From Socialist Voice, May 2010

Groundwork being laid for union acquiescence

The decision by the National Executive Council of SIPTU to recommend acceptance of the Croke Park deal is the beginning of a gradual campaign to swing the union movement in favour of the agreement. This decision by the executive of the largest union in Ireland opened up a breathing-space for the subsequent move by the National Executive of IMPACT, which had previously declared that it could not recommend acceptance, to seek “clarification” on the particulars of the agreement.
     This is likely to be the start of a move within that union to halt a swing towards rejection. Already Peter McLoone has told branch secretaries that “contacts with other unions” had made it clear that, in the absence of a negotiated settlement, no other union would be prepared to join it in a campaign of co-ordinated stoppages to achieve its objective.
     Notably, he added that “the feedback we are receiving suggests that there is generally less support for sustained work stoppages.”
     The groundwork is being laid for union acquiescence; and a narrowing of the alternatives outside the agreement is being driven home. Yet strip away much of the talk about “clarifications” and we are likely to find little more to it than reassurances by the Government that it will not renege on its side of the bargain (a position that appears untenable, given clause 28).
     Even if the present manoeuvrings prove too little to stem rejection by Congress later in May, we can expect a further choreography between union leaders and Government and a sort of replay of the “Lisbon 2” strategy being put into effect by the pro-agreement elements.
     The pro-agreement wing of the unions, despite its best efforts, has offered some rather poor reasons for favouring the agreement. As noted in the previous issue of Socialist Voice, clause 28 states that “the implementation of this agreement is subject to no currently unforeseen budgetary deterioration.”
     The anti-agreement wing of the unions has rightly pointed out that this ultimately offers little in the way of defence against further pay cuts, as the entire deal is contingent on the Government’s claimed fiscal position.
     Yet SIPTU has gone to great lengths to play down the significance of clause 28. Jack O’Connor has claimed that, “at the end of the day, if the Government do opt out it would be open to us to renew and scale the industrial campaign.” Unfortunately, in the light of its current posturing, this is flawed logic and when unpacked becomes nonsense.
     The SIPTU leadership is telling its members that intensifying any industrial campaign is unlikely to reverse the Government’s position, because it is constrained by existing budgetary constraints.
     Yet simultaneously the SIPTU leadership is proposing that at some possible future time, if the Government decides to opt out of the agreement (presumably to be legitimised on the grounds of “unforeseen budgetary constraints” that allow little scope to manoeuvre), a campaign of industrial action can then be used to force renegotiation.
     But if those same circumstances more or less prevail now, and the union leadership are willing to submit to the Government’s lead on these matters, how valid is it to propose that the union leadership will not concede to the fundamentals of the Government’s position in the future?
     Why not push for further industrial action now, and force renegotiation now?
     In any case, it is clear that some sections of the union leadership have completely abandoned any idea of industrial action on these questions. Indeed David Begg has undermined SIPTU’s position on some possible future industrial campaign to overturn the use of clause 28 by claiming that any mobilising action “would be very traumatic for our country.”
     The union leadership, despite spending the best part of 2009 tub-thumping about an alternative way out of the crisis, has succumbed to TINA—“There is no alternative.” When not defending clause 28, this is the best they can muster. “A better, fairer way” has been quietly shelved.
     There will be no consideration of alternative strategies. The philosopher-kings of Leinster House, the Central Bank and the ESRI have spoken on the nature of the crisis, and public-sector workers are to submit.

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