By Stephen Boyd
The resounding rejection of Croke Park II by public sector workers presents an important opportunity for working class people to challenge and defeat the austerity agenda.
The No vote has deepened the crisis for this already unstable government. A government in which support for Labour has crashed because of their implementation of attack after attack on working class people.
If the government moves to impose pay cuts as well as other “consequences”, then the only answer from public sector workers can be industrial action – a sustained campaign of determined united strike action.
The LRC and many of the union leaders are desperately attempting to come up with a Plan B. But it won’t be so simple. The majority of public sector workers rejected Plan A because they simply cannot afford anymore cuts to their income. It is no coincidence that the No vote to Croke Park II occurred as the demands for the Property Tax were arriving in people’s homes. This was not just a vote against pay cuts and changes to conditions – this was a vote against austerity and clear message that “there is nothing left to give!”
The intervention of David Begg, ICTU general secretary into the “debate” has been disgraceful. He has “warned” the government and the public service unions “to let reason prevail and avoid tumbling into intense industrial conflict”. This is tantamount to a call from the “commander in chief” for his troops to surrender after they have won the first battle!
Imposing cuts on public sector workers on top of imposing and forceibly taking the Property Tax from workers pay may be a step too far for some Labour TDs who are already terrified that their seats are potentially gone. This is a crisis that can bring down the government as Labour TDs, aiming to save their own political futures abandon ship, rather than vote to impose pay cuts.
Public sector workers are in a strong position. Their main problem is the potential – if not the certainty – that many of their union leaders will attempt to construct a treacherous deal with some concessions that they can re ballot on with increased threats and intimidation and hope to get it through.
Such a scenario poses the potential for a split in the Public Services Committee of ICTU. There is already speculation that SIPTU and IMPACT may try to do their own deal. In other words that Jack O’Connor and Shay Cody would aim to get concessions for their own members – ballot – and then let the other unions fend for themselves. In this event, the No unions should take industrial action to oppose any imposed cuts by the government on their members.
Whatever proposal comes from the new LRC “process” it must be rejected by public sector workers – because it will still be based on achieving €1 billion in cuts. The same reasons why you voted no the first time will still apply!
The fact that there was an alternative in the guise of the Alliance of No unions was an important factor in achieving the No vote. And the strong opposition to Croke Park II shown at the teachers conferences also gave many in other unions the confidence to vote No. A strong No alliance is even more important now. Other unions who voted No should be brought into the alliance on the basis that there should be no deal. The government should get its €1 billion from taxing the rich and big business, and any attempt to impose pay cuts will be resisted by strike action.
Media reports that the leadership of the INMO (nurses and midwives union) are exploring a possible compromise within the context of a new deal along with the IMO (doctors) threatens to weaken the Alliance of No unions and potentially split it apart. Nurses, midwives and doctors would be mistaken to engage in a side deal with the government. Such deals may give some relief from the worst aspects of the cuts for certain workers but it is important that all public sector workers also look at the impact of the €1 billion cuts on all of the 290,000 state employees, as well as the economy.
Solidarity is more important than ever – side deals effectively mean that one group of public sector workers would be voting for others to take pay cuts. Austerity is destroying this society and defeating Croke Park. Stopping the €1 billion in cuts is key in the struggle to stop the government imposing the cost of the crisis on working class people and end a political “strategy” that guarantees the continuation of the recession, mass unemployment, emigration and Croke Park III & IV and V “deals” that will also come after pay, jobs and conditions.
Across the public sector unions this is an important time for activists – uniting within each union and inter union in the different sectors. Activists need to ensure that the pressure is maintained on the leadership against any attempt at sell-outs.
The teachers’ unions are balloting for strike action. The CPSU has agreed to ballot for strike action in the event of imposed cuts. The demand should go up in all public sector unions for similar ballots – a majority vote across all the unions for industrial action will pile the pressure on Labour and on the government.
Some public sector workers are anxious about taking strike action because of the betrayal by the ICTU leadership of public sector workers in 2010. However in the context of the vote against Croke Park II and the general opposition to the government’s austerity agenda, sacrificing a few days wages in the short term can mean saving thousands in the longer term and even ensuring that you actually have a job!
A one day public sector strike backed up with the threat of further united action including 48 hour strikes can defeat the government – and not only will this bring much needed respite for struggling public sector workers – but it can also be a significant step forward in defeating the whole austerity agenda including the Property Tax, the Water Tax and the €6 billion more in cuts and taxes promised by Noonan in the next two budgets.