éirígí 

Leinster House Attacks its Public Servants

19/04/10

The attacks keep coming. First, in 2004, the Twenty-Six County government attacked the most vulnerable of teachers, those newly appointed, and insisted that, in order to obtain their pensions, they would have to work five years extra.

Then, in 2008, the government claimed that teachers were well enough paid and would not be receiving an increase under the benchmarking procedures. The fact that the politicians would be getting pay increases themselves made this all the more laughable.

With the onset of the economic bust, the attacks intensified. After a stutter step brought on by self doubt, the right-wing in Irish society charged forward. The capitalist media, the Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation, the Irish Farmers’ Association and the Fianna Fáil and Green Party government demonised teachers and other public servants as being the cause of Ireland’s economic problems. Yes, according to these economic wizards it’s not the robber banks, not the greedy developers or the irresponsible politicians, rather its teachers, nurses etc who have left the economy reeling.

With the victim clearly identified, the brutality of changes in working conditions and depth of pay cuts were on a scale never seen before. The first was the Pension Levy, which, despite the Orwellian semantics game, was a seven per cent cut in teachers’ pay. The Dublin government also eliminated Posts of Responsibilities – roles of extra responsibilities for extra pay in order to competently organise schools. On top of this, the government has cutback on spending on schools, which has meant less resources and increased class sizes. A further pay cut of six per cent followed in December 2009. These attacks have been calculated and strategic.

The Dublin government now plans more attacks on conditions and pay. The Public Service Agreement, which Irish Congress of Trade Unions representatives negotiated, will mean deteriorating work arrangements for teachers in a variety of ways. Firstly, there is to be no reversal of pay cuts. Secondly, no new Posts of Responsibility were to be established. Teachers were also to work up to 100 extra hours each year. There was also to be a full review of teachers’ contracts and another change to the pensions available to newly-qualified teachers. Finally, and most galling of all, there was a no strike clause in the agreement.

So what has been the response of the trade union leaderships in the teaching sector to these attacks? Quiet clearly they haven’t stood up to the bullying tactics of government. The small steps that have been taken have received the widespread support of frontline teachers. The public rallies have seen tens of thousands of teachers on the streets, the one day strike was 100 per cent effective and the work to rule directives are being implemented in schools across the Twenty-Six Counties. The membership of the three teachers unions are obviously keen to fight in whatever way they can. However, the bureaucrats have other ideas.

At the three recent teachers’ conferences over the Easter period, Twenty-Six County minister for education Mary Coughlan was welcomed by union leaderships, who asked their members to listen quietly to the spokesperson of a government that has been attacking their pay and conditions relentlessly. The membership did what they could with heckling, jostling and impromptu protests. This woman shouldn’t have been invited to address delegates. She even had the nerve at one conference to promise another three billion euro worth of cuts next year.

The unions have suffered from appalling leadership throughout this crisis. At one meeting, John White, the ASTI general secretary, pleaded with delegates that “Trade unions must not allow themselves to be provoked into misguided and doomed actions”. However, the ASTI membership has voted overwhelmingly against the proposed agreement.

Delegates at the INTO conference, meanwhile, seethed at the betrayal by their leadership. The decision of the Central Executive Committee to rush to endorse the new deal was severely undermined by the fact that they only managed to get 308 delegates to vote through the proposal to support the deal, with 304 voting against. Clearly, the grassroots membership is preparing to stand up and fight.

The TUI motion also prepares the ground for industrial action by the union. The upcoming ballot, which will recommend rejection of the deal to its 15,000 members, will also make clear the range of possible actions – up to and including strike action.

Only when the policies of striking and fighting back are wholeheartedly adopted and implement will the attacks by this bankrupt government stop.

 

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