After Haddington Road: Where Now?

sold-out-union-membersBy 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 info@cpsuactivist.org

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It is time to have a real Debate about ICTU

By Mick Neville

The ICTU position on defending the rights of workers and the unemployed has been pretty poor in my opinion. They have failed to mount any serious opposition to the Austerity programme currently being imposed. There have been some marches and press statements but no serious campaign of opposition. Joint Labour Committee Rates, which have stood since the mid 1940’s to protect workers in vulnerable occupations, have been slashed. The retirement age has been raised; unemployment and other social welfare rates have been cut. Taxes on working people are going up and up and yet there are no new taxes on the wealthiest in society. ICTU supported the Social Partnership model, which resulted in a huge pay gap developing between the higher and lower paid workers, and ICTU failed to get trade union recognition rights established under law.

As front line public sector workers we are well aware of the effect the cuts are having to the services we provide. We know there is an agenda to target the public service to reduce wages & numbers employed and destroy the hard won terms and conditions of employment. We are fortunate that we have trade union representation.

ICTU is an umbrella body for Trade Unions in Ireland; the question is what should be the CPSU position in relation to ICTU? I don’t mean the narrow question of should we stay in ICTU or leave, but that is part of the issue as well; if we stay in, we must have reasons for doing so. The reasons for remaining in ICTU are:

1. A seat at the negotiating table and chance to influence talks and ICTU policy positions on various issues.

2. A vote on National Pay Talks for the membership.

3. Representation on the various ICTU sub committees on various issues like Equality, Disability etc.

The disadvantage of being in ICTU is that the CPSU cannot accept members from other unions affiliated to ICTU. This is more commonly known as “poaching”. It is quite a serious matter as workers should be able to join the union of their choice and more active trade unions should be able to benefit by growing their membership. The only way of growing your membership in ICTU is by merging with other unions, this is fraught with difficulties and can lead to democratic deficits for different groups of workers.

The Firefighters were not getting the representation they felt they deserved from SIPTU, their premium payments for working weekend nights and bank holidays were under threat and they felt SIPTU was not doing enough to defend them. The

Psychiatric Nurses Association were and are outside of ICTU, so they were able to form a new union, the Irish Firefighters and Emergency Services Association (IFESA), with them. Of course this is not an easy option. The employer is refusing to talk with the new union and SIPTU is pulling out all the stops to get these members back but the firefighters are happy with the new union and they are prepared to defend their rights of association.

The teachers union ASTI had a very different experience leaving ICTU. They took industrial action which was not supported by the other teachers unions or ICTU. Benchmarking was seen by ICTU and Government as the way of dealing with their claims. As a result they decided to rejoin ICTU so that they could influence the Benchmarking process. They found they had no way of growing there union membership or pursuing their demands outside of ICTU.

The Nurses were in ICTU when they took industrial action but ICTU did not actively support them. It is hard to think of a union that ICTU has supported who took industrial action. Even the industrial action across the public service in late 2009-2010 was quickly wound down when talks started.

So the only advantage of leaving ICTU that I can see, and I could be wrong, is that unions outside ICTU can grow union membership. It is highly unlikely we will be leaving ICTU anytime soon so the debate on ICTU should centre around what has to change in ICTU.

For a start, ICTU should actively support any union that takes industrial action whether the union is inside ICTU or not. ICTU officials should NOT have the authority to criticize any union without a democratic decision of the constituent unions.

The rule preventing workers joining the union of their choice should be abolished.

As union members we should demand that Congress campaign against austerity, against the pay cuts, pay freezes, etc. that are being rolled out to feather beds the bankers.

Changing ICTU starts at the Branch AGM where we decide who goes to conference, runs for the Executive Committee, the Presidency, etc. These are important decisions and the people elected influence how conference decisions are implemented and give direction to full time officials on issues at central level.

Finally I would encourage members to comment on this topic through the Activist website and to get involved in your union at whatever level you can.

THE CPSU is very strongly recommending A NO Vote to Croke Park 2
The Activist Group fully supports this position and urges all members to Vote NO.

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Terry Kelleher speaking at budget day protest outside the Dail

Terry Kelleher speaking at budget day protest outside the Dail from Socialist on Vimeo.

CPSU executive member Terry Kelleher speaking (in personal capacity) at budget day protest organised by the Campaign Against Household and Water taxes outside the Dail 05/12/12.

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Stand up to austerity

By Terry Kelleher

Millions of workers joined strikes and protests across southern Europe last week against spending cuts and tax hikes that trade unions say have brought misery and deepened the region’s economic crisis. However the ICTU refused to join in with this protest which united the peoples of Europe against austerity. Instead they say they are backing the demonstration on the Saturday 24th November – well verbally anyway.

Spanish and Portuguese workers were holding their first co-ordinated general strike, while unions in Greece, Italy France and Belgium also planned work stoppages or demonstrations as part of a “European Day of Action and Solidarity”.

Spain, where the crisis has seen unemployment reach 25%, has had some of the biggest protests. Passion was inflamed when a Spanish woman jumped to her death last week as bailiffs tried to evict her from her home. Spanish workers are furious at banks being rescued with public cash while ordinary people suffer.

In Portugal, public and political opposition to austerity is mounting; the government was forced by protests to abandon a planned increase in employee payroll charges, but replaced it with higher taxes.

Italy’s biggest union, CGIL, also called for a work stoppage of several hours across the country. The transport ministry expected trains and ferries to stop for four hours. Students and teachers were expected to march.

In Greece, which saw a big two-day strike last week while parliament voted on new cuts, the main public and private sector labour unions called for a three-hour work stoppage although Athens police only expect 10,000 demonstrators.

Workers across Europe are uniting as austerity drives millions onto the dole queue and many more into poverty.

CPSU members face a longer working week, changes to flexi, increased taxation and much more threats to our terms and conditions.

We need to come out this Saturday, 24th November, and start the fight-back to defend our living standards and for an alternative strategy which targets the wealth in this country and Europe.

Join the pre-budget protest
Saturday, 24th November
1pm at Gardens of Remembrance, Dublin

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