A - I n f o s
a multi-lingual news service by, for, and about anarchists
News in all languages
Last 30 posts (Homepage)
archives of old posts
The last 100 posts, according
The First Few Lines of The Last 10 posts in:
First few lines of all posts of last 24 hours
Links to indexes of first few lines of all posts
of past 30 days |
of 2002 |
of 2003 |
of 2004 |
of 2005 |
of 2006 |
of 2007 |
of 2008 |
of 2009 |
of 2010 |
of 2011 |
of 2012 |
Syndication Of A-Infos - including
RDF - How to Syndicate A-Infos
Subscribe to the a-infos newsgroups
(en) Ireland, anarchist WSM paper Workers Solidarity #128 - The Croke Park Agreement – the very antithesis of Larkin’s trade unionism
Fri, 26 Apr 2013 18:02:13 +0300
Next year, 2013, will mark the 100th anniversary of what many see as the most significant
industrial dispute ever to have taken place in Ireland - the Dublin Lockout. The
employers of Dublin, led by William Martin Murphy, locked out over 20,000 workers in an
attempt to starve them into submission and to smash the increasingly popular Irish
Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU). ---- The ITGWU, founded in 1908, had been
built on the basis of the sympathetic strike with the principle of the strongest groups of
workers taking action to protect the weakest at its core. The almost 5 months from the
end of August 1913 to mid-January 2014 saw a determined effort by Dublin’s employers to
break the ITGWU and to smash the idea of workers’ unity and solidarity. And while the
strike ended in defeat, it is still seen as a hugely significant event in the history of
Irish trade unionism.
It is ironic that many of those – union leaders and members alike – who will participate
in events to commemorate the centenary of the lockout next year have, over the last couple
of years, been part of a trade union movement that in many ways has come to stand for the
total opposite of the idea of the strongest protecting the weakest.
The Croke Park Agreement (CPA), when it was put to a ballot of public sector union members
in the first half of 2010, came on the back of a 12 - 15% pay cut for all public servants
(between both a direct pay cut and the imposition of a pension levy). It was sold to
union members by its proponents – which included the vast majority of the union leadership
– as the only way in which wages and conditions could be protected in the face of a
cacophony of voices screaming for ‘public sector reform’ and heaping the blame for the
financial crisis on a ‘bloated’, ‘overpaid’, public sector.
The reality of course was completely different. Then, as now, the vast majority of public
servants were on low to middle incomes. In 2011, when the effect of the pension levy is
taken onto account, 60% of public sector workers earned €45,000 per year or less before tax.
The legacy of ‘partnership’
The debate on the CPA came after 20 years of so-called ‘social partnership’ which had
blunted the trade union movement, leaving it with a whole generation of officials who only
knew the language of ‘partnership’.
Similarly, a generation of union members did not see the union as being a collective which
fought to protect and improve working conditions and pay rates. A divide had emerged
whereby most union members were more likely to ask ‘what’s the union doing about X, Y or
Z?’ rather than seeing themselves as an integral part of a body which should not alone be
defending their own rights but also looking to defend those of other, less organised
groups of workers. ‘The union’ was often seen as an insurance policy, a way of accessing
cheaper life insurance and various group discount deals.
So when the economic collapse came and with it the outright assault on wages and working
conditions, the vast majority of both union officials and union members had no concept of
a way in which this assault could be dealt with other than through some sort of
‘partnership’ deal. The idea that we all as workers had (and have) the collective power
to impose our will and to resist these attacks, the idea that we are strong together and
that the unions were originally built on the principle of being able to withdraw our
labour in order to demonstrate our strength had been lost for many.
And so the union leadership (who had no other vision of what a union should be) were able
to sell to the union membership the Croke Park Agreement, saying clearly at the time that
it was a rotten deal but ‘threatening’ that without it we would be powerless to stop
further attacks on our wages and working conditions.
Those of us who opposed the CPA attempted to outline an alternative vision of what a union
movement should consist of, and advocated a belief that it was only by rejecting this deal
and building a fighting movement that we could hope to protect both our wages and
conditions and the integrity of the public services we worked in – education, health,
social welfare…. We also pointed out forcibly that the document referred constantly to
‘existing public servants’ and appealed to union members not to sacrifice the wages and
terms and conditions of young people likely to join the public service in the following
years in the hope of protecting our own.
‘Told you so’
There is very little joy or satisfaction in being able to say ‘told you so’ but the sad
reality is that the last 2 and a bit years of the CPA have seen exactly that happen – the
working conditions and pay rates of ‘new entrants’ to the public service have been
savaged, and the services themselves have been slashed.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the teaching profession. This is because teaching is
one of the few areas of the public service where there is any recruitment. In all other
areas the recruitment embargo has meant there are few if any ‘new entrants’. But what is
currently happening to Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) will be replicated all across the
civil and public service in the next couple of years. The figures are stark and
frightening. In 2008 a primary teacher starting out took home €557 per week after tax and
other deductions, in September 2012 a starting teacher’s net take home pay was just €406 –
that’s a reduction of almost 28%.
This has happened with hardly a murmur from the teaching unions – either leadership or
members. Yes there have been a few strongly worded statements, but there has been no
action or even threatened protests. Newly Qualified Teachers – the weakest in terms of
today’s teacher unions - rightly feel that the principle of the strongest protecting the
weakest has been ditched by today’s trade unions.
It’s not as if trade union leaders don’t have an alternative economic strategy. The ICTU,
TASC (http://tascnet.ie/ ) and the Nevin Economic Research Institute
(http://www.nerinstitute.net/ ) have all produced alternative economic strategies. These
may not be revolutionary but they do show that there is ‘another way’. But trade union
leaders appear to have completely accepted the mantra of government and mainstream
commentators – that politically There Is No Alternative (TINA). They do not appear to
have any faith or hope that union members could be won away from the ‘truth’ that public
spending must be slashed to pay off the gambling debts run up by international financiers
and developers. Indeed they appear unwilling to even engage union members in that discussion.
Acceptance of this ‘truth’ leaves them fearful of fighting any proposed cut to services –
or the pay cuts for new entrants - because this might result in pay being targeted for
cuts instead. And they see the CPA as providing protection against pay cuts.
Having peddled the CPA through the fear factor, the union leaders’ mantra now is that
members don’t want to know about fighting cuts to services, or about taking action to
protect the pay of new entrants. And there is no doubt a large degree of truth to this.
Coming off the back of 20 years of ‘social partnership’, having been sold the CPA as ‘the
only way possible way to protect wages’ and having the fear factor blasted at them daily
from supposedly ‘independent’ commentators it’s hardly a surprise that union members are
reluctant to take any action.
Ignoring the obvious
Unfortunately though, union members who are keeping their heads down and hoping that the
CPA will protect them are the equivalent of people who refuse to heed a hurricane warning
in the hope that by pretending it’s not there nothing bad will happen. While they are
keeping their heads down, the very foundation they are standing on is being destabilised
under their feet.
The services in which they work – be it education, health, social welfare – are suffering
attack after attack. People are constantly being told that the ‘reality’ is they must ‘do
more with less’. And most worryingly, people entering the job are being paid a fraction
of what has been fought for over the years.
If today’s union members do not feel they should take action to protect their weaker
colleagues (the basis on which trade unionism has been built), pure self-interest should
be enough to make them take what is being dome to their younger colleagues more seriously.
After all, does anyone honestly think that in the post-CPA world (it’s due to expire in
early 2014) the pressure won’t come on immediately to reduce all wages in line with the
pay rates of ‘new entrants’? Commentators are already gearing up for the next phase of
the onslaught and already it is possible to hear the statements about ‘greedy’ teachers
‘creaming it in’ while their younger colleagues suffer on lower pay scales.
In conclusion therefore, the CPA must be seen as the very antithesis of what real trade
unionism should be about. Trade unionists who want to truly commemorate the spirit and
courage of those who took to the streets in 1913 must first of all ditch the current
strategy of appeasement and acceptance of the attacks on our living standards and our
services. We need to re-forge the real soul of our trade unions as bodies based on
collective solidarity. We need, in short, more than fine words about Jim Larkin and his
colleagues, we need to re-discover some of the fighting spirit and sense of solidarity
which Dublin’s workers in 1913 had in abundance.
WORDS: District 14 Irish National Teachers Organisation (personal capacity), Gregor Kerr -
A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E
By, For, and About Anarchists
Send news reports to A-infos-en mailing list
A-Infos Information Center