During the General Election campaign the Socialist Party had no illusions about the reactionary role that the Labour Party would play in a coalition government with Fine Gael. We knew that Labour Leader Gilmore’s angry speeches in the Dail against Fianna Fail policy on the banks when he was in opposition, was just so much bluster that would fade the instant he was ensconced in government.
Clearly, however, a certain cohort of voters took Gilmore at his word and had hopes that the Labour Party might make some kind of difference by being in government. Indeed, the desperate plea by Labour when their vote began to slip during the election campaign, was that the party needed to go into coalition with Fine Gael so that they could rein in the right wing thrust of that party.
How ironic then that Labour Party ministers have over the past week been to the forefront of a propaganda campaign to bully and frighten public sector workers with threats of more pay cuts if implementation of the Croke Park agreement between public sector unions and the government does not result in thousands of job cuts and “major savings”.
Labour Minister for Communications, Pat Rabbitte, has been very vocal in demanding voluntary redundancies in the public sector and demanding that the workers who remain “must take up the slack”. This is a real slap in the face for workers like nurses and teachers who voted for Labour. They have been “taking up the slack” for years now as frontline health workers face more and more pressure while class sizes increase in schools and special needs teachers are not being appointed.
Labour Ministers, Ruairi Quinn and Brendan Howlin, have also been out threatening public workers and issuing dire warnings if they do not accept the savage planned reduction in jobs. At the same time they are ruthlessly implementing the EU/IMF agreement, a policy of pouring billions of taxpayers’ resources into major European banks to rescue them from the consequences of their speculative losses in the Irish property bubble.
Eamon Gilmore and Pat Rabbitte were members of the Workers Party. Last week they were joined in their attacks on the public sector by another relic of that party, Kieran Mulvey, now Chair of the Labour Relations Commission, who also demanded that workers carry the burden.
So enthusiastic have Labour Party ministers been in their eagerness to place the burden of payment on workers that their Fine Gael counterparts have been able to hide in the background. It demonstrates just how far they have travelled from the socialist roots of the party founded in 1912 by James Connolly, Jim Larkin and the men and women who saw the need then for a fighting organisation of the working class.
Labour is now irretrievably a party of the Right firmly situated in the camp of the capitalist market and willing to do the bidding of those same markets. That does not mean, however that this Fine Gael/Labour government is assured of a five year term in office. As the policies it implements become more and more painful for ordinary people resentment will grow against Labour’s role to the point where that party can find itself as hated as the Fianna Fail/Green Party government that was unceremoniously booted out of power by an angry electorate.
The new line up in the Dail and the huge majority that the Fine Gael/Labour government has makes it imperative that we step up our campaign to provide a socialist alternative to the economic disaster and build a new political movement of the Left that can develop into a mass alternative to all the right wing political parties.