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Was ICTU behind the pensions levy?

category national | worker & community struggles and protests | news report author Tuesday February 17, 2009 11:10author by Andrew - WSM (personal capacity) Report this post to the editors

Report from the national meeting of public sector workers on Saturday

Did the idea of the so called 'Pensions Levy' come from some of the very ICTU leadership who are supposed to negotiate on behalf of workers. This is one revelation that emerged on Saturday morning at a meeting of over 100 public sector trade unionists and two delegates from the Waterford Glass occupation. We were meeting in the Davenport hotel, Dublin to discuss a collective response to government attacks on workers and in particular the public sector pay cut. Most of those present were on branch committees or even national executives with a couple of branches delegating representatives to the meeting. The gathering could in that context be said to reflect the views of a large number of branches across the unions that organise public sector workers.
Part of the panel at Saturday's meeting
Part of the panel at Saturday's meeting

The revelation that the source of the 'pensions levy' may have come from within the ICTU delegation was made by CPSU executive member Terry Kelleher, reporting on what their executive had been told by the CPSU General Secretary who was at the talks. It's claimed that when the proposed 10% pay cut was put on the table part of the ICTU delegation proposed the 'pensions levy' as being more sellable. It was only as the specific figures became clear that Jack O'Connor of SIPTU and others pulled the rug on the deal. After Saturday's meeting I was told that a similar account of the ICTU origins of the pensions levy was circulating at the funeral of the International Brigader Bob Doyle from another source connected with those in the talks.

No trust in ICTU
This story added to a general atmosphere at the meeting of no trust whatsoever in the ICTU leadership. Pat Cahill, a retired president of the ASTI was to say that we needed to recognise that many of the union General Secretaries were part of the 'Golden Circle' of politicians and business interests. One of the few areas of disagreement was an initial call for ICTU to pull out of talks until after the scrappage of the pensions levy, it soon became clear that few in the room would trust ICTU even in such circumstances. Helen Mahony of the TUI said that ICTU had betrayed all workers and that they were an overpaid set of full time officials with no links to the membership.

This hostility to the top level of union leaders was reflected in many of the reports of the union meetings that have taken place over the last couple of weeks. Niall Smyth, branch secretary of Dublin City North branch of the INTO said the recent INTO conference in Portlaoise had been like a funeral procession with no direction at all coming from the leadership beyond the idea that the pay cut was inevitable. Melissa Halpin of IMPACT reported that her branch AGM was tightly controlled by the top table and that she felt that ran the meeting on so that by the time discussion on the pay cut came around people would be worn out. When faced with criticism the Information officer had responded that people should calm down and let them do their job. Joe Duffy of the INTO pointed to the failure of the union leadership to answer the sustained public relations offensive on public sector workers that has being going on for months.

Martin O'Grady of the TUI was one of those present that reported that he had been sent as a delegate to the meeting from this branch (IT Tralee) and warned of the danger of ICTU subverting the growing mood for industrial action. His branch had delegated him because it felt that the official system could not be relied to work. Eva a branch Equal Opportunities officer from IMPACT warned that senior officials were trying to frighten members by telling them they would have to be on strike for months and would have to pay the levy in the end anyway.

Building outside the public sector
Several speakers emphasised the need to build for action on a base that was broader than the public sector pay cuts. Des Derwin, president of the Dublin Council of Trade Unions said that Jack O'Connor was right when he said the movement must also be about jobs and the threatened cuts. Eddie Conlon of the TUI pointed out the poll in that morning's Irish times that showed that despite the months of one sided attacks on the public sector workers more people opposed the pays cuts then supported it. Ronald from SIPTU, UCD, pointed out that in the previous week two government ministers had talked of the intention to cut the minimum wage and said the main reason the public sector workers were being targetted first was that because that was where the stronger unions were so the government knew that when they ahd defated them everyone would have to accept defeat.

UNITE member Tommy Hogan from the Waterford Glass occupation addressed the meeting and reported details of the possible settlement to the meeting and said there was a need to link the issue with the need for pension protection for private sector workers. He said they knew that public services were nothing without the public sector workers who kept them going. He said the general situation was 'going over a cliff' and the union leadership were only interested in talks and not in providing leadership. When he had finished speaking the meeting gave the Glass workers a standing ovation in recognition that once more the glass workers had been 'blazing the trail' for all workers in Ireland.

Spreading resistance
Many of the contributions made focused on the spreading wave of resistance emerging from the public sector unions. Kieran Allen of the SIPTU's Education branch in Dublin related how mass meetings in UCD, TCD and DCU had voted by as many as 197 to 3 for strike action and the withdrawal of unions reps from the local partnership process. An IMPACT member in the health service related how a motion for strike action had been pushed through despite the opposition of managers present and that alongside this several changes had been made on the branch committee. Terry Kelleher of the CPSU executive said they had moved quickly to a ballot for action in what were difficult conditions and argued that circumstances had changed to the point where rank and file initiatives that had failed in the past should now be re-launched.

The North Dublin branch of the INTO had according to Niall Smyth held a 500m strong emergency meeting which had forced the Executive committee to ballot the membership. Denis Keane also of the CPSU executive reported that he had now addressed 14 meetings of members around Dublin as they worked towards the ballot and that while there was a real sense of fear about what was to come there was also the realisation that they needed to draw a line in the sand, that there really was no option other than the strike and that members would vote for action on that basis.

There was discussion of how best to support the CPSU strike that would probably take place on the 26th. At the start of the meeting Paddy Healy who was in the chair had suggested this could be turned into an all out strike. But others felt that, given the reality of the mid-term break for the teachers unions, it probably wasn't realistic to talk of being able to turn this date into an all out strike and it would be a tactical error to suggest we could do this. Nevertheless everyone present felt the CPSU were right to go ahead and that we should support them in everyway possible while preparing for further strike action that could be co-ordinated between the unions. Gregor Kerr of INTO emphasised that as part of the process we would need to explain industrial action to members who thanks to social partnership had no experience of strikes. It was important to emphasise that the point was to strike to win and not just make a point. In the context the one day strikes could only be seen as part of the process, the government was not going to give in the next day.

Saturday's demonstration
Towards the end of the meeting discussion came up about the 'Social Solidarity Pact' march called by ICTU for next Saturday. Des Derwin said this should not have been the demand of the march and many speakers emphasised the need to be opposed to this slogan and instead to use the march to push for strike action. Paul Shields, the SIPTU chair in TCD said they felt that rather than march with SIPTU they should organise a block on the march opposed to this demand and for strike action. Overall there was agreement that while it was important that people came out and marched this should be under the demand of ballots for strike action and not the official march slogan.

The last few minutes were spent in a discussion of setting up an ongoing structure to co-ordinate activity into the future. One criticism of the meeting I'd make was that too little time was left for this discussion and not much preparation had been made for it. On the other hand the meeting itself was called at very short notice and there was much else that also needed to be talked about. What was agreed at the end was that a number of people would volunteer from each of the unions in the room and that they would work out these details to be ratified at a follow up meeting. In the meantime it was essential to ensure that momentum towards industrial action was continued to be built in union branches and sections.

Overall the meeting demonstrated a growing groundswell of organisation from the rank and file of the public sector unions across the country as well as that some of the union executives like that of the CPSU recognise the need for rapid and militant action. The role some of the ICTU leadership appeared to have played in introducing the pensions levy along with the reports of the deliberate attempts by some union leaders to demoralise members thinking about strike action warn us that we cannot put our trust in the union leadership to lead the sort of struggle that is necessary to win. There were many sections and even some branches that were not represented at the meeting, on the anecdotal level I've talked to public sector workers who report the union in their workplace is either dead or distrusted. The challenge for these workers is to overcome these demoralising conditions and link into this emerging network of struggle, to link up with those within their union who do want to fight, bypassing where necessary the local officials and recalling conservative union reps. As reports at the meeting indicated this has already started happening in some branches, it needs to spread fast, far and wide.

Who should pay for the crisis?
As workers we have to defend our jobs, pay and conditions whether that is in the public or private sector. And as workers we have to defend social services like health and education as well as social welfare. Let those who pay for the bust be the same gang of bankers and property speculators that made so much during the boom whether that be by confiscation of the wealth of anyone named at the tribunals in connection with corruption or with the recent dodgy dealings in the bank. The richest 1% of people in Ireland are worth over 80 billion, that 1% creamed it in during the boom, let's make them pay for the bust.

ICTU are trying to push us into accepting negotiations, negotiations where we will clearly come out of with cuts in our wages and conditions. Even apart from not trusting the leadership we have to reject this approach. After all when the boom was in full swing there was not a line of politicians, property developers and bankers saying we all had to share the wealth that was generated. Now that the boom has turned to bust they suddenly do want to share their losses. We have to say no to talks, even talks disguised under the label of a 'social solidarity pact'. As workers and as trade unionists should turn up in huge numbers on the demonstration this Saturday but our demand should be for strike action and not in support of the ICTU demand for talks.

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author by Workerpublication date Tue Feb 17, 2009 11:54author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Dont be so ridiculous Andrew.

A bit of basic research would quickly undermine your conspiracy argument. ICTU are on record from December as arguing that the government cannot cut wages as it would be illegal and end up in the courts (I dont have time to go into the detail now). They then stated that the only way the government could reduce the public sector wage bill was through some form of pensions contribution. They were not advocating this, simply stating a legal fact, which the government knew already.

Now, if ICTU are repsonsible for the pensions levey by stating a fact then so be it. But, most rational people would conclude that stating the obvious is not the same thing as proposing a policy. Your article indicates the latter which is completely & categorically false. ICTU have been arguying for some time that senior, well renumerated public servants (i.e. Brendan Drumm) should contribute more to his well-oiled pension. I dont think many tax-payers would disagree with this.

Your suspicion is based upon one or two voices at a public meeting, which is hardly the basis for informed judgement. I was at a public meeting some weeks ago where many people argued that those behind the 911 conspiracy are also behind the current financial crisis. Should I believe them?

Your argument is based upopn a neo-conservative truth, i.e. unknown knowns that could potentially be true but most likely not, i.e. factual untruths. I expect more from the intellectual voice of the WSM.

author by Andrewpublication date Tue Feb 17, 2009 12:07author address author phone Report this post to the editors

A quick but anonymous response, the anonymous nature of it makes the demand for a more factual basis for the original claim a little odd.

I'm reporting here on what was said by a member of the CPSU executive to 100+ fellow trade unionists from a range of branch committees. It's not really the equivalent of what someone might have said at some 911 meeting you were at, indeed that is a curious comparison for you to draw even if I can see why it is a useful spin for you to put on it. This story is in widespread circulation at branch level and at that meeting no one thought it even odd.

Obviously ICTU need to clarify what exactly went on.

author by PSWpublication date Tue Feb 17, 2009 13:37author address author phone Report this post to the editors

While the public sector unions quibble over the levy thousands of private sector workers are losing their jobs.

At least they'll see a return in the future on the levy they are paying in the form of a defined-benefits pension!

Judging by Channel 4s Dispatches program last night I'd say that our public sector workers are simply not geared up for the wave of unemployment either and it will mean that those unfortunate private sector workers will not get their unemployment benefit or help to find a new job, or training etc. in a timely manner.

This will only serve to further deepen the crisis for the private sector workers which the public sector sits pretty with its restrictive work-practices, gross overpayment and fat pensions with defined benefits.

author by Andrewpublication date Tue Feb 17, 2009 13:48author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Your right that huge numbers of private sector workers are being made unemployed. Actually there are also large enough numbers of public sector workers in some sectors like education being made unemployed. The 'job for life' thing is a myth for tens of thousands who are on contracts and large numbers of contracts have not been renewed.

That aside your repeating a mantra those who are attacking workers keep coming out with but it doesn't make any sense. How exactly is a workers on the dole benefited by a cut in the pension levy? She doesn't get a job as a result. Indeed cuts in the public sector are the main reason why there are long ques at the dole offices, there are very few new public sector workers in that area to deal with a work load that has doubled in a year (even leaving aside the extra work of new claims).

It also makes no sense when you consider that few of us are automised workers who do nothing but work-consume-sleep. Many private sector workers have family members in the public sector. If your in a relationship with someone in the public sector, you get laid off then their pay cut is going to make it a good deal harder for you to get by.

Workers (regardless of whether they or public or private sector) have a common interest in ensuring that the crisis is paid for by the top 1% who made all the wealth in the celtic tiger years. They didn't want to share that wealth then, why the hell should we cover their losses, in particular when their personal wealth is several times the projected shortfall and in particular when many of them are wealthy as a result of the corrupt property speculation and the regulation lite banking system.

author by Andrewpublication date Tue Feb 17, 2009 15:18author address author phone Report this post to the editors

You do realise that PSW stands for both Public Sector Worker and Private Sector Worker. Likewise when you look at the facts behind the myths being put out you realise that the conditions of many workers in both sectors are actually similar, certainly a lot more similar than the comparison of either with the top 1%. On the other hand the voices on the radio and those that own the papers are very often in that top 1% - I'd question their agenda in setting up the PSW v PSW division that you seem keen to follow,

author by Aragonpublication date Tue Feb 17, 2009 19:44author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The proof is in the pudding. If ICTU are not backing this pension levy then where the hell are they? Where was their outrage and why are they doing NOTHING concrete to challenge the levy and other things? If they were serious we'd know all about it by now. Personally, I believe we are looking at a well rehearsed and choreographed pantomime.

Enough of these stupid, pointless Saturday demonstrations that accomplish nothing - except to dissipate anger and mollify people. These union leaders turn up and give rousing speeches full of rhetoric but they DO nothing.

author by Billpublication date Tue Feb 17, 2009 20:46author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I dont believe that ICTU proposed the pension levy for one minute. I am no supporter of the union leadership but claiming they proposed the levy will only divide workers not unite them. Not much workers solidarity in lies about trade union officials is there?

author by Yawn...publication date Tue Feb 17, 2009 22:13author address author phone Report this post to the editors

..or a cure? While it's important for the uninformed to get as much facts about all this as possible, it's vitally important that the bottom line of this is realised. If the system (capitalism) is not changed, and these crooks are not thrown in jail (not as scapegoats by the way), we will have a lot of unhappy faces and unhappy homes (and homeless) for many years to come. The goal should be to abolish the system, the tactics from here on in are crucial if any major gains are to be made from this by the real left (whoever they are) and the workers class people in Ireland.
A huge part of that factual information is the conspiracy by the right wing bureaucracy in the trade union movement in all of this, and partnership is part of that conspiracy. I will not be marching behind O' Connor or Beggs and the like. I will be there though. The revolutionary left should start their own march, from Larkins statue, he would have a smile on his face.

Expect a huge turout to the top of the hill, the rattling of closed gates, and the disgruntled walk home or to the bar and much thumping of tables and maybe drown again.

There will be a current of hot southerly air wafting though Dublin on Saturday afternoon 21 February, but expect it to get quite chilly in the evening. They've had an unfair crack of the whip for far too long and we are hurting like never before. It's time for a real change, not tweedle dee (Enda Story) or tweedle doh (Eamonn Right).

Bring your placards and don't forget your anger.

As the poster on the events page says, the resolution is revolution.

Roll on and good luck......

author by Jerry Corneliuspublication date Wed Feb 18, 2009 16:42author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The Pension Levy was Dan Murphys idea. This was confirmed to me today by an official of the CPSU. Its hardly suprising given Dan Murphys circular which tried to frighten people about IMF intervention.

Dan Murphy is retiring on 30 April, so fittingly this year we will be able celebrate a Mayday free of his malign presence. But Dan seems intent on dealing one last blow to public sector workers before he departs.

author by Hugh Murphy - Sacked by ITGWU and Belfast employerspublication date Wed Feb 18, 2009 19:31author address author phone Report this post to the editors

It's about time people here realise that ICTU is only the employers and government's Policemen. They will do anything so not to upset the sweetheart deal they have with capitalism. MoneyBeggs has at least two Directorships that we know about. The Central Band and Aer Lingus. Workers are entitled to ask, how much is he being paid and how many more directorships has he got - and that includes everyone on ICTU who claims to be a Trade Unionist.

They cannot serve two masters. Either they're Trade Unionists or they're employers. If offered a choice they'll go with the money.


author by Jason - nonepublication date Thu Feb 19, 2009 12:53author address author phone Report this post to the editors

As much as I despise ICTU croonies- its hardly the time with Saturday's protest to be getting into conspiracy theories and possibly undermining saturday's protest. Think the story is badly timed and a bit irresponsible

author by Jerry Corneliuspublication date Thu Feb 19, 2009 13:29author address author phone Report this post to the editors

How is it irresponsible? A rumout is circulating, why should it not be reported? I was told by a senior offical of the CPSU that Dan Murphy was behind the idea of the Pension Levy. I believe it.

Dan Murphy has always been the Ememy Within. He has always sabotaged action designed to improve the living standards of public sector workers. Now hes trying to get our pay cut!

The author of this piece and the other critics of the ICTU leadership including myself are working to build Saturdays demo and further action. But we won't acheive that by being soft on the union burocracy.

Those union leaders who genuinely oppose the pension levy should openly name Dan Murphy and Peter Mc Loone as masterminds behind the levy.

author by puisinpublication date Thu Feb 19, 2009 17:38author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Whether ICTU and its affiliated unions were first to bring up the so-called pension levy is somewhat beside the point although it does sound like the type of camouflage ICTU might come up with.

The real problem is that they entered talks with agreement on a framework document, which was based on achieving 2 billion in cuts in the public sector. The cuts themselves weren't in contention. The only issue in contention was calculating how the cuts would be presented and not the principle in itself. Beggs and O Connor have made this clear on numerous occasions since.

The big disappointment was that the unions were able to participate in this sleazy class collaboration in full view with press conferences and extensive media coverage without any evident opposition from the left.

The unions openly declare that workers have to take the blame for capitalism's worse crisis in most people’s memory and they get away with it. A sad reflection of the effect that 22 years of institutionalised collaboration through partnership has had on political consciousness.

The union bureaucracy use the demonstration planned for Saturday and beyond as pressure for a more palatable format for cuts, still making workers pay. The sheer depth of the crisis makes it imperative to end the collaboration but it also creates more opportunities to oppose collaboration, if we can get our act together and clearly spell out the criminal role of ICTU and the union leaderships.

author by Alan Davis - International Bolshevik Tendencypublication date Thu Feb 19, 2009 22:43author address author phone Report this post to the editors

puisin has got it spot on.

Whenever I read or hear TU leaders giving their opinions on the way forward they always accept that working people are going to have to take pain. They just say they want it to be "fairer" with some signs that the bosses and politicians are making some concessions as well - concessions which will be only token and will not touch profits or the sacrosanct negligible corporation tax.

But the TU leader's real concern is over getting their feet back under the negotiating table of "Social Partnership" which is why they are pushing their new "Pact for Stabilisation, Social Solidarity and Economic Renewal" based on the Framework Agreement of January 28 - a document which states that "the Government and Social Partners commit to working together under the Pact to support the further adjustments required to reduce the General Government Deficit below 3% over the remainder of the five year period."

A couple of quotes from ICTU's "10 point programme" make it clear where they are coming from:

"We acknowledge there is a crisis in the public finances.Government must return to the Framework Agreement of January 28.This recognised the necessity for radical measures to bring the public finances under control, on the basis of all sides contributing in accordance with their ability to do so. Until that happens there can be no sustainable plan for national recovery."

"Workers did not create the problem, but will contribute to resolving it - as long as the wealthy also contribute. The problem with the course currently being pursued by Government and employers’ organisations is that the weakest suffer, while the wealthy contribute nothing."

If the working class in Ireland is to get organised to be able to carry out the militant struggle required to defend ourselves from the attacks of the bosses, that are only going to increase as the economic crisis extends and deepens, one of the things we are going to have to be clear and open about is the treacherous role of the TU leaders and our opposition to any form of class collaboration and talk of common interest across the class line.

author by Workerpublication date Fri Feb 20, 2009 10:49author address author phone Report this post to the editors

For those more interested in real workers-issues rather than theoretical romanticising, this is a link to ICTU's 'Union Post'.

author by Alan Davis - International Bolshevik Tendencypublication date Fri Feb 20, 2009 23:53author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I too would recommend reading the special issue of Union Post - it is where I got my quotes from. The time line article is quite a good retrospective of how things have developed to the point they are now and there is other information about worker's struggles from around Ireland that I found quite useful.

But in terms of understanding the role of the TU leaders in regard to their strategy of coming to a "fairer" deal with the bosses, I would particularly refer people to pages 8 & 9 where they reprint the 28 January agreement between the TU leaders and the bosses (and their govt) which is proposed as the way forward. Everyone should judge it for themselves.

As a side point I would argue that discussing this proposal, and militant class-struggle alternatives to it, is a very real issue for the workers' movement - there is nothing particularly "theoretical" about proposing an alternative to the TU leaders implicit acceptance of further attacks on working people, certainly I find very little that is romantic about those attacks..

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