Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/604/8440
Irish Republic: Huge public sector workers' strike against cutbacks
ON 24 NOVEMBER over 250,000 public service workers in the Irish Republic took part in a one-day strike. The walkout was in protest at the Fianna Fail/Green Party coalition government's threat to cut €1.3 billion from the public service pay bill in next month's budget (9 December).
Michael O'Brien, Socialist Party (CWI Ireland)
This is on top of similar sized cuts in social welfare payments and in public service provision itself. €2.5 billion has already been taken from public sector workers in a mis-named 'pension levy', which on top of other new taxes on income, saw low and middle earners in the public service lose thousands of euros from their pay packets.
The government and media wanted the 24-hour strike to be marked by incidents of a hostile general public venting abuse at a so-called 'cosseted and privileged' section of the workforce.
Instead, incidents of hostility were more the exception than the rule and were far outweighed by signs of support from passers-by, who honked their car horns in appreciation for the work of public servants.
For many, it was their first ever strike action, and across the board rank and file trade union members stepped forward to look after the logistics of getting placards and working out picketing rotas.
The Socialist Party's call for a follow up 48-hour strike - in advance of the budget, coupled with a campaign to get private sector workers on board for future actions - was listened to by workers, who see the need for further action to force the government to back down.
Currently, 3 December 2009 is the date set by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) for the next day of strike action - apart from IFUT (university lecturers) and the AHCPS (senior civil servants) who need to ballot again for any further action.
Socialist Party MEP, Joe Higgins, flew back from a plenary session of the European Parliament, in Strasbourg, to visit picket lines at James Connolly Hospital, Dublin, and at Fingal County Council, in Blanchardstown, before touring the city centre picket lines at various government departments, museums and galleries.
The contrast with establishment politicians from government and so-called 'opposition' who gave the pickets a wide berth was not lost on picketers who were pleased with Joe's support.
While the government was surely rattled by the turnout and the generally positive response of the public, they will take some encouragement from the line argued the next day by Peter McLoone, general secretary of Impact (public sector union) and chair of the ICTU public services committee, who has publicly conceded that there will have to be 'temporary' cuts in public services expenditure.
Peter McLoone and the other trade union leaders are back in talks with the government. They are attempting to make a deal that will supposedly leave "core pay rates" intact, but which, in reality, will mean major pay cuts for public sector workers.
Discussions are taking place around the idea of reducing the pay bill by cutting paid holidays, extending the working week, extending the working day, paying overtime at basic rates and imposing 12 days unpaid leave.
No matter how they try to package such a deal, it basically will result in pay cuts for all public sector workers. This is a disastrous position which, if put into effect, would severely cut the pay of nurses, paramedics, firefighters, prison officers and others who work anti-social hours, as well as low paid administrative workers who have depended on overtime to supplement their meagre basic pay.
The lack of leadership and a real fight by the trade union leaders during this crisis has fed a certain cynicism among many workers who see cuts in pay as inevitable but feel that a stand must still be made.
This outlook is due to the lack of any alternative and the constant propaganda from the establishment parties, media and also the trade union leaders, that everyone must share in the pain!
However, the depth of the crisis is such that the government and the union leaders may not concoct a deal that is 'sellable' to union members. Regardless of the choreography at the top of society between government, employers and union leaders, an active response is needed from the ranks of the unions to reject any sell-out deal.
The Socialist Party believes the next stage in this struggle should be a 48-hour public sector strike. At the same time, the unions should broaden out the campaign to include fighting pay cuts and redundancies in the private sector. On that basis, the unions should call combined action of public and private sector workers - a one day general strike to defeat the government and push back the employers.
In The Socialist 2 December 2009:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Youth fight for jobs
War and occupation
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party election campaign
Marxist analysis: history