March 30 ICTU strike must be For Us All

The national strike called by ICTU should be just the first day of action in what must become a strike wave across every sector until all pay cuts are withdrawn. The super-rich can shoulder the costs of their crisis themselves.The bosses have spent months using the media to try and divide one set of workers form another and to set those still in jobs against the unemployed. They know that divided we are weak. March 30th is the moment we can throw that back in their face, a huge demonstration of class unity that can force them to back down or face the consequences.

An effective plan could consist of one day’s action one week, followed by two days the following week, three days the week after. The low paid Civil and Public Service Union gave a lead with their national strike on February 26th. Ballots have been taken by bus workers, civil servants, teachers; and all delivered a resounding vote for strike action.

Whatever we choose to do, we need to work out a strategy to win. Trade union leaders have sold us the myth of ‘social partnership’ for the last 21 years. We need to build an alternative sense of solidarity whereby workers across all unions support each other. The bosses are not our partners, our fellow workers can be.

The government will be happy enough if all we do is have protest marches and a one-day only strike. They won’t even be too upset by isolated strike days in different jobs. For this reason every worker should be out of work on March 30th, not just those in sectors directly affected and not even just those who are union members.

It is time for the trade union movement to stand up and defend the interests of working people as vigorously as the government and the state is defending the interests of the bankers and the employers. There are 600,000 union members, together we can take the lead and close down the country. That is the sort of short, sharp action that can force them to withdraw the pay cuts

On New Year’s Day the SIPTU Executive said “In this our centenary year, we salute the courage, personal sacrifice, commitment and solidarity of the women and men who founded, built and sustained this great trade union. We are proud of the organisation of tens of thousands of men and women, the improvement of pay and conditions of work…

“In solidarity with each other, the members of our Union have confronted exploitation and injustice and have sought to transform society so that all our people enjoy dignity and respect at work and in the community.”

That’s the sort of tradition we need to build on. Unfortunately, many senior union leaders don’t see it like that. They are happy for us to “let off steam” and “make a point”, all they want is a show of support so they can go back into talks in the hope of being given some small concession.

People like IMPACT’s Peter McLoone with his €150,000 a year, plus €25,000 as chair of FAS, do not share the same interests as their members. That is why the top union officials on the ICTU executive can say, “workers did not create the problem, but will contribute to solving it…”

They accept the system as it is. They aren’t calling for a claw back of the €8 billion in tax breaks given to private for-profit hospitals, or for nationalising the Corrib gas field. Why? Would it be because they think that seizing wealth from the super-rich is going too far?

When ICTU was talking to the government about the ‘Framework Agreement’, they accepted the need for cuts. When Fianna Fail and the Greens proposed a pay cut of 10%, the ICTU delegation suggested a ‘pension levy’ as being more acceptable. These people cannot be trusted. Taking back control of OUR unions is part and parcel of the fight to protect what we have won over the years.

Capitalism is failing us; once more it is dragging us all into a crisis not of our making. This crisis is deep and the recession is likely to last for several years. If we don’t fight back, we might as well resign ourselves to ever decreasing incomes. If we don’t start fighting to end the rule of the billionaires, we will never get away from the insecurity of the boom/slump cycle.

It is true that if we fight we may not win everything we want, there are a lot of illusions in the ICTU leaders and we have gone through two decades with little experience of struggle. It is absolutely certain, however, that if we don’t fight we will win nothing.

This article is from Workers Solidarity 108 published in March 2009

The rest of WS108 can be read online or downloaded as a PDF file

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