June 2013        

The “Haddington Road Agreement” (alias Croke Park 2)


The Croke Park 2 Agreement has been decisively rejected by the majority of public-sector trade unionists; however, as we have seen so often, when the first vote is not in accordance with the wishes of the ruling class, there will be further votes, until the “right” result is achieved.
     Croke Park 2 was rejected for a variety of reasons, such as solidarity among rank-and-file trade unionists who were not willing to vote for pay cuts for fellow-workers; the lengthening of the working day and the working week without compensation, in effect another pay cut; and the attack on the conditions of part-time workers (mainly women), which were anti-family and would have driven up the costs of going to work but given an economic boost to the private-sector child-minding business.
     The Repudiate the Debt marches of 9 February showed that the working class has had enough of austerity. When Croke Park 2 was rejected, the public-sector trade unionists showed they were willing to resist further pay cuts and attacks on their working conditions.
     The rejection shocked the minister for public expenditure and “reform,” Brendan Howlin, as he had been assured by his pals in the ICTU that it was a done deal.
     The working class is willing to resist the programme of austerity, but this requires leadership. But instead of grasping the nettle and supporting their members, the majority of public-sector union leaders decided that they would rather be in the collaborator camp and all too willingly engaged with Kieran Mulvey in rescuing and rebranding Croke Park 2.
     Croke Park 2 and Haddington Road are the same agreement, apart for the name. Some of the paragraphs have been moved around and renumbered, and there are extra appendixes; these give minor concessions to some of the more vocal opponents of Croke Park 2, mostly in the form of delaying the implementation of particular provisions or, in one case, saying that pay will be restored after the term of the agreement is over. That should be interesting, given the record of breaking agreements and introducing “emergency” legislation to force through pay cuts.
     Éamonn Gilmore when in opposition described the previous Government as having committed “economic treason” because of the sell-out to the International Monetary Fund. Since achieving office, instead of undoing the policies of its predecessors the Labour Party has helped to implement the exact same treasonous policies. Logically, that should make the Labour Party “economic traitors” as well, or mere collaborators at best.
     Prof. James Petras in his James Connolly Memorial Lecture in May made the point that the international ruling class need home-grown collaborators. Just one example of this is the willingness of the Labour Party and its supporters in the ICTU to impose the Haddington Road Agreement (otherwise Croke Park 2) on thousands of workers, despite a democratic vote to reject it.
     Howlin has used the Thatcherite mantra “There is no alternative” as a justification for implementing Croke Park 2. He quotes the size of the public-sector pay bill. Needless to say, he does not include himself, the political advisers and other hangers-on in that equation.
     The fact of the matter is that the public-sector pay bill is reducing every year through natural wastage and the embargo on recruitment. Because of the age profile of many civil servants (a result of previous recruitment embargoes), a substantial number—more than half in some offices—will have retired in the next few years. Furthermore, about 70 per cent of public-sector workers earn less than €65,000 a year, so the headline pay provisions in Haddington Road will not affect them.
     Michael Taft, the Unite economist, has calculated that Croke Park 2 would achieve a saving of only €200 million, as a result of the loss of five thousand private-sector jobs because of the money taken out of the economy and an increase in the social welfare bill from more people claiming.
     It should be borne in mind also that when a private-sector employer pays an employee €500 gross, the cost to the employer is €500 plus employer’s PRSI. Let’s say the employee gets €250 net after tax and PRSI: the cost to the employer is still €500 plus. In the public sector, on the other hand, the employee costs the government only €250, as the government is paying itself the tax and PRSI; so in effect these figures are paper transactions. So that reducing the pay of someone on €65,000 a year gross in the public sector will achieve only a mostly notional saving.
     In fact most of Haddington Road has nothing to do with “headline” pay: it is mostly to do with the length of the working day and the working week, a movement to reduce premium payments for working at the weekend or unsocial hours. It worsens the conditions for part-time workers.
     Traditionally, the public sector has established the template for working conditions in the private sector. Private-sector employers use public-sector schemes in such areas as flexible hours, part-time working and family-friendly working conditions as the basis for their own schemes; likewise with pay and working hours.
     The public sector is also highly unionised. If Haddington Road is implemented, whether by union members being bullied and misled into believing that it is different from Croke Park 2 or by being forced through by more emergency legislation, it will serve as the new template for the private sector. The working day and working week will be longer. Weekend working or working rest days will not earn the same rates of premium pay or overtime as in the past. Immense pressure will be brought to bear on workers to conform, or else.
     The programme of “austerity” is all about the ruling class waging war to reverse any gains made by the working class in the last century. The Haddington Road Agreement (or Croke Park 2) is a gateway agreement for reversing the gains made in pay and conditions for all workers, whether in the public or the private sector.
[NM]

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