Labour can do better than a partnership with Fine Gael

With all the recent trade union conferences taking place in Galway, plus Labour’s annual congress, you could be forgiven for thinking our city is a socialist Mecca. However, can you remember when the last May Day demonstration happened here?

Insider can’t remember either. In other towns, the May Day march is organised by the local trades’ council. Alas, the Galway variety is a rather sad outfit. Controlled by a cabal of full-time union officials and Labourites – its celebration of the international workers’ day usually consists of a hastily organised public meeting. But this year of all years – with workers under attack like never before – it is doing nothing!

Thankfully a May Day demo is being organised but the trades’ council has no input. The trade union Unite is sponsoring the ‘Back to Work’ campaign and those involved have called the demonstration.

People are being asked to assemble this Saturday, May 1, at 1pm in front of Brown’s Doorway on Eyre Square. Insider welcomes this event – it is high time there was some move to resist Government policy.

Writing on this page on the eve of the public work stoppage last November Insider feared trade union leaders were suffering from the ‘Grand Old Duke of York syndrome’: Marching their troops up and down the country’s towns but with no intention of engaging the enemy.

That proved to be the case. People who had taken to the streets were hardly home when Impact’s general secretary, Peter McLoone, was waving his white flag in surrender to the Government.

We all know the rest: pay cuts in the public sector and then a total capitulation by the trade union leaders with the Croke Park deal. In the meanwhile, private sector bosses were following suit with wage cuts. Of course the ones who caused the crisis, the bankers and their foreign financiers were being bailed out with our taxes by their Government accomplices.

Trade union leaders appear to be powerless. Insider puts the inaction of our leaders to the failed social partnership model. One downside of 17 years of “partnership” is that most trade union leaders operating in the Republic have never experienced struggle. That’s why the Government was able so easily to divide public and private sector workers.

Plus when one earns €100,000+ it is difficult for a union leader to identify with low-paid members. So as the Government and IBEC begin to flex their anti-worker muscles, these leaders are at sea.

“Partnership” also had a negative impact on the functioning of trade unions. While the leaders cosied up to Government ministers and business representatives to agree automatic wage increases, trade union consciousness inevitably dissipated. Attendance at trade union branches declined.

In truth working people did not gain from “social partnership”, but the employers did. Wage increases were supplemented by the State (ie, you and me ) through income tax cuts - while the business sector was given huge tax windfalls. We are now facing the consequences of that short-sighted policy in our public finances.

Indeed, despite the trade union leaders thinking they had the ear of government they never achieved trade union recognition as a right in every workplace. So today, there are more and more workplaces in the private sector that actually ban trade unions – just look at the most recent foreign multinationals operating in Ireland. And then there’s all the anti-union legislation.

Insider believes that “social partnership” is an absurd concept. There can be no alliance between the capitalists and their workers. Bosses will only indulge in this game as long as they are handsomely rewarded, as soon as the economic climate changes the mask falls. Look at the attacks now taking place by employers in the catering sector against the weakest and worst paid workers. Is it any wonder ordinary people feel helpless?

However, resistance is beginning. The rejection of the Croke Park deal by a majority of trade union executives is a major indication of this. But what lies behind the opposition to this fight-back by SIPTU president Jack O’Connor, the most senior trade unionist in Ireland?

A senior trade union figure explained to Insider his reading of the situation: “Jack is first and foremost a Labour Party member, an executive member no less. And he will know that Labour in Government with Fine Gael would want to do the same. So is it not better for Fianna Fáil to take the blame for public sector wage cuts? It is no accident Eamon Gilmore is remaining ‘neutral’ on the Croke Park sell-out.”

Eamon Gilmore’s attack on NAMA in Leinster House as “economic treason” was deadly accurate. But it will take more than soundbites in the Dáil to remove this Government. Why isn’t Gilmore calling on the President to dissolve parliament if he really believes “economic treason” is being committed?

Why is he not seeking support on the streets of Ireland from the unions and the people to remove this anti-working class Government that is bankrupting the nation?

Everyone is crying out for an alternative to NAMA. Why doesn’t Gilmore seriously challenge the Government if he really wants to lead the country?

The answer is simple: Labour doesn’t want the poisoned chalice of Government quite yet. It is happy to join with the Blueshirts in two years time after we, the working people, have been burdened with a gigantic debt to pay for this crisis - not those who caused it.

FG and Labour will carry on where FF and the Greens will have left off. You can be sure as Insider writes, generous corporate donations are flowing into the coffers of FG and Labour.

However as May Day approaches, it is not all lost. The Croke Park deal is unworkable as so many unions oppose it. The next step will be industrial action throughout the public service.

People will hopefully begin to realise that real gains have only ever been achieved through struggle. Labour can be forced to change course and seek alliances with their natural allies on the Left rather than with a right-wing party like Fine Gael.

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