The politicians in the Northern Ireland Assembly are united around an austerity program that will see the destruction of thousands of public sector jobs and plans to sell-off our public assets. After years of cuts which have stretched health and other services to breaking point and crippled our economy, all Stormont has to offer is four more years of austerity. MLAs tell us they have ‘no choice’, that ‘Westminster holds the purse strings.’
Yet, it was them, not Westminister, who pushed for a cut in corporation tax. This will mean at least another £300 million in cuts for us and bigger profits for fat cat bosses! On March 13th, we need a solid strike to put down a marker and send a message to Stormont. The protests on the day should be a show of strength by workers, young people and the communities that will be devastated by Stormont’s neo-liberal agenda of cuts.
However, one day alone is not enough. It must mark the opening shot in a campaign of sustained, co-ordinated and escalating action. The trade union movement should now call for a second day of strike action in the lead up to the general election to show this will be real fightback.
We must learn the lessons of the battle against pension cuts in 2011. The public sector strike on November 30th saw millions of workers united in struggle across Britain and the North. The power of the organised working class brought society to a standstill in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, this movement was then sold out by sections of the trade union leadership who made a rotten deal on pensions with the ConDem coalition. Pressure must be applied on trade union leaders and officials to ensure the same does not happen again. United and determined action can win!
While some posture as being against this or that cut, all the Assembly Executive parties peddle the lie that‘there is no alternative’ and there simply isn’t enough wealth in society. This is a sick joke when you consider that the wealth of the UK’s billionaires has quadrupled since 2008 and that big business avoids paying £120 billion in tax every year! All the Executive parties are all actively imposing cuts. The trade union movement should not give an ounce of political support to any party which is implementing austerity.
The Stormont House Agreement also exposes the inability of pro-austerity, sectarian parties to solve the contentious issues which divide us. They were able to agree on cuts but little else. This should come as no surprise. These parties have a vested interest in maintaining sectarian division. Rather than relying on them, we need to build a movement which unites Protestant and Catholic workers in struggle for their common interests and against sectarianism.
The election ofSyriza in Greece and the reaction across Europe reflects a growing desire to break from the austerity agenda and build a different society. Increasingly, ordinary people here are becoming disillusioned with the dead-end of rightwing, sectarian politics offered by all the main parties. The trade union movement must actively support the building of a new anti-sectarian party which fights for the interests of the working class and all those who face oppression.