The Programme for Prosperity and Fairness - a crap deal for workers


Around Christmas once every three years of so we enter into a special mating season in the industrial relations jungle. The mating of three unlikley species, the goverment, the bosses and the trade unions takes place. This spectacle is so spectacularly ugly to witness that it's never covered by TV cameras. Each mating season is given it's individual name and this time in 2002/03 attempts were under way to sire a son to the 'Programme for Prosperity and fairness'.

There are very practiced standards and rituals that take place in the jungle at this time and it's common for the observer to be fooled into thinking that the mating will be "called off". The Unions usually break out of the clutches of the bosses just as they were about to get shafted.

Joe O'Toole (president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions) came out sweating from their greasy grip and hopped from one foot to the other bleeting a promise of "chaos". Of course this is a standard practice and only serves to heighten the excitement of the bosses and the other suitors.

So needless to say the mating finally takes place after much posturing by the pursued. In this animal kingdom the heads (leaders) doesn't appear to talk to the body (the workers) but rather goes though the motions as a matter of course until such time as the copulation is complete. Then another bastard deal is usually born to the world - and so it came to pass.

As it turned out though, things weren't quite so earth-shattering. Indeed nothing happened. You'd actually be forgiven for not noticing that it had happened at all. The unions appear to have gone out of their ways to ensure that they didn't lodge any claims - or do anything that might lead to anything resembling "chaos" - apart, that is, from some ritualistic statements about groups of workers lodging something called 'headline claims'.

And before anyone had time to blink, Bertie and Mary arrived in the middle of the night to present a deal and the period of 'free collective bargaining' had come to an end. Our 'leaders' had crawled back to the negotiating table, been suitably chastised by their supposed 'partners' - both government and employers - and had stitched us up into another useless deal.

Sure, all of us in a union will get a vote on it but not many will hear the case against. It won't be found very often in the media and almost never in any official union publication.

What this episode tells us more than anything else is the contempt in which the union leaders hold the ordinary members. Firstly, they don't give a toss what we actually want or think. They don't consult with us on whether they should enter talks, they don't ask us whether they should walk out, they don't care what our opinion is on whether they should go back in to talks.

Furthermore they predict "chaos" if ordinary workers and their shop stewards are entrusted with the task of sitting down face to face with their bosses to negotiate wages and conditions. Perhaps, worst of all, they expect us to believe them when they carry on with their posturing.

The actual content of this latest deal is probably the worst of any of the social partnership deals. In both the public and private sectors, the wage increases will not even keep pace with inflation, meaning that we are in fact being given a cut in our standard of living. Private sector employers will of course be able to plead 'inability to pay'.

In the public sector, the 'benchmarking' increases - in themselves inadequate in many cases - which should have been paid as part of the PPF, are now to be tied into the new deal. And in order to receive these increases - which were supposed to be payment for productivity already given - public sector workers will be expected to agree a whole new series of 'modernisation', in other words more work.

Debating the actual content of the deal misses the point somewhat, though. The very concept of 'social partnership' is what must be challenged. The bosses are not our partners. It's a simple message, but one that the so-called 'leaders' of the trade union movement don't agree with.

Politically and ideologically, the ICTU leadership has bought fully into 'partnership' In fact ICTU President, Senator Joe O'Toole, has been described by one political commentator as "that reliable Government supporter".

Even more important than arguing against the terms of the deal, what is needed is to put forward real alternative strategies which will change our unions from meek participants in 'partnership talks' to fighting democratic organisations. Such strategies would include the lodging of and fighting for real pay increases across both the private and public sectors, using sectoral and cross-industry claims in order to ensure that weaker groups of workers are not left exposed.

Furthermore, they would include cash rather than percentage claims to help the lower paid; solidarity action for workers in struggle or whose bosses refuse to grant decent pay rises; the use of the power of the unions to support the poor and marginalized by demanding and fighting for, for example, action on the housing crisis, on hospital waiting lists etc, opposition to anti-union legislation such as the Industrial Relations Act.

'Partnership' is a myth. It doesn't exist. It should be consigned to the scrapheap of history.

by Gregor Kerr (INTO member)


This is a much longer version of this article then the one that appeared in the printed version of February 2003 'Workers Solidarity', for the printed version download the PDF file 

This page is from the print version of the Irish Anarchist paper 'Workers Solidarity'.

Print out the PDF file of WS74

This edition is No74 published in Feb 2003