From Socialist Voice, April 2010

“Lie down, stay down”

The recently concluded agreement between leading officers of the ICTU Public Services Committee and the Government, entitled “Public Services Agreement, 2010–2014,” was more or less what the unions had put on the table before the budget in December 2009, proposals that the Government initially agreed to but were overruled by the EU Commission, which now takes a direct supervisory role in how the Irish Government shapes its budgetary priorities and strategy.
        While the negotiations were presented as having been difficult and protracted, in fact from previous experience of these centralised negotiations that gave us the various “social partnership” agreements we know that while many attend, few are involved in the substantial discussions. It is all about perceptions: to give the impression to union members that it was tough going and that this is the best deal on the table.
        The talks about this proposed agreement were also about perceptions: the lights on in dark buildings late into the night, selective leaks to the press that crunch points had been reached, and bags were packed, ready for walking away. Yet in the final week of March it was general knowledge that agreement had been reached and what was necessary was to get the optics and the sequence right, to get the CPSU conference out of the way, and to launch the agreement before NAMA was made public.
        Elements of the trade union leadership are attempting to sell this agreement on the grounds that it would ensure the necessary savings, thereby eliminating the need for further cuts in public-sector workers’ pay and for pension levies. The agreement must now be voted on by public-sector unions.
        The Government’s commitment to making no further attacks on workers’ wages and pensions is so circumscribed as to make it meaningless. Any reversal of the pay and pension cuts is dependent on the state of Government finances. This Government, and any possible future combination of parties, have all agreed that the priority is to restore the public finances and to reduce the deficit to less than 3 per cent of GDP by 2014, under the supervision of the EU Commission and in line with the Growth and Stability Pact.
        The debts that the Government has taken on under NAMA will determine the budgetary policy for decades to come. The priority will be to service this massive debt—not public services, not job creation.
        The strategy of the Government, the employers and the establishment media since the beginning of this crisis has been to take maximum advantage of the crisis in a generalised attack on workers’ terms and conditions throughout the economy, both the public and the private sector. The action—or inaction—of the trade union movement has allowed a significant division to emerge between public and private-sector workers.
        Neo-liberalism is not dead ideologically, or as an economic strategy: in fact the neo-liberals continue to take full advantage of the crisis. Not alone are they continuing to use the state as the vehicle for pushing forward their strategic goals but they have succeeded so far in shifting huge corporate debts onto the backs of workers and their families, with the state taking responsibility in the form of NAMA.
        Under this proposed agreement, many rights that workers have secured, and terms and conditions underwritten by law, will be ended. The state is moving in and will attempt to remove the protections won and built up by workers over nearly eight decades. The record shows that the state sector led the way in child care, pensions, maternity leave, career breaks, shorter working week, and the regulated working week.
        What has now been put on the table is that the working day will be whatever is considered necessary, and the working week will be from Monday to Sunday. Shift premiums and overtime payments are all to go. Flexibility is the order of the day: you must do your own job and the work of anybody else if so required.
        If this agreement goes through, the consequences will be felt throughout the state-sponsored sector and the private sector of the economy. The employers’ organisations, IBEC and ISME, have welcomed this agreement; they see the demolition of the rights of public-sector workers as a prelude to renewed attacks on their own workers. This will unleash a further race to the bottom, with workers being used against each other in undermining each other’s terms and conditions.
        The trade union movement now has no vision, few if any policies for overcoming the crisis, and very few ideas on how to defend its members. The ICTU in effect has replaced its campaign slogan “Get up, stand up—for a better, fairer way” with “Lie down, stay down—there is no other way.”

Home page  >  Publications  >  Socialist Voice  >  April 2010  >  “Lie down, stay down”
Baile  >  Foilseacháin  >  Socialist Voice  >  Aibreán 2010  >  “Lie down, stay down”