Trade unions must stand up to Stormont’s austerity

translinkEvery part of our civil and public services are under constant attack from government. In every area local struggles are taking place. Workers in housing, health, education, councils, the civil service etc are bravely fighting to defend services from privatisation and cuts.
Every one of these campaigns deserves credit as do the local trade union reps and activists who are at the heart of them. In many cases local victories have been won and the councils and Assembly have been forced to pull back. Unfortunately in many others the cuts are still moving ahead and the employers are constantly adding more to the list. Simon Hamilton, the Finance Minister, has warned us that the cuts we have seen are nothing compared to what has to come but if we simply accept that as fact and allow the cuts to continue then many of the pillars of our public service will be destroyed in a few short years. Council services are on the brink of a massive privatisation programme in Belfast, the Housing Executive is privatising one estate at a time, the health service is turning into a gravy train for private health vultures and as many as one-third of our schools have been earmarked for closure. Civil service departments are cutting hundreds of jobs, slashing terms and conditions and moving forward with privatisation despite the knowledge that it does not provide value for money or a good service. To top it all off public servants who are already stretched to the limit are finding their living standards slashed.
In response to this co-ordinated attack across all areas of the public services there needs to be a co-ordinated resistance across communities and trade unions. The trade union movement is potentially very powerful and if linked to genuine non-sectarian community activists a massive campaign could be built which could force both Westminster and Assembly politicians to retreat from cuts.
Building such a campaign will mean working from the ground up. After the sell-out of hugely successful November 30th 2011 strike by millions of public sector workers there is a legacy of damaged confidence amongst union members and activists who rightly felt betrayed by their leaders in London. It will take time, discussion and most importantly activity to rebuild confidence. A positive approach by unions is critical to developing a fighting spirit.
As a first step towards rebuilding a movement against cuts the unions should tie the various local campaigns together. If workers from all sectors act as one against the cuts then victories are much more likely. As well as campaigning, we must also consider industrial action because the reality is that workers will have to fight hard to stop the cuts and improve living standards and inevitably strikes will be necessary. It is essential that we begin the preparation for that eventuality and not be taken by surprise.
If it is true that there has been an upturn in the economy then why are workers here still under attack and why are the Assembly politicians still carrying out the Tories dirty work? As it becomes clearer that they are not going to defend us then we must get ready to challenge them and to replace them with representatives who will break from green and orange sectarian politics and puts the interests of the working class first.

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