The public sector work-to-rule is in full swing but behind the scenes, senior trade union officials are engaged in an attempt to start new negotiations with the government.
In late January, senior union leaders and government officials held informal talks. According to Industrial Relations News (IRN), 27 January 2010, “A central aim of the public sector union campaign is to force a situation whereby the Government, faced with a malfunctioning public sector, has to return to the table and engage in a negotiated outcome, one that might be delivered next year and beyond”.
The IRN, a publication with close connections to the ICTU leadership also wrote that, “the public service unions won’t admit it publicly, they know – and most of them tacitly accept – that the Budget 2010 pay cut imposed this year will not be reversed. What they are seeking to achieve is a set of talks around the 2011 and 2012 budgets”.
The union leaders are now focused on trying to do a deal with the government that will represent a major sell out of public sector workers.
A majority of public servants know well that the work-to-rule will not succeed in forcing the government to reverse the pay cuts. The work-to-rule tactic has been specifically adopted by the ICTU leaders precisely because it is a low grade form of industrial action that is “gently” meant to urge the government into talks on how to prevent pay cuts in the next two years. In return, the union leaders will accept the government’s plans for major counter-reform in the provision of public services – something they agreed to already last November.
Hence Kieran Mulvey’s (Chief Executive, Labour Relations Commission) attempts to establish a basis for these talks on the next two budgets around the proposal that the government would agree to no pay cuts next year and the unions would call off the industrial action.
Last year, the union leaders led public sector workers on a “merry dance” of strike action and protests that was never aimed at defeating the government. They used these workers as pawns in a high stakes game of negotiation that failed miserably. Reflecting their utter bankruptcy, these same leaders are intent on trying to use their members again. They are cynically lying about trying to get the pay cuts reversed.
In the war to defend public services, jobs, wages, conditions and pensions, the quislings at the head of the unions have sold out two major battles. Now in retreat, these pseudo-generals are rattling their sabres in a futile attempt to force the government into going easy on them over the next few years.
It is possible that the government, having inflicting two defeats on the union leaders, may well enter negotiations and do a deal in return for acceptance of their “transformation” programme for the public sector. But then why wouldn’t they – this programme will deliver thousands of job losses and will slash take home pay as allowances and overtime payments are scrapped and will introduce private sector work norms, including more outsourcing and creeping privatisation.
A major sell out of public sector workers by the union leaders is in process. Union members are in a difficult situation, under attack from the government and unable to trust their own leaders. As this process unfolds, it will become clear to many that they need to get organised to change their unions – to get rid of the pro-partnership leaders and replace them with fighters committed to defending the members’ jobs, pay and conditions.
The government’s attacks will not go unanswered. Overconfident and cocky, this administration’s actions will provoke a more militant backlash as public sector workers, unable to bear the burden of further pay cuts and extra workloads, are forced to take a stand and fight. In the meantime, raise your voices loud within your union and expose what the leadership are up to – oppose the sell out – get organised and demand strike action to defeat the government.
Here are extracts from an article in the Irish Times 16 February 2010 that confirms the Socialist Party’s analysis.
“TRADE UNIONS are to defer any major escalation of their campaign of industrial action in the public service for up to a month to allow the Government to decide if it wants to re-engage in talks.
Speaking after the meeting, Tom Geraghty, the general secretary of the PSEU, said it was the view of the committee that unions should hold off for four weeks before taking the action to a situation where it had a significant impact on the public.
Mr Geraghty said the purpose was to ensure that the Government would avail of the opportunity to re-engage with the unions if that was its wish.”