From Socialist Voice, June 2006

There are always alternatives

The talks on a new partnership deal have been concluded between the “social partners”—government, employers, trade unions, farming organisations, and other social organisations. The deal concluded will run over ten years, up to 2016, with the pay element running over a 27-month period.
    But already the agreement appears to be in trouble. The Executive Committee of the ICTU was unable to recommend the agreement to member-unions, despite the fact that a leading member of the Executive stated that it was the “best agreement” to be had. The Executive Committee of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland has called a delegate conference to discuss and vote on it in late June, with a unanimous recommendation from the Executive for rejection.
    Clearly, many workers will see this agreement as buying a pig in a poke in relation to the non-pay aspects. How many times have we heard of the social housing question, and still nothing is done? State land is handed over to corporate landgrabbers, while public housing stock is sold off. The government has failed to deliver on legislation about worker displacement, which was part of the settlement of the Irish Ferries dispute.
    The “outsourcing” of services now carried out by the state is the thin end of the wedge and will only increase over the coming period. More and more services will come under pressure to be farmed out to the political cronies of the establishment parties and their financial backers. This is part and parcel of the Services Directive that the European Union has been pushing through to undermine the wages and working conditions of public service workers throughout the EU.
    This agreement will allow employers in such areas of the economy as banking and financial services, as well as speculators and builders, to get away with paying only the absolute minimum. It will do little or nothing for lower-paid workers.
    Union members need to think long and hard before voting for this new deal. Unions also need to read the warning signs. Trade union concentration is declining, and unions themselves are in danger if we can’t reach out to the vast numbers of unorganised workers throughout the economy. There is nothing in this deal to assist this process but rather it will further restrict the capacity of unions to defend existing wages and conditions right across the board, including the public sector.
    This is tying Irish workers into a mind-set where there is no alternative, either organisational or political, to the one we are in. Sometimes it appears that the process is more important than the outcome in relation to these agreements.
    There are always alternatives. The time and effort that was put into this mess would have been better spent looking at building an alternative strategy and at new ways forward for the labour movement. Workers should reject this agreement, as it will further undermine their wages and working conditions.


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