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Employers retreat but ICTU talks are not a victory

category national | worker & community struggles and protests | feature author Wednesday March 25, 2009 15:06author by Andrew - WSM (personal capacity) Report this post to the editors

An initial reaction to the ICTU announcement that March 30 is off

featured image
Outside the scene of the crime but redundant for now

That the very threat of a national strike was enough to force government and IBEC to change their position demonstrates the power the working class holds when we threaten to withdraw our labour. For all the media attempts to convince us we are powerless and that class struggle is a thing of the past when faced with the reality of the organised working class standing up both bosses and state were keen to avoid any confrontation that could illustrate and encourage our collective power.

That is the positive side of the story. The negative side is that the union leadership who were in any case largely forced to call the ballot for the national strike through pressure from the grassroots of the union have now called off the strike on the weakest of excuses. Activists within the unions knew all along this was a likelihood, most of the union leadership are almost as afraid as the bosses of workers getting a true sense of our collective power. From the start the ICTU leadership have sought ways to convince workers that we had to pay for the crisis, to share pain in their terms, despite the fact that during the long years of the Celtic Tiger there was no sign of the bankers or property speculators being keen to ensure workers got to share the wealth.

Sharing the pain?
Indeed for all the talk of sharing the pain there is no sign of the super rich taking any share of the burden whatsoever. The public sector pay cut cost after adjustments is expected to save 900 million. 900 million that was generated by taking a sizeable chunk of cash out of the pockets of tens of thousands of workers. Yet within a few days of the cut being announced ten of richest people in the country were able to walk away from 400 million on debts arising out of the Anglo Irish Bank share deal that didn't work out for them. As the bank had been nationalised this 400 million comes out of the same public funds that the 900 million will go into. So tens of thousands of ordinary workers have taken a pay cut so that 10 multi millionaires can avoid paying their debts.

This is not a single example. At the same moment that public sector workers are receiving their first pay checks with the 'pensions levy' pay cut we discover that post bail out Irish Nationwide awarded Michael Fingleton a 27 million pension payout. Apparently there is no problem with the super rich getting pensions payouts that are unimaginable to ordinary workers (whether we are in the public or private sectors).

The ICTU ‘alternative’
The plan ICTU came up with is riddled with problems, on the 'pensions levy' for instance it more or less states an acceptance of the levy, merely quibbling over the details of the current implementation. This wasn't a surprise to those who had heard the rumours I reported on in a previous article for indymedia that ICTU may have been behind the idea of the pension levy as a more acceptable way of implementing a public sector pay cut (see ). At the time of that story being published some close to ICTU threw hysterics about its publication, now it is clear it was a warning of the likelihood of development like that of today.

The ICTU leadership has been described as close to if not part of the golden circle of business and state that run the country. There is some truth in this, not only are their wages several multiples of those of ordinary workers but in many cases they are double or treble jobbing through appointments to various state boards. If not part of the Golden Circle many of them certainly seem to move in the same social circles and have almost as little understanding of the lives of the ordinary workers they supposedly represent.

But its important we don't feel helpless in the face of this latest ICTU betrayal or worse still become cynical in thinking that whatever we do will be cancelled in a similar manner. Some union branches didn't just ballot of the ICTU approved wording but took the precaution of holding additional ballots to try and tie down the ability of the leadership to call off the strike. The Dublin Education branch of SIPTU for instance included a ballot specifically identifying the pension levy pay cut as the target.

It’s not over
The nature of the crisis is that workers cannot come well out of these talks; indeed we are going to be hammered in the budget of April 7th. This means there will quickly be a need for more strike action and ballots on this action. What we need is to get ourselves organised in every union branch in the country so that we can control our struggle from the rank and file rather than being pawns on the ICTU chessboard to be taken in and out of play at will.

What the build up to March 30 has revealed starkly is the absolute hostility of the mainstream media to any idea of workers taking collective action. The likes of Joe Duffy have worn themselves out in trying to create a hostile atmosphere not only to strikes but even to the ICTU demonstration back in February when his show was 90% dominated by callers, many of them claiming to be public sector workers, who had no intention of marching. Listening to it the clear impression that was intended to be created was that no one was going to march and anyone who turned up on the day was a delusional fool. What has been impressive is how many workers have shrugged off the media propaganda campaign, both in terms of 150,000 who marched on the day and the tens of thousands who voted for and prepared for strike action despite an unceasing barrage of hostility from the mainstream media.

To be fair, the mainstream media is not 100% uniform, if it did it wouldn't be able to do its job, as Pravda discovered, as everyone would simply assume the opposite of whatever was said. So a tiny percentage of other commentators are allowed. In today’s Irish Times for instance Vincent Brown questions the justice of the idea of sharing the pain in the context of the likes of Fingleton being paid 200 times what a full time carer gets. His column concludes, "We are not all in this together, just as we were not all in the Celtic Tiger together. The patriotic duty is to subvert the social order that brought us this 'balance'". The language of patriotic duty is tricky as it’s precisely the language that is being used to trick workers into not fighting back but that aside his observation is spot on.

1% short in IMPACT
The media barrage was not without costs, we can be certain for instance that that barrage of hostility made the difference in the IMPACT vote between the 65% who voted to strike and the 66% that was needed under union rules. And then in turn the media seized on the 1% shortfall they created to argue for the cancellation of the entire national strike!

But let's not blame the IMPACT result entirely on the media. Before the strike was called the IMPACT leadership had been undermining the idea of a strike at branch meetings, this obviously came back to bite them in the ass when the ICTU line was forced to change under pressure from below and they were then expected to deliver a yes vote from the very audiences they had been previously telling it was futile to strike. Reports from within IMPACT reveal that thousands of members were never balloted (the media is silent on this but imagine the noise they would be making if the ballot had narrowly passed). Indeed in many unions the ballots were badly organised (IFUT initially circulated a ballot with two identical options to choose between!) Often ballots happened without any general meeting of the membership at which the issues could be discussed. It's not hard to see why this is so, in workplaces where general meetings did happen very often they would end up formulating motions for more radical action and/or more far reaching demands.

The union leadership is caught between a rock and a hard place of its own making. The years of social partnership combined with the Celtic Tiger meant that they could deliver modest improvements without the need for any organisation at the rank and file of the unions. Indeed rank and file organisation was often a threat because the gains were so modest. The bankers and property speculators may not have been demanding that we 'share the wealth' when the times were good but many union members were wondering why this was not being fought for with around 1/3 consistently voting No to the various national plans. Now that the crumbs have stopped falling from the table, indeed now that the modest gains that were won are being attacked the union leadership find it lacks the experience of how to organise a fight back as well as lacking the commitment for doing so. But in the new atmosphere of claw back it's no longer possible to avoid a fight, the cuts will keep on coming as the crisis deepens. But an effective fight back will have to involve returning power to the rank and file of the unions, something the leadership is terrified about because they have also lost much of the skills that once allowed them to control radicalism. In comparison with the '70's, union leaders are now distant figures, most of whom look and sound far more like employers that fellow workers.

What is coming?
A final note. ICTU may be calling off March 30 as a national strike but many workers will still be taking action on that day. Workers in Dublin bus for instance had their existing conditions of work unilaterally torn up and after delaying their strike for the promise of talks have seen those talks collapse. A citywide bus strike will have a huge impact on all Dublin workers and we can expect the media to be working over time to sow division between transport workers and other workers just as they have tried to set private sector against public sector. It is a very great shame that the bus strike did not start with the national strike as this would have made very clear the common interest we all share as workers in resisting that offensive. We certainly should be doing what we can to support the bus workers in their struggle.

Some union sections passed additional ballots on the M30 action that may mean they take action regardless of whether other unions have called off the national strike. ICTU don't have the power to order individual unions not to strike, it may well be that some entire unions will strike anyway. And there may be pockets of workers who are already angry enough and well organised enough to simply stay out of work on Monday, regardless of the strict legality of doing so.

In any case the momentum gained in the build up to March 30 must not be allowed to dissipate. The new talks will collapse (or ICTU will return with an unsellable deal). Further attacks on workers pay and conditions are on the way. If the leaks are true then we can expect the April 7th budget on its own to contain attacks of 2 to 3 times the magnitude of the public sector pay cut, if perhaps spread out in a more general way to target all workers and the unemployed. And in Ireland there is no sign of the crisis in capitalism easing so we can be sure that within months if not weeks further attacks will be unleashed by the state as well as the continuing and constant attack's from employers in the form of lay-offs, pay cuts and the imposition of short weeks. Even those of us not taking action on March 30 will need to take action in the near future, we need to learn the lessons from the last weeks and start to build networks in and between each and every workplace that can deliver real control of this struggle into our hands.

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author by Michael Gallagherpublication date Wed Mar 25, 2009 15:06author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Trade unions and business leaders have accepted an invitation from the Taoiseach to take part in talks on a new national agreement on economic recovery and unions have deferred planned national strike

author by Con Carrollpublication date Wed Mar 25, 2009 15:27author address author phone Report this post to the editors

the financial bank accounts and interests of the likes of Beggs and other executives of the trade union leadership has spoken. are you seriously asking people who will now experience poverty who have become redundant to take the union leadership seriously with the income they recieve per anum
Beggs income is 150;000 what has he got that can relate to people facing redundancy, people on low paid economy
trade unions are people on the ground in the workplace especially were people are been exploitated by greed. been on the ground that is where the struggle is. another friend of the elite is a senior trade unionist within BATU whose wages are obscene.

time will tell when the reality of the six billion in cutbacks are felt around the years of 2011 2012.
whose side will people be on.

one again tighten our belts as the fat cats of AIB, Denis O Brian. Dermot Desmond, John Magner, jp mc Manus become fatter. anyone got a belt for Harney so we can hang her.

author by veruccapublication date Wed Mar 25, 2009 15:52author address author phone Report this post to the editors

If you pay peanuts you get monkeys.

The Irish worker is represented by the best paid monkeys in the business.

Capitulation. Utter capitulation. How they must be laughing in IBEC and the Government.

author by Michael Gallagher - Photographerpublication date Wed Mar 25, 2009 16:41author email libertypics at yahoo dot ieauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

...with the Merchants of Menace.

Photo by Michael Gallagher is free to use by activists, indymedia, etc.


author by date Wed Mar 25, 2009 19:21author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The ICTU and the different unions have called off the strike on March 30th to enter talks with the government. No commitment has been made to withdraw the pension levy and the votes of thousands of workers who wanted strike action against the levy has been cast aside..
The aim of the union leaders is to get back into social partnership with the most right wing government in Europe.
The FF-Green government see wage cuts as its main strategy for dealing with the crisis and are using the pension levy to launch a frontal attack on the wages of all workers.

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author by veruccapublication date Wed Mar 25, 2009 19:53author address author phone Report this post to the editors

So why doesn't the SWP march anyway?

I'm sure if its opinions are so popular with workers, and those of Begg and co., so unpopular, hundreds of thousands will turn up.

Or is this another case of "the working class", "democracy" etc letting down those who have their real interests in their hearts?

author by Carbuncal - Boils unitedpublication date Wed Mar 25, 2009 21:16author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Truely, verucca you are a boil that must be lanced, alongside your mates McClone, Begg, et al.

author by Topperpublication date Wed Mar 25, 2009 22:57author address author phone Report this post to the editors

"Or is this another case of "the working class", "democracy" etc letting down those who have their real interests in their hearts?"

Well, the overwhelming majority of workers in trade unions who took part in the democratic voting process were in favour of strike action. So they haven't let anyone down, especially not themselves. The ICTU leadership called off the strike without any mandate from their members. Everyone knows the SWP doesn't have the capacity to organise a national strike - it's a small left-wing group with limited resources and membership - and you're just trying to divert attention from the main issue. Workers join trade unions and pay their dues in order to build the kind of organisation that can call a national strike and make it happen. They've been comprehensively let down by the ICTU leadership, which will receive nothing from IBEC and the Government of any substance.

author by Diarmuid - Nonepublication date Fri Mar 27, 2009 13:22author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The most recent commentator is correct in that the workers are not to blame but not only because the majority voted for strike (even IMPACT were only short of 0.66% according to their own special requirements of 66.66%). Let's not forget that a figure in excess of 140,000 (estimates vary) came out to demonstrate in Dublin weeks ago. The civil servants have been demonstrating and calling one-day strikes and the busworkers are coming out on total strike from next week (although perhaps one-day strikes would have been a better tactic for them too). They have been let down by the trade union leadership, not for the first nor for the last time.

When someone hurts us, the first question might be "Why are you doing this to us?" However, the second question should be: "Why are we letting you do this to us?" A credible non-sectarian organisation in which active trade unionists (or wannabe activists) and non-aligned socialists can begin to organise serious opposition is missing and who is to blame for that? All the attempts that I have seen in that direction have degenerated into in-fighting between the bigger (a relative term!) groups who were involved or into recruitment drives for one or the other of them. The suggestions of the few non-aligned people who attended were sidelined.

For example, when I suggested at one such meeting late last year that mobilisation against the level at which the wage increase was set was probably too late and that we should be building a longer-term organisation to struggle against the further attacks to come I was told that "we'll face that when we come to it". Well, here we are, facing it -- but with what?

author by fed uppublication date Fri Mar 27, 2009 21:14author address author phone Report this post to the editors

When I went to vote in the last general election I don't remember Begg, McLoone, or the honchos from IBEC being on the ballot paper.

Thirty years ago Bishops McQuaid, Lucey, and Newman wern't on the ballot paper either, but these same gents had a veto over civil legislation. No sooner had we prised our democracy free from the clutches of the RC bishops than we give it away to the goons who divvy up the national cake for us under the guise of "social partnership".

Isn't it about time that the people we elected to govern, governed.

ICTU/IBEC should be told to eff off and the elected government should make the decisions that need to be made without the crutch of the so-called "social partnership". And if we don't like their decisions we can vote them out at the next election. Instead, irrespective of whom we elect we still get ICTU/IBEC.

author by Darren Cpublication date Mon Mar 30, 2009 16:31author email offensieftegenracisme at yahoo dot co dot ukauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

Irish Congress of Trade Unions shameful sell-out

The Day of Action called by the Irish Congress of Trade Union’ (ICTU) of or Monday 30 March has been called off without the slightest act of consultation. Rank and file militants from every sector of the trade union movement are furious with the gross act of sabotage by their ‘leaders’. Their excuse – the Irish Business and Employers' Federation (IBEC) and Taoiseach (PM) Brian Cowen have offered to resume talks with the ICTU. So cheaply are these people bought!

Read more -,1544...0,1,0

Waterford Occupation goes down to defeat

According to articles in the Irish Times and the Irish Independent it seems the magnificent eight-week occupation by workers at Waterford Crystal has ended in defeat. According to the Times headline workers were "left bitter and resentful after calling off action" The Independent reporter says they were "ashen-faced yet simmering, (as they) left a long and "angry" meeting of Unite union members.

Read more -,1545...0,1,0

author by anarchaeologistpublication date Wed Apr 01, 2009 10:52author address author phone Report this post to the editors

An interesting post (as ever) over at the Cedar Lounge on the National Strike that wasn't...

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author by MMcKpublication date Wed Apr 01, 2009 11:18author address author phone Report this post to the editors

And Darren if you go to the following link

You can read an article in the Socialist Worker called 'Defiant Waterford Crystal occupation secures 176 jobs'. In the article it says "This is less than the 250 promised at an earlier stage, but is 176 more than were available when bosses attempted to lock workers out in January."

It seems that the SWP think this is a victory. The Unite leadership are to blame for the defeat. From the beginning Jimmy Kelly Unite Irish Regional Secretary and ex-Waterford Glass worker focused the campaign on getting a private buyer. It was inevitable that a multinational taking over this company was going to screw the workers, yet the Unite leaders only raised nationalisation the way that a trade union official sings the Red Flag on May Day after a few pints!
Only nationalisation could have saved the company and the jobs and pensions.
The SWP called for nationalisation if a private buyer couldn't be found. That was the Unite leaderships position and looked where the workers have ended up now!

author by Darren Cpublication date Wed Apr 01, 2009 13:05author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Thanks for posting the link MMcK. When we wrote the article above we were looking for reactions from the rest of the Irish left but surprisingly there was none. The British SWP are predictably putting a positive gloss on the defeat because their sister group in Ireland are compromised by their close relationship to Jimmy Kelly. The SP still haven't produced an assessment of the defeat.

Like you say, the principled and determined stand of the Waterford Crystal workers was undermined by a UNITE leadership who never seriously placed public ownership on the agenda. The 176 jobs "won" by the leadership are only guaranteed for 6 months and its highly unlikely that the state will step in to save the employees pension scheme.

The SWP trail behind the UNITE bureaucracy and refuse to scrutinise their role in the dispute. At the current occupation of Visteon in Belfast, UNITE are again putting the demand for nationalisation behind craven appeals to Ford to intervene. Unless we draw lessons from the Waterford dispute, then: "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce." (Karl Marx)

The left in the unions should demand their leadership calls for a nationwide mobilisation in solidarity with the Belfast occupation. If they refuse, then we should follow the example of the Dublin airport workers and seek to take the initiative ourselves. Its now time we build rank-and-file committees in the unions and take control of our own struggles.

author by Scepticpublication date Wed Apr 01, 2009 14:26author address author phone Report this post to the editors

"It was inevitable that a multinational taking over this company was going to screw the workers" - MMcK

This comment is not very logical given that Waterford Chrystal was itself a multinational - one renowned as a good employer moreover. In general multinational firms have better wages and conditions than national one. Also it’s not clear that taking the rump of the firm into State ownership would achieve much. If people don't want to buy the products now how on earth does taking the firm into State ownership change anything? The company would be a subsidy junky making stuff people don't want. New firms are born and unsuccessful ones fold up. That's the way the cookie crumbles. I wrote at the outset here that the occupation was futile. So it has proven.

author by MMcKpublication date Wed Apr 01, 2009 15:37author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Sceptic what you have said couldn't be further from the truth. You claim that Waterford Crystal was a good employer. So your definition of a good employer is one that shuts down a profitable company, sacks 700 workers, leaving them with no pension and no redundancy payments!

Waterford Crystal was a profitable company. Tony O'Reilly and his mates bled Waterford Crystal dry and used it as collateral for massive loans that they took out to then buy other high profile brand names. There is a demand for Waterford Crystal internationally. If there wasn't then that division of the company wouldn't have been in profit plus KPS wouldn't have bought the right to the brand name.

You assertion that companies come and go and we should just except that is not just wrong it is sickening. It isn't all right for multinationals to set up in a country, exploit the local workforce and then bugger off when they have a better option; Dell and lower wages in Poland or SR Technics or as in the case of Waterford Crystal strip a company of its core and sell it to vulture capitalists who will then employ glass workers in Eastern Europe or Asia on slave wages but continue to charge high prices for the crystal, because it bears the name of Waterford and what they represents, high skilled craftsmanship which has been dumped onto the dole!

If Waterford Crystal was nationalised it would have saved all of the jobs and the other jobs which will now be lost in the Waterford region and it would have been a successful profitable company without parasites like Tony O'Reilly or KPS.

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