March 2013        

Workers continue to pay the price

As the debate on Croke Park II continues to heat up, it is important that working people do not lose sight of what is really happening. The continuing cuts in public services, such as child care and youth services, and the continued assault on public services across the board are but part of a generalised assault on working people, on living standards, on the terms and conditions of employment, and a driving down of social welfare costs.
      It needs to be repeated again and again that austerity is a deliberate policy choice of the establishment, and not bad policies being pursued by heartless politicians (though they are). The system is impelled by its own logic and needs to impose austerity. They have no alternative if they wish to save their system.
      We have seen the open manipulation by the government, the pitting of worker against worker, which in the past remained hidden but nevertheless the most effective tool in the armoury of the employers and the government, and their continuing efforts to break the 24-7 Alliance of public-sector workers and their trade unions, giving concessions to some and promising others that if they come back inside the tent they too will get some sugar with which to swallow a very bitter pill.
      Then there is the spectacle of the leader of the Labour Party attempting to prevent other political parties intervening in trade unions’ discussions and debates or showing solidarity with public-sector workers. What Gilmore, on behalf of the government, wants is to give the anti-union lobby and bosses’ media a clear field, to marginalise and break public-sector workers.
      The stance taken by some leading trade union officials who are prominent within the Labour Party—attempting to use their position of influence to bring workers in behind this bankrupt government, in particular the Labour Party—is a long way from the honourable and leading role played during the 1913 Lock-Out.
      They have been taken aback by the extent of opposition from the membership and by the degree to which workers have seen through their ruse, which has put them on the back foot for the moment.
      We need to constantly keep to the fore the following question: What is austerity designed to do?
      It is for shifting the burden of crisis onto workers and away from capital, through pay cuts, redundancies, and the socialisation of corporate debt where necessary. Austerity is capitalism’s response to the crisis: to recover growth through increased exploitation and provide state-led guarantees to private investment.
      Croke Park I and II are an extension of “social partnership.” Mentally, the ICTU still sees things in terms of giving away rights to placate the interests of the bosses.
      What was social partnership? It was state-led control of working people to meet the needs of capital: controlled pay, shifting the tax burden to labour, pro-capital legislation, the creation of a flexible work force, the individualisation and atomisation of workers, the breaking down of social solidarity, with everyone looking after themselves.
      Croke Park II is more of the same: a controlled decrease in pay to increase profits for monopolies through pay cuts in the public sector, to knock on into the private sector; the shifting of state expenditure away from labour and the public and to meet the debt of private capital; further job insecurity in the public sector, to drive maximum insecurity and “flexibility” (precarious work) in the private sector.
      Essentially it is an agreement for restructuring the working class into a low-wage, highly precarious zone for monopoly capital—particularly American exports into the euro zone. They are solving their crisis by placing the burden on our backs.
      The Croke Park II agreement between the government and the public-sector trade unions is a dead end, a handcuffs and leg-irons deal for public-sector workers.
      There is nothing in this deal for workers, other than longer working hours, pay cuts, and a worsening of their terms and conditions. All for what? To pay an odious debt that does not belong to us, to bow and scrape and prostrate ourselves before the gods of the market, and tug the forelock to the European Union.
      If this deal goes through it will give a green light for further attacks on all working people, on the unemployed, pensioners, the weak and vulnerable.
      If it is adopted it may well do for trade unionism within the public sector what social partnership in the last two decades did for trade union organisation in the private sector. It can only grow the ranks of the unorganised and create a greater poisonous pool of anti-union feeling among the mass of working people.
      Working people will not find a solution by using the same methods and ways of thinking. Resistance is not futile. It may take a little longer to rebuild the trust of workers and all working people, but that is the only way forward. Trade unions have a clear choice to make: to become radical or become redundant.

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