By Terry Kelleher
I believe there needs to be a full and open discussion about the events of the past number of months surrounding the renegotiations of the Croke Park II agreement. Particularly, how the CPSU and the other public sector trade unions responded. To this end I would like to add the following on behalf of the CPSU Activist group.
What we have witnessed by the recent reversal of the NO vote to Croke Park II and the acceptance of the Haddington Road Agreement is a clear defeat for public sector workers. Labour and Fine Gael were aided and abetted by many of the top trade union officials in getting these austerity measures through. It is a victory for the politicians who support austerity and their cheerleaders in the media and business community. It will open the prospect of further attacks on workers everywhere. No one wins here, no matter what way they voted. Once again we lost without even a fight which must please the government who will conclude that they can come back for further cuts in the future.
The CPSU leadership took an important stand based on an anti-austerity position and on their experience of Croke Park I and social partnership deals over the last 25 years. The majority of the CPSU executive committee concluded that only by standing up and fighting back (with other trade unions) could we have any chance of defending our pay and conditions. To offer such a fight we had to challenge the partnership (and when it comes to austerity – the collaborationist) approach of many of the ICTU leaders.
The rejection of Croke Park II by a majority of public sector workers was a decisive blow to the anti-worker/anti-public sector austerity agenda of the government. It united public servants and was supported by the majority of private sector workers. The vote was won despite numerous threats including a 7% pay cut, the freezing of increments and legislation to impose the agreement. The result exposed the weaknesses of this government and the potential strength of public sector workers taking a united stand. The government was stunned and temporarily pushed back. An opportunity existed for the trade unions to build on this victory and challenge the austerity programme of government which is destroying the economy and condemning hundreds of thousands to a life of long-term unemployment or emigration. Unite, CPSU, INMO, the IMO, TUI and ASTI where the key unions who opposed and campaigned for a no vote. Four of them (Unite, CPSU, INMO and IMO) actively campaigned for all public sector workers to reject Croke Park II. But this unity quickly fell apart once the Haddington Road talks commenced.
The leaderships of the main public sector unions never saw this result as a victory, but a defeat for their pro-Labour and pro-austerity agenda and a threat to their power. They worked tirelessly behind the scenes with the LRC to undo the result. Divide and rule tactics were employed. Then the government brought in legislation to impose unilateral cuts and changes to public servants conditions as a big stick to bully in a yes vote. This erosion of our democratic rights was done with the support of the Labour Party and the majority of ICTU leaders. It suited these leaders to play up the government’s threats – rather than stand up against them as it assisted them in achieving a Yes vote for Haddington Road.
Public sector workers faced a ballot with a draconian threat hanging over our heads. However, these threats were a sign of weakness on behalf of a government that had already lost the Croke Park II ballot. If real leadership had been given then the unions could have gone on the offensive and said that the Croke Park II vote meant that all of the €1 billion in cuts were now off the table and wouldn’t be accepted.
Any threats must be taken seriously but also put into context. If we as a union accept such threats blindly and bow down to them (as some people promoted) then it’s all over. In the future, when the government wants further cuts, they only have to roll out similar threats and then what do we do? To give in to the threat offers no answer and undermines the actual power that trade unionists and workers have – the power to take industrial action including strike action to defend our jobs and conditions.
In 2009, 80,000 protested against austerity and 300,000 took part in the one day public sector strike. This potential movement against austerity was sold out by the ICTU leaders. However, with a militant determined leadership this struggle could have continued and defeated the government, stopped Croke Park I, and Croke Park II and Haddington Road would never have happened!
Unfortunately, nothing has been resolved by Haddington Road being forced through and those who presented the yes vote as some sort of victory are deluding themselves. Further attacks will come faster and harder now, and we will face another deal, (named after I presume another Dublin venue where workers voices will not get heard).
We now need to look forward and see where we can go from here. We can look now at certain positives and with more clarity.
- The alliance of the four unions, which the CPSU helped establish, had a certain effect. As an alternative to the official ICTU leadership policy it was able to help in the campaign to convince the majority of public servants to vote NO. The trade union leaderships that accepted the pension levy, Croke Park I, and numerous erosions to our conditions were defeated. SIPTU members ignored the advice of Jack O’Connor and teachers unions ignored their general secretaries as well. Trade union activists must build strong membership based opposition groups in all unions as part of a struggle to ensure that permanent change is achieved in the unions. We need fighting democratic unions that will defend the members terms and conditions above all else – that can only be achieved through industrial struggle – social partnership, conciliation and compromise have all totally failed and resulted in more job losses, more pay cuts and more austerity.
- The defeat of Croke Park II proved that a majority of public servants wanted to make a stand. This happened because a majority “have nothing left to give” and they understand that austerity is not working. The basis is there across trade unions to fight together to defend our conditions.
- By backing down on the 7% pay cut threat the government revealed it is afraid of a battle with the trade union movement. Again and again they threatened public servants but showed that it was not prepared to follow through. The government is unpopular and weak, despite its majority, and Labour are the weakest link.
It is clear that if real leadership was given that public servants would be prepared to fight austerity and protect their jobs, wages, terms/conditions and public services. Instead we have rotten trade union leaders who support austerity and who are doing all that they can to help the Labour Party in government get its agenda through.
To address this reality, branches put an emergency motion to conference this year calling on the CPSU leadership to push for the NO alliance trade unions to organise a rally against austerity. If such a rally had taken place (while the LRC was trying to undo the NO vote) it could have consolidated the NO vote and increased resistance to another “tweaked” deal.
How can the right wing ICTU leaders argue that accepting austerity is the best way to stop austerity? Yes, it doesn’t make any sense!
In the aftermath of the rejection of Croke Park II – the CPSU, UNITE, the INMO, ASTI and TUI should have united in a concerted campaign to get all public sector workers to reject Haddington Road.
It was a serious mistake and act of negligence that such a campaign didn’t happen. Instead of fixing on the positive of the No vote, many of the union leaderships, including the CPSU, focused on the government’s threats and gave way to the likes of the SIPTU, INTO and IMPACT leaderships. Why were Jack O’Connor, Sheila Noonan and Shay Cody allowed to set the agenda?
The CPSU recommended a No vote, but also emphasised the government’s threats and how rejection of Haddington Road would result in worst conditions and, in the absence of a strategy for victory, is it a surprise that a majority of CPSU members didn’t have the confidence to vote no?
ICTU protocol, custom and practice that one union shouldn’t interfere in the affairs of another should be abandoned – it is utter nonsense!
It is not enough that the CPSU, UNITE, ASTI and TUI campaigned for their own members to reject Haddington Road. It was essential that SIPTU members and INTO members voted no, and it was therefore necessary that CPSU, UNITE, ASTI and the TUI should have campaigned openly for SIPTU and INTO members to vote no. This should have included producing leaflets and posters directly aimed at all public sector workers calling for a no vote and the unions should have organised their members to intervene into all public sector workplaces to get a majority No vote in those unions that held ballots.
If this form of opposition and leadership had been given then Haddington Road could have been defeated and the government’s €1 billion in cuts stopped and it’s austerity agenda thrown into chaos.
The austerity agenda is set to continue for years to come.
This battle may have been lost but the war is not over.
We must prepare now for the next stage of the struggle.
Trade union activists need to get organised in all unions. Establish opposition activist groups to mobilise the members around the need to struggle against austerity and the social partnership approach. When the government comes back for Croke Park III and IV we need to be ready.
In the CPSU this means getting involved in the CPSU Activist group. Contact us today, start to get organised in your union branch and workplace, and don’t let the right wing union leaders sell you out again.
To contact the CPSU Activist group phone Terry Kelleher 087-2857665 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org