This year’s NIPSA conference comes at a very important time. The new Executive, now entirely dominated by the DUP and Sinn Féin, are pushing ahead with their plans to make 20,000 public sector workers redundant.
The next four years will see more cuts, pursued by both the Tory government and the Executive. If the Tories, the DUP and Sinn Féin get their way, the public sector will be stripped to the bone and those of us who remain will be stretched to beyond breaking point trying to meet the needs of our communities.
Over the last two years, NIPSA – under the leadership of a NIPSA Broad Left (BL) majority on the General Council – has played an important role in arguing for the need for the trade unions to struggle to stop austerity. NIPSA and other unions pushed the NIC-ICTU to call the one day public sector strike in March 2015– and NIPSA was the only union that argued for the naming of a second day of strike action in May. NIPSA has provided a loud voice of opposition to the Fresh Start Agreement, including at the recent NIC-ICTU conference.
NIPSA Broad Left will be a minority on the General Council over the coming year, and we do not believe that the incoming majority group will take the resolute stand that is necessary. This will not stop Broad Left and Socialist Party members making the case for action to stop the cuts at all levels in the union, from the General Council to the branches. It is necessary to build resistance to the cuts carefully and patiently. NIPSA must support its members whenever and wherever they take a stand, support other trade unionists when they resist austerity and assist community and campaigning groups in their efforts to protect services and communities. Ultimately, however, widespread and co-ordinated action will be necessary to really challenge austerity.
No links with sectarian parties
Some in the union movement, including some in the leadership of our union, have no real intention of resisting the cuts but instead would like to reach agreements with the Executive. NIPSA Broad Left has been fundamental in opposing the push by some leading officials for greater links between the trade unions and the sectarian parties in the Assembly. The trade unions are the biggest movement (with 220,000 members) that unite Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland – we cannot allow that unity to be destroyed by union leaders who support partnership with the likes of Sinn Féin and the DUP.
The main political parties in Northern Ireland are based in one or other community only and are dependent on continuing sectarian division. Their words and actions cement division. Trade unions have to deal with these parties in various ways but should never form links, no matter how loose, with such parties. To do so risks the unity of the trade union movement.
That does not mean that we ignore politics. There is no such thing as non-political trade unionism. Every trade union has to deal with a wide range of political, economic and social issues affecting its members on a daily basis. NIPSA is no different. We are the largest union in Northern Ireland and we are on the frontline of the fight against austerity. In order to defend our members and public services, we need to move in the direction of adopting a political fund. Until we do so we are held back in our ability to fight for all that matters to us.