Union Suicide

April 13, 2010

Ireland is providing a pretty good example to workers around the world of how not to resist the ongoing crisis of capitalism. As the WSWS explains:

[An] agreement between Ireland’s public sector trade unions, the government and employers to ban strikes until 2014 gives full expression to the role of the union bureaucracy as the ally of the financial aristocracy and its plundering of public finances [and] sets down a new marker in the class collaboration practised by the trade union bureaucracies throughout Europe, which are seeking to emulate the “Irish model” in imposing the costs of recession and the financial crisis on the working class.

…No appeals to patriotism and the shared interests of the “Irish people” can hide the fact that, under capitalism, Ireland has been driven to near bankruptcy by a narrow layer of the super-rich. There is no way out of this situation on a purely national basis and without challenging the essential foundations of capitalism.

This analysis is spot on. The trade union hierarchy in Ireland is essentially betraying public sector workers, who have actually mobilized in their thousands to protect jobs, wages and benefits as the crisis has deepened.

Their anger is not surprising. As part of its efforts to make the Irish people pay for the speculation of the financial elite, the government slapped a massive annual “levy” on pension funds which will cost around £2,500 per worker per year. Teachers will see their pay cut by a fifth, while even the Garda are seeing pay decreases of about 200 euros per month. Care allowances for disabled people are being slashed as the financial crisis reaches deep into the social lives of ordinary citizens.

This agreement ostensibly provides for a freeze in public sector pay cuts (which have already been decapitated). But this is dependent upon an “annual review” and the carrying out of other unspecified reforms to cut the budget deficit and restore investor confidence.

In reality, the deal provides cover for further government action to bail out financial institutions, with details surfacing shortly before the government scheduled another tranche of loot for ailing banks. As finance specialist Theresa Reidy told Reuters in March, “They don’t want to have trade unions on the radio all week complaining about how much is being paid to the banks.”

The deal essentially means that the government has bought wriggle room and can recommence slashing salaries if the economic situation “deteriorates.” Unions have signed away strategic advantages, making a resumption of strikes seem rash, and have capitulated to the political argument that deep cuts are necessary – and unavoidable. There is, in Ireland, no alternative, according to both political and union bosses.

Workers disagree, as well they might. When taken back to members, unions have been met with anger as the Public Sector Agreement has been repeatedly rejected. The Impact union, for example, whose general secretary Peter McLoone has been a committed backer of the agreement, saw its executive committee oppose a recommendation if the deal in what the Business Post calls a “unexpected and unanimous decision” which was “based on a serious scepticism about the government’s commitments on pay, pensions and job security.”

Most seem sceptical that workers will opt to take strike action against the agreement and further cutbacks, but this is far from certain. Within unions, militancy remains strong, even if the leadership is trying to defuse it. With tough times, prolonged strikes become harder to organize, but at the same time, commitment and anger are rising, making the motivation to take action far greater. A summer of discontent remains on the cards.


One Response to “Union Suicide”

  1. watsonlow Says:

    They are being suckered. God help Ireland when they wake up!

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