May 2013        

Croke Park II rejected

Anne Casey
Secretary, Trade Union Left Forum

The results are in; Croke Park II has been rejected. From a left viewpoint this is a welcome result, but it does leave the trade union movement with challenges. It is a time for reflection, questions and, most importantly, a great deal of analysis.
     Union members have spoken, and whatever the media might say about the many reasons for workers rejecting the deal, it is clear that members voted against austerity measures. These measures are having a detrimental effect on trade unionists, their families, and their communities.
     This is having a catastrophic effect on how society is evolving. We are changing as a nation, without any dialogue taking place, at any level, about what kind of society we want to evolve into and what kind of society we want for the children of this great republic.
     The consequences of the Government’s decisions, their actions and policies are causing economic and social havoc to communities. But the rich will continue to thrive; their lives will not be interfered with in any noticeable way, while once again trade union members and their families struggle.

Whose class struggle?

A useful starting-point in any left analysis is recognising that class struggle is not just about actions taken by workers for their class interest but that class struggle is (very effectively) organised and directed by the ruling classes, representing their own interests, and that this is done by the Government, who have a keen interest in maintaining this class struggle.
     The ruling classes have launched the most far-reaching assault on working people in recent history. They have reversed decades of wage and employment gains. The entire panoply of neo-liberal policies, including so-called “austerity measures,” mass firings of public and private employees, and massive transfers of wealth to creditors, are designed to enhance the power, wealth and primacy of diverse sectors of capital at the expense of labour. As James Petras has said, paraphrasing Marx, class struggle from above is the motor force to reverse history—to seize and destroy the advances secured by workers from previous class struggles from below.
     If the ruling class struggle continues to dominate, what kind of society will we be left with after their neo-liberal austerity measures? What will the long-term effect be on our services, hospitals, and schools? Who is planning for the health and well-being of our ageing population? This is the political debate that nobody is having.
     Now you might say these are broader questions. However, such questions must form part of our analysis. It is the left’s job to lead on the broader questions.
     An interesting observation is that the ruling class’s insistence on austerity is beginning to crack. A section of the capitalist class and their ideologues worry that they will not be able to influence the conditions for profit and growth. This has allowed the most sceptical elements of Labour within the coalition to raise their heads above the parapet. This will provide a useful opportunity to open discussion over economic strategy.
     But at present this split is only a quarrel among capitalists about how to protect and pursue their own interests. We cannot simply attach ourselves to one wing of that capitalist argument: we must develop an argument for a socialist solution to the huge range of problems facing working people. We cannot simply attack deficiencies in others: we must develop our own path.
     Firstly, we must reject, of course, the coming chorus of complaint that unions have put sectional needs before the needs of the country, and that unions themselves must now propose how to save €300 million this year. We know that the Croke Park II package proved divisive, and the unions—pro or anti—need to address those divisions. As for the €300 million, neither the savings nor the purpose of the savings are acceptable.
     Secondly, we must recognise that in a crisis of this depth we cannot protect all workers from the whole gamut of hardship they face. Even were a left government to take power tomorrow such a thing would be beyond our resources. But we must concentrate our attention more urgently on working-class priorities for recovery: that is, we cannot be content to rebuild the old system and only then advance our class interests.


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