- Thursday, 16 June 2011
- Written by Tony Healy (Fightback - Ireland)
The scenes broadcast from Athens today (Wednesday) will have sent a shiver down the spine of An Taoiseach, An Tánaiste and their counterparts throughout Europe. The reaction of the Greek workers to the meltdown in the Greek economy will be of particular concern in Leinster House. Ireland is not so far behind Greece and sooner or later Ireland will become the tail ender in the bond markets again, that is unless the Greek Government defaults and then all bets are off.
Already Papandreou has been forced to try and create a government of National Unity between Pasok and the New Democracy. This is a sure sign of crisis. After all, how stable will a government made up of a social democratic party and a right wing pro capitalist party be under these conditions? How easy will it be for them to introduce further austerity measures and to attack the working class?
Well... today was probably not a propitious moment to announce that Irish Public Sector workers are likely to face massive cuts. Maybe that’s why a Labour Minister got the job.
The first year review of the Croke Park Deal which was announced today by Brendan Howlin reported that some €600 million has been “saved” in the public sector. Half of the money has come from wage costs and the rest from non staff cuts. Already IBEC and Isme have given their opinion as to what needs to be done:
Ibec said that getting the economy back on track required “a major reduction in public spending”.
“In many areas far-reaching reform is still needed as a matter of urgency, including the need to reduce staff numbers, redeploy staff and standardise working hours. If this cannot be achieved on a voluntary basis, the government will have to take at a different approach,” Mr Butler added.
Small and medium enterprise group Isme said the pace of reform was too slow and that the level of savings to date was “negligible in comparison to what is urgently required to address the exchequer deficit”.
“It is still the view of the Association, particularly with the deterioration of the budgetary position, that the Croke Park Agreement should be scrapped,” Isme chief executive Mark Fielding said.
“Savings of €600 million to date and a reported reduction in employment numbers of 5,349 since the deal was introduced, do not come anywhere near the level required.” Irish Times 15/6/11
Vaguely more polite
While Labour Party Minister Brendan Howlin’s arguments might be couched in vaguely more polite terms, the reality is that the much vaunted position of the Labour leaders that they were in the coalition to defend working people doesn’t stack up. Brendan Howlin offers no alternative as the Independent explains:
Under the terms of the EU/IMF deal, the Government is under pressure to find savings of over €20bn per annum in the public services bill...
“In view of the severe fiscal constraints we face, the reality is that further significant cuts in expenditure, coupled with further substantial reductions in the numbers employed in the public sector, are unavoidable,” Mr Howlin said.
From the point of view of the Irish bosses, Fine Gael and presumably the Labour leaders, the situation is indeed grim. At the current rate of cuts it would take 56 years and 8 months just to pay off the €34 billion that the government spent bailing out AIB. It is no surprise therefore that the Government are threatening to up the ante in respect of the cuts. Added to this is the threat of EU/IMF sanctions if they don’t deliver.
Before the Croke Park Deal was signed Fightback commented on the prospects for the agreement:
The economic situation in the Eurozone is such that the there is also a very real threat of a double dip recession. The crisis in Greece, Spain, Portugal and now Bulgaria where the budget deficit has mysteriously doubled over night means that the general uncertainty and instability internationally is likely to have dramatic effects on Ireland on top of the policies of Cowen and Lenihan, which as we already know are simply to attack working people. A whole series of governments introducing austerity programmes at the same time would cut the market and potentially send the world economy back down the slippery slope. The bosses are “tobogganing to disaster with their eyes closed” as Trotsky said in the 1930’s.
As such the goal posts could be moved at any stage and it is quite likely that the Coalition will be back for more. The gloves are off, the FF and Green Party ministers know that they are going to be ditched at the next election. They have a job to do on behalf of the bourgeois; make the workers pay for the crisis. This is a one sided Civil war against the trade union movement and the working class. In these circumstances the role of the trade union leadership has to be to put forward an intransigent class position. This crisis is of the bosses making, The government will no doubt claim as will their counterparts in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Britain, that there is no alternative. But any policy that attacks working people has to be opposed, and more effectively than the trade union leaders have done so far...
The Croke Park deal is no solution to the situation faced by hundreds of thousands of members. It merely replaces one set of attacks on workers with another.
What are the prospects for the next period? If the deal goes through then it is probable that the government will soon begin to try and implement its programme of “reform”. It is likely that this will mean a series of attacks on different sectors at different times. This will inevitably generate opposition, particulary in those sectors like the civil service and among the teachers where the Deal was rejected by large sections. But inevitably it is going to be harder to defend services, conditions and jobs. After all, the Croke Park Deal doesn’t do away with an Bord Snip, in fact it means that the proposals will become part of “the reform programme”. McLoone and David Begg have sold the members short.
The truth is that this perspective has been borne out in full. Ireland was pushed into a political crisis in the autumn of 2010 and the EU/IMF witchdoctors moved the goalposts. The result was the obliteration of FF and the Greens at the polls.
As we explained last year the difficulty for the government was always going to be how would they manage to implement the reforms in the Public Sector. If anything, given the political background on a world scale, this is going to be much harder. The economy is still in a terrible mess, the eurozone is in crisis. Greece is facing a pre revolutionary situation. The government however have no alternative – on a capitalist basis - other than to attack the working class. Once again this is a recipe for class struggle.
But there is another important issue and that is the role of the Trade Union Leaders. We have consistently explained that the reliance on Social Partnership would result in precisely the sort of situation that we have arrived at now. The ICTU leaders have to take note of today’s report and prepare to fight what is a real threat to their members. The new coalition is preparing the way for an assault on the Public Sector workers which will make the last three years look like a stroll in the park. As we explained in the article quoted above:
For active trade unionists and socialists the task is clear, to fight every cut and campaign to defend jobs and services. There is also a job to be done inside the trade unions and within the Labour Party also. The campaign that has been waged by workers against the Croke Park deal needs to be developed into a movement to renew and refresh the trade union structures, to build union organisation and strength at a local level and to transform the unions into genuinely democratic fighting organisations that defend working people.
Since last year however the world has moved on. There are many examples across the whole world of the anger and determination of working people to fight to defend themselves from the actions of their respective ruling classes. Tonight the TV screens are showing the crisis in Athens, the clock is ticking for Enda Kenny. Many thousands of workers in Ireland are looking for a socialist alternative. The ideas of Marxism will play a growing part in that process.