July 2013        

Haddington Road rebranded
or, I’m all right, Jack

When Croke Park 2 was decisively rejected by public-sector workers it gave an opportunity to the ICTU and trade union leadership to resist the Government’s campaign of “austerity” for reducing the living standards and working conditions of the working class.
     At first the Government was taken aback by the rejection. Brendan Howlin (Labour Party), the minister responsible at the Department of Public Enterprise and Reform, looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Following a campaign of vilification and threats, he had been assured by his friends in the ICTU leadership that the deal would go through. Its rejection exposed the weakness of the Government and showed that working-class trade unionists were prepared to resist further attacks on their living standards.
     Trade union leaders such as Jack O’Connor of SIPTU and David Begg of the ICTU were also surprised by the rejection of Croke Park 2 by the most unionised sector of the work force.
     The ICTU had no plan B for this rejection. Firstly they made some empty statements that the Government would have to find the €300 million elsewhere. But this deal was never simply about the money: it is an attack on living standards, working conditions, and any restriction on managements’ right to manage.
     The Government brought in the Labour Relations Commission, which rearranged Croke Park 2 and rebranded it as the Haddington Road Agreement. The core deal is the same, but minor sectoral adjustments were made so that the deal could be sold to the most vociferous opponents of Croke Park 2.
     Whereas Croke Park 2 was rejected by a majority of members of the ICTU, Haddington Road was voted on by each union independently, so as to make it easier to pass and to break up the opposition to it. Under the original vote on Croke Park 2, trade unionists had to vote as a class and to take into account the effect on their fellow trade unionists. By allowing each union to vote separately and sign up separately to the agreement, the ICTU essentially removed class solidarity and allowed the selfish anarchy of the “free market” to reign.
     The ICTU and the union leaders endorsed this stab in the back, and in fact David Begg and the ICTU leadership encouraged the Government to rush the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Bill through the Dáil. This was done to bully and intimidate any No voters and to dishearten any waverers. It was a huge act of betrayal by the union leadership (with some notable exceptions) of their own members and in favour of the campaign of “austerity” against workers.
     Begg believes that “Ireland pioneered a very sophisticated and inclusive model of social partnership from 1987 to 2009” (“A social dimension for a changing European Union: The Irish case,” 18 June 2013). I seem to recall that in the same period there was high unemployment, emigration, and even politicians advertising the fact that they would bring visa applications directly to the United States to avail of the “green card” lottery. How many Irish workers are now stranded in America without green cards, and too frightened to come home for fear of arrest?
     Obviously this period of “social partnership” was successful for some but not for others. Begg and the rest of the ICTU leadership seem to be so deluded by their own fantasies about “social partnership” that they will do anything to continue the pretence, when the reality for workers is starkly different.
     The importance of the ICTU to the “partnership” process was shown in 2009 when the Government reneged on “Towards 2016,” under orders from the Troika and our own capitalist class.
     With effect from 1 July 2013, for thousands of public-sector workers the working day will be longer, the working week will be longer, and Saturday working will be gradually reintroduced (not immediately but on a small scale) as part of a normal working week.
     Many workers are being forced to forgo holiday entitlements and to take a cut in pay in order to pay child-minders, because they don’t have enough money to pay extra child-minding fees. In Ireland, child-minding is a totally private-enterprise activity.
     In effect, premium rates of pay for overtime and working unsocial hours are eliminated under this agreement. It is like a capitalist’s wish-list. Although many of these things have already happened in non-unionised areas of the private sector, it was done in a haphazard way rather than systematically. The importance of imposing Haddington Road is that what is standard in the public sector will be used as a template for the private sector. Employers in general can now use Haddington Road as a template for working conditions.
     Under Haddington Road all the gains in working hours, payment for shift work and family-friendly policies are wiped out. Workers who stand up for their rights will face disciplinary action and in some cases possible dismissal. The unions have conceded so much that in effect, under this agreement, their only value is as a management tool for keeping the workers in check.
     When the Government transferred the private debts of corrupt and bankrupt capitalists to workers, a programme of “austerity” was introduced to prop up the failed financial system. So far it has been used to bully workers into accepting longer working hours and a lower standard of living. This has been mainly directed at the public sector before it becomes general in all sectors.
     Compliant establishment media, owned by a small number of individuals, have failed to publicise the fact that nearly all the legislation directed at the public sector since 2009 has been put through the Dáil as “financial emergency measures.” This method of forcing the legislation through shows that the Government was only ever paying lip service to the idea of partnership, and that there is no common interest between workers and their bosses
     “Partnership” was dressed up in cant, such as “We’re all in this together” and “We have to work smarter with fewer resources”—i.e. your pay is cut, you work longer, because you have no choice. Collective bargaining and secondary picketing have already been deemed illegal.
     A democratic vote rejecting Croke Park 2 has been ignored and the Government’s own employees bullied and intimidated into accepting an agreement they rejected. It is only a matter of time before the next attack takes place.

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