Fake Outrage and Trade Union Complicity in the Assault on Irish Workers

6 Nov

Central-Banker-Turned-Anguished-Professor Begg

So we now hear that the Irish Congress of Trade Unions is to “stage” a protest against budget cuts in Dublin on November 27. For anyone keeping an eye on the unions’ shenanigans the word “stage” is quite appropriate – perhaps “stage-manage” would be even better. For these same union leaders have worked hand-in-hand with the current government in the greatest assault on Irish workers since the great lock-out of 1913. While that conflict paved the way for the 1916 rising, we can be quite sure that our current leaders and their cronies will do everything in their power to ensure that as little as possible changes this time round.

The reality is that the union leadership have assented to a huge cull of the public service as part of the Croke Park agreement, a salivating prize for the Fianna Fáil led government. And that this is just the most organised aspect of a one-sided class war being waged against ordinary Irish workers and the poor.

The current outrage expressed by these leaders about the cuts is nothing but phoney verbiage – they will take no action to mobilise any real protest by the union membership and will engage in nothing but fake opposition. Let’s have a closer look at their rank hypocrisy and duplicity, expressed in their own words over the last year.

Architects of the Assault

General Collaborator McLoone

The similarity between the rhetoric of government ministers and the utterances of the union heads is particularly striking. For instance, Peter McLoone (former general secretary of IMPACT) is the chief architect of public service ‘transformation’ and he explained how the cuts would be implemented when he addressed the 2009 McGill summer school:

“What does that transformation mean? Let me put it as starkly as I can. The initial challenge is to maintain services at the same level whilst reducing costs. Next, it requires us to improve and expand services, whilst continuing to reduce costs. Then, it demands that we better integrate services, again with fewer resources.”

(Reforming the Public Services- How and When?, McGill Summer School 2009)

McLoone, David Begg and Jack O’Connor then offered the so called ‘transformation’ agenda to the government, but it was rejected in favour of immediate pay cuts for public servants. After a three month period of a very limited work to rule industrial action, the union general secretaries accepted the pay cuts for their members, crawled back to their partners in government and proceeded to implement the massive reduction in the public service that is now the Croke Park agreement.

Getting Rid of Staff

It is now clear that when the union leadership spoke about public service ‘transformation’ or ‘reform’, what they really meant was outright cuts to services and staff. The original target in the Croke Park agreement was to cut 13,000 public service positions and the Taoiseach recently boasted about the “significant reduction of 11,000 in the number of staff in the public service” already achieved. Another 5,000 are pencilled in to depart the HSE within three weeks.

With the continued non-replacement of all public service retirements (the recruitment embargo), the government are well on the way to slashing more than 20,000 by the end of next year. This far exceeds the ambitious target of 17,300 that was set out in the An Bord Snip report. The target for job cuts keeps rising and with trade union support the government may even reach the 30,000 suggested by banker William Slattery when he snuggled up to the union leaders at the recent Croke Park conference.

As usual, the policy of Fine Gael is a straight copy of Fianna Fail as Enda Kenny now boasts that he can cut 30,000 public service jobs. Enda’s latest plan is to make public services “smaller and cheaper” and with brass necked hypocrisy it is subtitled as “Protecting Public Services”.

Begging to be Slashed

As far as IMPACT is concerned the sooner the better. McLoone told the Taoiseach to “’get up off his backside and get all key public service managers together immediately to provide leadership and ensure that public service transformation is implemented effectively”.

Bring-on-the-Cuts Cody

Shameless Shay Cody (successor to McLoone at IMPACT) is even more enthusiastic in his support for cutting the public service and he has urged government to move more quickly to slash and burn. Bring-on-the-Cuts Cody was even more zealous when he addressed a recent conference of public service managers:

“These are not the times for administering the status quo. They are the times for managing diminished resources. The Croke Park Agreement allows for the redeployment of staff to areas of greatest need from areas of lesser priority. It is predictable that the first point of resistance to this enabling provision won’t come from the Unions. It will come from management who will seek to preserve staff and resources for fear that once they are lost, they will be lost forever…Any Trade Unionist will confirm that we would prefer to grapple with proposals for change that are real and substantive as opposed to peripheral and insignificant.”

(The Croke Park Agreement, what does it mean in practice for public servants? September 2010)

Cody is at least correct in his observation that resistance will not come from the union leadership. However, when the cuts fall on particular service areas, the grassroots union membership needs to be duped with duplicitous outrage and feigned protest.

Faking it on VEC Closures

The recent government decision to cut the Vocational Educational Committees (VECs) from 33 to 16 is illustrative. An Bord Snip recommended a reduction of VECs from 33 to 22 but Tánaiste Mary Coughlan went further and cut them down to 16. All of the regional VECs (outside of Dublin and Cork) were amalgamated into groups of two and three, but Donegal VEC (home constituency of Mary Coughlan) was preserved as the only stand alone regional VEC – stroke politics at its lowest.

The members of IMPACT in the VECs now face centralisation and long distance redeployment to other counties and they have been contacting their union in order to fight the cuts. Time for some faking it by Bring-on-the-Cuts Cody as IMPACT expressed outrage at the ‘annihilation’ of education services: “Many services face annihilation, ranging from third-level, school transport and sports  grants to night classes, adult and community education, and early school leavers’  programmes. They simply will not exist in the communities where they have played such  a vital role for several decades,” said IMPACT national secretary Matt Staunton.

However, the full statement on the IMPACT website makes it clear that the union supports the closures:

IMPACT has sought immediate clarification that the closures will be implemented in accordance with the Croke Park Agreement… The union said that the nature of  yesterday’s announcement is regrettable… While the announcement of some closures was expected, no consultation or discussion took place ahead of this decision.

The only whimper that IMPACT raised was some bleating about a lack of consultation about the announcement of the closures – Mary Coughlan must surely be quaking. The Education Sector Implementation Strategy (the original document is made available to you here by the KPSWA) that IMPACT signed up to makes it clear:

Co-operation with the restructuring and rationalisation of the VEC sector: Implementation will proceed in accordance with Government decisions about the proposed rationalisation and the commitments given in the Agreement.

Hoaxing the Union Membership

This is now the standard trade union response to public service cuts – a sham protest that amounts to nothing but giving the appearance of action to the membership. When the cuts at Navan Hospital were announced the only complaint by the INMO was about “the failure of the HSE to engage with the relevant stakeholders prior to this major announcement”.

Meanwhile, in some misguided effort at a PR spin, the INMO boasted that it had “agreed with the re-deployment of nurses from hospitals in Croom, Galway and Dundalk to other health care facilities where beds, in the initial hospital, have been closed due to financial cutbacks”.

The HSE has copped the empty union threats and ploughed ahead with the announcement of the redundancy scheme. Right on cue, IMPACT National Secretary Louise O’Donnell “expressed the union’s concern about the manner in which the redundancy scheme was announced” and about “the lack of consultation and engagement ahead of the announcement of the scheme”. After a predictably fruitless meeting – “the package is the package” – IMPACT and SIPTU came away empty-handed.  The government will proceed with the redundancies as planned and the unions will maintain a hoax of opposition for their membership.

Social Partnership and the Phoney War

Huffer-and-Puffer-in-Chief O'Connor

The trade union leadership is utterly wedded to social partnership and the benefits for the insiders are irresistible. The general secretaries have evolved into a new managerial class who now regard the downsizing of the public service as their primary objective.

The corruption of the Irish trade unions  by social partnership was documented in an earlier post. It now transpires that government departments and agencies paid out more than €100 million in grants and other funding under social partnership in recent years. SIPTU acknowledges that the loot was “invaluable to both sides in improving and agreeing an understanding of the challenges facing a modern-day health service”.

The general secretaries have become masters in the feigning of fake action to the membership – who could ever forget Jack O’Connor’s huffing-and-puffing performance on Vincent Browne’s show earlier this year? That this could happen in seemingly democratic trade unions is yet another testimony to the extent to which Irish institutions were captured by a corrupt group of insiders.

The Protest in November

So what can union members do about this scandalous corruption? Perhaps the “staged” protest on November 27th should become a bit more than ICTU is planning for – that the general union membership take this opportunity to express their discontent on the type of leadership that partnership has bought. Perhaps it is time that the incestuous Begg-O’Connor-Cody nexus is broken up and the trade unions finally do what they should have been doing a year ago – taking on this shambolic government for all Irish workers and their families.

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4 Responses to “Fake Outrage and Trade Union Complicity in the Assault on Irish Workers”

  1. Poc ar Bhuille November 9, 2010 at 7:53 pm #

    At last! The TUI members have voted in favour of re- entering talks about the Croke Park agreement. Union leaders must be jumping for joy. Moore long faces, more long days of negotiations, ham sandwiches at midnight in Croker. Act 2…..capitulation, and the signing away of anything left to be signed off on. But TUI members have voted in favour of this. We are leaving a very poor heritage to those who walk after us. Irish people are indeed a strange race. But hey, there’s always something new to look forward to…roll on the third offering of the New Improved Lisbon Treaty.

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