Monday, March 30, 2009

View from Workers Power on the political situation

30 March 2009
League for the Fifth international

The Day of Action called by the Irish Congress of Trade Union' (ICTU) of or Monday 30 March has been called off without the slightest act of consultation. Rank and file militants from every sector of the trade union movement are furious with the gross act of sabotage by their `leaders'. Their excuse – the Irish Business and Employers' Federation (IBEC) and Taoiseach (PM) Brian Cowen have offered to resume talks with the ICTU. So cheaply are these people bought!
Have they even been promised any concessions? Not a bit of it! Absolutely nothing. Quite the opposite; IBEC have said it is hard to envisage any pay rises before 2011 and the Government's 7 April Budget will see further cuts to the tune of 4 billion euros. Finance Minister Brian Lenihan suggests this new attack will include the non-replacement of 3,000 public sector workers jobs every year.

The 120,000 strong ICTU demonstration in Dublin last month against the government's plans to impose a pension levy and renege on pay awards forced the cowardly union leaders to call ballots for action. But even then this action was limited to compelling bosses to abide by the Social Partnership agreement to award workers 3½% pay rises.It was not designed to reject the pension levy.

Nevertheless the Day of Action would have seen mass strikes all over Ireland. All four teacher unions gave their backing. Nurses were coming out. UNITE had served notice on a number of employers for strike action as had the craft union TEEU which had called on 45,000 members to strike. IMPACT the largest public sector union voted 65 per cent for strike, one per cent less than the required (and undemocratic) two-thirds majority, But the union had given protection to those not wishing to cross picket lines. Low paid civil servants have already struck and mounted several lunch time pickets on government buildings. It was always clear that a one- day stoppage would not have beaten back the government but it could have been a launching pad for further action up to an including am all out general strike.

An important feature of the situation is that not a single party in the Dáil (the lower house of parliament), including Labour and Sinn Fein, supported the proposed day of action. This despite the tact that the rising tide of struggle has had the effect of boosting Labour in the opinion polls. Indeed Labour leader Eamon Gilmore was particularly vociferous in his opposition to the proposed strikes. This shows that workers urgently need to their own political representation: a fighting socialist and anti-imperialist party.

It is plain ICTU leaders have no stomach for a fight. They cynically wound up their members only to get themselves back around the table with the bosses and the government. They have no real objection to the government unloading the costs of the crisis onto their members' shoulders. They just wanted to be consulted. They were just angry with the government trying to dispense with their services as the messenger boy. After all they have been involved in the Social Partnership swindle for years, even giving advice to the government on where to make cuts.

They say they want everyone to bear the pain equally, the rich and poor. Hundreds of thousands of workers see things differently: why they should bear the cost of a recession which they did not cause? Besides it is plain the bankers and businessmen will certainly not be bearing the pain. Indeed they saved from it by huge handouts from the government; some 5.5 billion to recapitalise the banks. The bill for this will will be paid in increased pension contributions and by with taxpayers for years to come, especially hitting workers and small farmers. It will be the pretext for billions of euros worth of cuts in social spending.

Workers' palpable anger at the ICTU's sell out must not be allowed to evaporate in impotent rage. There have been calls for ICTU chief David Begg to resign for overturning so many ballots for action. He should. When we want to take action there is a ponderous rigmarole of balloting that has be gone through, but a sell-out can be arranged overnight. The fact that our leaders can do this should wake everybody up. What we need is power to return to the grass roots of the unions . We need to take control of our own struggles.

In the face of the present and planned cuts there will be more explosions of rage, street protests and union action. Ordinary union members must take control of these struggles by electing local committees at mass meetings. They should consist of delegates, recallable by these meetings if they do not follow the members' wishes. In France such general assemblies, and committees called co-ordinations, are routine in all major struggles. That is why the French workers have managed to reject so many of their bosses and governments plans over the past five years. This is the language we need to speak to our arrogant bosses and our weak-kneed union leaders.

We also need to start the job of creating a network of rank and file militants in every union and across the unions that can hold the spineless leaders to account, either forcing them to call action or make way for those who will. SIPTU workers at Dublin Airport have already given notice to strike next Thursday over pay which their leaders have not sanctioned. They are right. We say: With the officials where possible, without them where necessary!

Let's hold mass meetings in every workplace to build an unstoppable movement of strike action from below

No to the Pension Levy! No to Wage Cuts!
Tax the Rich!
For an indefinite General Strike against the cuts and job losses!

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