Industrial Action: Strong Yes Vote needed from teacher unions

Date:

Members of the 3 teacher unions – INTO, TUI and ASTI – have begun a ballot for industrial action which, if agreed, “will be triggered in the event of government proceeding unilaterally to impose salary cuts or to worsen working conditions.”     INTO members will vote at meetings to be held across the country this coming week while ASTI and TUI members are voting by postal ballot with a closing date of 20th May.

This ballot is taking place in the wake of an overwhelming rejection by the members of all 3 unions – along with other public sector workers – of the ‘Croke Park Extension’ deal.  It is also happening in the context of “engagement” by Kieran Mulvey of the Labour Relations Commission with public sector unions to “establish if there was any basis to conclude a negotiated agreement following the ICTU Public Services Committee rejection of the revised Croke Park deal.”

This ‘engagement’ by the Labour Relations Commission is an attempt by the government to undermine the clear No vote delivered by union members in the recent ballot.  And it is also an attempt by some of the union leadership to collude in that undermining.  The ballot currently under way is an opportunity for union members in the teacher unions to state unambiguously that No means No and that the threatened paycuts cannot be ‘tweaked’ but will be opposed outright.

Reaction

Government reaction to the No vote on the ‘deal’ shows that they are aware that union members have the power to resist these attacks on our pay and conditions.  Throughout the voting process ministers such as Brendan Howlin and Brian Hayes, and Taoiseach Enda Kenny, were clear in their statements that if the deal was rejected they would move immediately to legislate for a 7% pay cut.  However the strength of the No vote clearly shook them and, fearful of the expected response to their threatened legislation, they began to look for ways in which they could “find a basis for a negotiated agreement to meet these budgetary targets”.

The strength of that rejection of the deal should have given the initiative to the union side, and the government and the LRC should have been told in no uncertain terms what to do with their attempts to find a new way to ‘negotiate’ a paycut.  Unfortunately that didn’t happen but in the ballot currently under way members of the teacher unions have the opportunity to do just that.  A strong Yes vote to industrial action will re-affirm that No means No and that any attempt to legislate for paycuts will be met with a strong and determined reaction from union members.

By voting for industrial action, members of the teacher unions will also be showing the way for all other public sector unions.  It is clear that the strength of any legislation that the government might try to bring forward will be determined by the strength of the expected reaction.  If every public service union ballots for industrial action and leaves the government with no room for doubt about the expected response, that legislation is much less likely to happen.  Teacher union members are in a position to lead the way in developing such a strategy.

Alternative

A strong vote for industrial action will re-affirm the rejection of the deal and will  force the government to find alternative ways of making the ‘savings’ they claim are needed – ways such as imposing a wealth tax and looking to ensure that those who are benefiting from the economic crisis are forced to pay rather than coming after workers yet again. 

Figures revealed by Minister for Finance Michael Noonan in early May show that 9,352 ‘income units’ earned over €300,000 last year – with a total gross income of €5.358billion or an average annual income of €573,000.  These high earners paid an effective tax rate of just 28.35%.  Increasing the tax take from this section of society is a political decision that will have to be forced on the government by our rejection of their attempt to take more money from our pockets.

The government clearly believed before the Croke Park extension vote that the easy decision was to target public service workers again because they didn’t expect us to fight back.  The rejection of the deal has made them think again.  A strong vote for industrial action will show that the era of public service workers rolling over and allowing our pockets to be picked is over – a message that will give heart to all workers, private and public sector.  We have the power, our vote for industrial action will show that we are not afraid to use it. 

Words: Gregor Kerr (Chair District 14, Irish National Teachers Organisation) - personal capacity

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