The argument offered by the leadership of the the public service unions advocating a yes vote – IMPACT, PSEU and SIPTU (the union the leadership of which is campaigning for a Yes vote without making a recommendation to its members – square that circle, I dare you) is a truly remarkable piece of sophistry. In other words, it is a half concealed piece of fiction.
The argument is that union members should vote ‘yes’ to have their already severely depleted pay and conditions further rifled because this is the best deal that could be won by negotiation. Leave aside for a moment whether or not this is a logical statement, whether the effect follows from the putative cause and let’s see if the argument holds water even within its own limited terms. For it to be true, one simple requirement is that the unions must have actually tried negotiation to see what deal could they achieve. Has there actually been any negotiating?
The word ‘negotiation’ is not a synonym for ‘talk’ or ‘listen’ or ‘beg’ or ‘plead.’ It has nothing at all to do with the latter two words and, while the first two are necessary for the process, they are in no sense at all sufficient to amount to negotiation. Negotiation does indeed involve communication but a very particular kind of communication, one which can only occur between two parties who view each other as possessing roughly similar power. Power means the capacity to employ or withdraw resources to the benefit or detriment of the other side. In such circumstances of relative equality, negotiation involves a process of communication where each side endeavours to assess the power of the other side and, more importantly, the extent to which it is willing to employ its power or resources to get its way.
Negotiation only exists when there is a threat of force available to each side. The objective of the communication system is to estimate how far each side can be pushed before it will resort to force. Obviously, if one side knows that the other does not have the power to back up its demands, while at the same time knowing that the greater power is on its side, then in logic it should not yield in negotiation because it stands to get its way by force. If however, it possesses power but lacks the will to use it and, if the other side should sense that this is the case, then the shoe is on the other foot. Power, which can be relied on not to be used, is the same as no power at all. Continue reading
The Kerry Public Service Workers’ Alliance is mounting a street protest against the government’s proposals contained in the new “Croke Park” and has launched a campaign for a resounding No vote from union members.
At a well-attended meeting in Tralee on Wednesday evening grassroots members from SIPTU, IMPACT, INTO, PNA, ASTI, UCAT, TUI, AGSI, TEEU and the GRA expressed outrage at:
- the government for breaking the Croke Park 1 agreement 16 months before it was due to expire.
- the scale of what is being demanded of public service workers in pay cuts and extra unpaid work.
- the manner in which many union officials are effectively functioning as the frontline of a government assault on their members.
The message was clear: it is time for ordinary union members to become active and to fight what many feel is the last stand for trade unions in the country.
There were positive stories of similar alliances springing up to fill the vacuum being left by paid officials and many suggestions as to how people can contribute. These included the sharing of information about the content of the proposals, lobbying of local TD’s and Councillors, an email campaign, and spreading the message about the devasting impact the cuts would have on the Kerry economy. People volunteered to spread the word of the fightback through all forms of media, social and otherwise.
Everyone was encouraged to discuss the proposals and their impact with their colleagues. It was noted that we must be sure to include both students, who will face years of penury should the proposals be accepted, and retired members, as their pensions are in the cross hairs.
The meeting resolved to make the general public, politicians and union leaders aware of the strength of feeling amongst public service workers by holding a demonstration at 5pm on Monday March 11th on Denny Street in Tralee. A free bus will run from Killarney for those who would like to attend from there. All are encouraged to attend – there may even be a special guest!
Telling people, ‘I told you so’ is not popular. Sometimes it has to be said. Kerry Public Service Workers Alliance warned that Croke Park 1 was a return invitation to rob us blind. Even we never envisaged our union leaders being in again, handing over more great dollops of our pay and conditions to a rapacious Government 18 months before the last deal had run its course.
Think about it. We had signed a deal – a terribly foolish one for us. But a deal, nonetheless, an agreement both parties were meant to abide by. The objective was to save us from further demands at least until mid 2014.
The economy has not worsened. We are exactly where any half-assed economist would expect us to be – scraping along the bottom, as we were before, because money is being haemorrhaged out of the economy. That is exactly what austerity can be expected to do according to the laws of economics. How is it possible, then, that we are now expected to hand over more cash?
What on earth led our union leaders to go back in again a year and a half early to help the Government figure out the best way to divide public servants and screw an extra €1,000,0000 out of us?
The union leaders – the club of General Secretaries – are traitors. They are there to do the government bidding – to deliver the public servants. In the KPSWA, we said so from the beginning. Can anyone now be left in doubt? If so, their logic would make interesting reading. We’d love to hear from them.
What about our union Executive Committees? Union members elect them. Surely they cannot also be stooges of Fine Gael and the Labour party? How did they not stop this train to ruin from leaving the station? We can only conclude that a mixture of incompetence and treachery is to blame. They can’t all be political infiltrators but, make no mistake, quite a few are.
It is now time for every trade union member to question where exactly the loyalties of their representatives lie. If they should have connections in any way with the government parties, would you not say it is time to scrutinise them very closely indeed? As for the others, they have to be either fools or outnumbered dissidents. The last group exists but there has to be a great many of the former because it is doubtful if the political parties have been able to pack the executives of unions so effectively.
What of the argument that it is better to negotiate because otherwise the government will do much worse to the public servants. If ever there was a contemptible argument, this has to be one.
Think it through. If the Government has the power to do what it likes, why should it bother to negotiate? Clearly, in the Government’s eyes there must be a big difference between getting the union leaders to dupe their members , getting them to willingly hand over their money and conditions of employment on the one hand and legislating to take the same things by force on the other.
Could it be the case that Eamon Gilmore knows full well that, in the teeth of clamouring opposition from public servants country-wide, he would not be able to get his backbenchers through the lobbies to support the necessary legislation? It would, of course, be political suicide for all Labour deputies – the old guard (Rabbitte, Quinn, Gilmore himself) don’t care; most of them will not stand for election again. The backbenchers care. They want to retain their seats. Looked at like that, imposition is not an inviting option at all for Labour – the party comes asunder and the Government falls.
Let’s think a little more about how things look from the Government side. The whole nonsense of the austerity programme on which it bases its entire strategy requires a quiescent and passive public. The last thing the Government wants is a big industrial relations battle with the public servants. Oh dear! What will the markets think? What will the ECB and IMF think? No! No! We can’t have public dissent because austerity is no good on its own. It must be accepted quietly. Otherwise, the markets get spooked fearing that the Irish might not continue to buy this nonsense for very much longer.
That is where the union leaders come in. If they can deliver the public servants, then you can have both austerity and quiescence all at once. The markets are satisfied. Fine Gael and Labour are happy, therefore. But if there is a big spat with the public servants, they are happy no longer. Then we start to look like Greece.
We have the whip hand if we could only realise it. Of course our union leaders are absolutely determined to make sure we don’t find that out. Why did they let the pension levy happen? Why did they let the pay cuts happen? Why did they undermine our strike action last time round and rush back into talks?
Only if you grasp that they are traitors does any of this make sense. Why do they never talk about strike or industrial action? Why did they rush into talks so early in advance of the end of Croke Park 1?
To catch us unaware of course.As this year progressed into next, you and I would be preparing to resist the imposition of a successor deal. They knew if they caught us napping, they might ram it through before we could all get our act together. The objective is to make sure we never realise our strength or the weakness of the Government.
Up to now it has worked a dream – for them. Will it work this time? That’s up to you and I and every other you and I in the public services.
We must all vote NO. That will not be enough. Immediately the votes start going in the wrong direction, the General Secretaries will have their plans laid for how to divide public servants against each other. They will be back into talks in a flash to rejig the deal so as to fragment and isolate the opposition. That is what we have to prevent. That is what our Executive Committees have to prevent and we the members have to make them do so.
KPSWA aims to show how this can be done. Keep with us. Pass on our messages.
VOTE NO: NO MORE TALKS: NO MORE DEALS: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
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So, now that the shouting and the counting are over, where do Ireland and its people stand? Have we ostrich-like stuck our heads in the sand and voted for more of the same but under different brand names? Or, have we struck out bravely in a new direction and voted for fundamental change? Whatever we want, what are we likely to get?
A Seismic Change
In the previous election in May 2007, Ireland demonstrated its continuing historic adherence to conservative right-wing politics. Three parties of the right, Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats mopped up a grand total of 71.6% of the first preference vote and garnered 131 of the 166 seats in the Dail.
In last Friday’s election, with all the seats now filled, the parties of the right, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail (PD having imploded since 2007), saw their total first preference vote dropping to 53.5% and their combined seats dropping from 131 to 96.
Forget about the shift from Fianna Fail to Fine Gael. That’s just changing the franchise from Spar to Centra with business going on as before. What’s really interesting is the scale of decline in the vote of the right wing parties.
Over 7 in 10 voters backing them in 2007; down now to little over half the electorate. A total loss of 35 seats. And there’s more. The Green Party, which shamefully colluded in the most destructive and right-wing phase of governance that Ireland has ever endured, was wiped out. Not a single seat remains.
Agreed, the majority in Ireland retain the conservative and status-quo clinging perspective that they always had, but that majority is now very slim in comparison with the past. To understand where we are at, we must understand where we have come from and so quickly. Nearly 72% voting for parties of the right less than four years ago, now down to 53.5%. That is a seismic change. A great many of the Irish people are not ostriches.
To the Left
The biggest gainer on the left is the Labour Party. It saw its share of first preferences virtually double from 10% in 2007 to 19.4% last Friday and its seats jump from 20 to 37 making it the second biggest party in Dail Eireann.
Did it gain from its mealy mouthed hesitancy to upset the comfortable, tax- phobic classes, its failure to fight for public services, to protect the vulnerable and from its eagerness to compromise with the right? Arguably not. The striking success of parties and independents not seeking to hide their left wing principles under a bushel would suggest that Labour might have done even better if it had been true to its name and traditions.
Sinn Fein increased its seats in Dail Eireann from 4 to 14. The Socialist Party captured 2 seats as did People Before Profit. Without considering Independents, that amounts to an increase of 14 seats firmly on the left of the Labour Party. Labour might have stood to gain many of those if it were not so compromised by it’s dalliance with the right.
The increase in Independents in the new Dail, however one classifies them on the left-right spectrum, can only be interpreted as a rejection of the old status quo. In 2007 we elected 5 Independents. Last Friday we elected 15.
Many of those such as Seamus Healy, Maureen O’Sullivan, Thomas Pringle, John Halligan, Catherine Murphy, Finian McGrath, Mick Wallace, Luke ’Ming’ Flanagan and Stephen Donnelly are either firmly on the left or distinctly disaffected with the right wing consensus and concerned about its impact on Irish society. Even Tom Fleming, a former Fianna Fail member, has publicly voiced his concerns about the direction Irish society has been taking and its impact on the vulnerable.
While cynicism is understandable about former Fianna Fail representatives, Mattie Mc Grath, another escapee from the fold and a small time business man, may as he claims be genuinely disaffected by the ‘protect the rich at all costs’ policies of the last Government. Free of party clutches he could be found to have a social conscience.
That leaves Shane Ross, Michael Lowry, Noel Grealish and Michael Healy Rae. No difficulty in knowing where former Fine Gaeler and big business man, Lowry stands – he is a fully paid up member of the right consensus and with an unadulterated track record to prove it. Former PD leader Grealish has the self-same, if not so illustrious, political track record as Lowry. Recent posturing to the contrary will fool no one. Michael Healy Rae, son of Jackie, can be assumed to have inherited more than the seat. The Healy Raes are big business owners and that is where their loyalties lie when the smoke screen of affected rural guff is penetrated. Jackie supported every appalling decision of the outgoing administration. There is no reason at all to imagine that Michael is any whit different. Still, pigs might fly and, given time, he will have the chance to prove us right or wrong.
Former stockbroker and SINDO business editor, Shane Ross is firmly on the right. There is nothing at all to suggest he cares about equity in society. He does care however about corruption and cronyism and about the rot within the party political system. No friend of the left or the little guy, he is no friend of the status quo either.
Only three of the elected independents seem wedded to the past. In aggregate, the avalanche of independents entering the new Dail is far more a sign of disaffection with the status quo than any comfort to Fine Gael and Fianna Fail in their efforts to perpetuate the ancien regime.
The Emperor’s New Clothes
What then of the new Government? Will it reflect the narrow majority, which would appear to have voted to follow the old path or will it give expression to the desire of everyone else for serious change? Right now this all depends on the Labour Party which is firmly wedged between a rock and a hard place. The rock is the right-wing status quo in the form of Fine Gael and in the form of Labour’s own hunger for power, which it can only win by compromising its raison de etre. In preparation for just such an eventuality it has already travelled well down that route casting its electoral pitch at just a bit less of what Fine Gael is having (see this piece by Vincent Browne).
Fine Gael wants to kill the public service. Labour is happy to just maim it. Fine Gael wants to do the bidding of the IMF, the ECB and the international financiers. Labour wants to do their bidding but drag its feet a little. The hard place is the new dimension for Labour and leaves it without its traditional scope for retreat and recovery after being squashed against the rock. It takes the form of Sinn Fein, the Socialist Party, People Before Profit and a bunch of unyielding Independents. Mick Wallace has already urged Labour to stay out of government and to instead lead a new left alliance in the Dail.
Every Labour sell out will now be pounced on. There will be no respite and no defence in or out of the Dail except by adherence to firm principles of the left. Labour must make the wealthy pay, protect the vulnerable, increase progressive taxation and shift the emphasis from private to public expenditure. In coalition with Fine Gael it must punch way above its weight or face being gobbled up by the opposition at the next election. It must learn the lesson the Green’s couldn’t grasp and be ready to walk out of government when its principles are under threat.
This election saw the destruction of Fianna Fail and the Greens. Only Labour can save itself from a similar fate in the next election. Its price for that must be exacted from Fine Gael. In the past, disaffected Labour voters had nowhere to turn to but the right. Now they will have a very credible set of left alternatives. If they leave , they will not return. There will be no recovery for Labour. Its next 1997 will be a one-way street.
Debt Default Looms Large
Of course the great elephant is still in the room. The insupportable debt burden looms over all. No political party can hope to survive in the longer term while wedded to the fantasy that Ireland can repay the gigantic banking debts.
Fine Gael is blind to this truth. It is suffused with far too servile a psychology. Labour must make it face up to the inevitable. The Government must go to Europe and make it clear that default is inescapable. Any other option means heaping misery upon misery on the Irish people to no avail whatsoever.
Default will inevitably come sooner or later. Either Labour bites that bullet very soon or it will go down in flames. The scary thing is that if it doesn’t bite the bullet quickly it may well take the lot of us down with it.