA, GMB and SIPTU trade unions – are set to take strike action on Thursday 3rd December in the first stage of a campaign against the management attacks on pay and conditions.
Following the merger which created the Newry, Mourne & Down District Council, management have engaged in a race to the bottom with regard to workers’ conditions. Current proposals would leave some waste collection workers facing a loss of up to £2,500 per year. Management have also sought to introduce a prejudicial job evaluation process which opens the door to further attacks on staff pay and conditions. It’s little surprise, then, that all unions involved received over 70% endorsement of strike action from their members.
A spokesperson for the Council responded to the industrial ballot by saying, “Council has a responsibility to spend public money in the most responsible manner possible, particularly in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic when public finances are stretched”. What is implicit in this line of argument is that there is not enough money to fund public services. That is a lie. During this pandemic, the fortunes of the billionaires have risen by 27%, yet we are told that ordinary workers must tighten their belts! And this is from a Council dominated by Sinn Féin and the SDLP, parties which often like to pose as being ‘anti-austerity’.
This is a warning that the pro-capitalist politicians on local councils, at Stormont and Westminster will attempt to shift the cost of this crisis onto the shoulders of the working class, rather than make the super-rich and big business foot the bill. That is no surprise, given that they have kowtowed to the demands of these groups at every turn.
Unions representing Council staff have rightly warned that they are prepared to escalate the campaign of industrial action if their demands are not met. The outcome of this industrial dispute has importance, not just for the workers directly involved, but for all workers across Northern Ireland. The Socialist Party sends its solidarity to these workers and calls on the wider trade union movement and all workers support this campaign in any way possible.