ICTU calls off March 30 strike but we need to Resist To Win

A bully is strolling across a schoolyard in Clara. He steals from, humiliates and hits the other kids. Whatever you decide is the best way to deal with him, there is one thing you probably won’t do. You won’t sit down with him over tea and biscuits and try to hammer out an agreement about how to convince everyone else that bullying is inevitable and might even be good for them.

A big majority of trade union members voted for a strike on March 30th against pay cuts, whether that be through refusal to pay the agreed annual increase or through the pension’ levy imposed on public sector workers. Already we had seen 120,000 people march through Dublin. There could be little doubt that most union members were up for a fight to stop PAYE workers and the poor being targeted to pay for the crisis of the rich.

So what did the Irish Congress of Trade Union (ICTU) do with the mandate they received for a one-day national stoppage on March 30th? As soon as Brian Cowen invited them to talks, they cancelled it and scuttled off to Government Buildings. Nothing concrete had been offered.

In fact, Cowen used the words ‘societal ownership’ in describing how to deal with the crisis in his letter to ICTU. In plain English this says and ICTU is agreeing, that society as a whole must accept responsibility for the crisis. The bullied must take some responsibility for being bullied.

Most of us have never even been inside a company boardroom or Minister’s office; let alone made decisions about closing factories, axing hospital wards, giving a low tax regime to the extremely rich or turning a blind eye to dodgy banking. But we somehow share the responsibility and must “share the pain”, so that the rich can remain rich. It’s nonsense.

The plan is to drive down wages in order to protect profits. The Taoiseach has talked about a 10% drop in living standards over the next two years. IBEC has advised its members not to concede pay increases for the next two years. The small and medium sized employers’ organisation, ISME, has already boasted that its members had cut wages by an average of 13% in the six months up to March.

With the new levies many public sector workers have seen their tax bill double. And every time we roll over and do nothing about it the bosses come back looking for more and more from us.

There is a very real recession and the big question is who should pay. Should it be those who run the system in their own class interests? Or should it be those who have no say at all in big economic decisions? Should it be millionaires or working people?

We are not powerless. We do have the power to put a halt to the employers’ offensive. If most of us strike together what can they do but make concessions? As the songwriter and union organizer Joe Hill said
“If the workers take a notion, they can stop all speeding trains;
Every ship upon the ocean, they can tie with mighty chains;
Every wheel in the creation, every mine and every mill,
Fleets and armies of the nation, will at their command stand still.”

A good start will be putting more life into our unions on the job. The workplace is key because that is where we have the possibility to move beyond protest and start effectively resisting. It can’t be done for us, but – together – PAYE workers are more than capable of doing it for ourselves.

Workers Solidarity 109 May - June 2009 Edition

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