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Mass Strike Action on the Horizon in the Six Counties


As unemployment continues to grow and the Tory cuts agenda as implemented by the Stormont administration begins to bite, the two largest public sector unions in the Six Counties have declared their intention to ballot members for strike action.

As cutbacks continue to lead to compulsory redundancies, service closures, and attacks on pay and conditions, public sector workers have become increasingly aware of the need for serious action to defend jobs and services.

Announcing that balloting in her union would begin on August 22, Unison regional secretary Patricia McKeown said yesterday [August 17]: “It has never been more necessary for UNISON members in health, social services and education to stand together to fight for our jobs and services and to force employers to listen.

“Many survived the cuts throughout the ‘Thatcher’ era. The action they took then saved our services and increased jobs. The cuts we now face are many times greater.”

NIPSA held a meeting yesterday with Stormont education minister John O’Dowd to discuss the budget cuts, a meeting described as offering “little comfort to members”. The union now intends to ballot members on strike action when the new school semester begins.

NIPSA’s assistant secretary Paddy Mackel said: “It is clear that not only will there be significant job losses, amounting to hundreds in each of the five Education Boards, but also there will be a devastating impact on the delivery of education and support services to young people.

“Our members are right to be afraid of being made redundant in such dire economic times. But also importantly the community has every right to be angry that their children will be affected by cuts affecting support in classrooms, welfare support, cuts in transport, professional advice and the staff who provide a range of important back-up support services.

“It is perverse that children and young people should be forced to pay for the gambling choices of investors and speculators.”

This news of a stirring among the statelet’s two largest public service unions, which between them represent over 85,000 workers, comes as the desperate need to protect jobs has been brought into focus yet again.

The latest Labour Market Report, published yesterday by DETI, reveals that 63,000 people are currently unemployed, and of that number 20,000 are 18-24 years old – meaning 1 in 5 young adults are currently seeking work. On top of the 63,000, another 51,000 job seekers are reclassified as economically inactive, putting the actual unemployment figure at 114,000 people or 12.4 per cent of the workforce.

Meanwhile, the Stormont parties and bosses organisations – such as the Confederation of British Industry, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Institute of Directors – continue to press for the devolution of taxation powers, so that they drive down the corporation tax rate to between 10 and 12.5 per cent.

Obviously not content with the Tories’ current incremental lowering of the rate, these organisations want the rate driven down as quickly as possible even further than the Tories’ current target of 23 per cent. This will mean that around £400 million will be slashed from the Six-County budget and will lead to an even more vicious assault on jobs and public services, all in the name of turning the Six Counties into a mini-tax haven for banks and multinational corporations.

The decision by NIPSA and Unison to ballot members on strike action is a clear indication of the groundswell of anger that exists in many workplaces, and must be welcomed. This kind of fight-back by the working class offers the only real hope of putting a stop to the slash-and-burn agenda the Tory-led government wishes to impose on our communities.


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