Ireland: Croke Park Deal under attack

The Sunday Independent carried several articles in its October 10th edition leaving absolutely no room for doubt that the knives are being sharpened and the target is the Croke Park Agreement. Such is the venom for the trade unions and the working class that even James Connolly was dragged into the argument – on the side of the bosses! Here we outline some of the arguments from the Sunday Independent and we also let James Connolly speak for himself.

We explained as long ago as July 1st that the Croke Park Deal would come under pressure from both the working class and the bosses. The reason for this is that on the one hand the government was going to have to try to impose the “reforms” and reorganisations, cuts in services and redeployments and on the other hand the shifting sands in the world economy meant that the bosses could soon come back for more. Here’s what we said:

“This agreement is built on sand, and more the case shifting sands. The background internationally to events in Ireland is the deep crisis in the eurozone, the general strikes in Greece, Italy and Spain and the rest of the continent are a reflection of the political conclusions being drawn by the working class. There have been huge demonstrations and massive shifts of opinion in Ireland, huge votes in favour of strike action and even what was essentially a public sector general strike. The whole of the last two years has been dominated by huge instability.

“As we explained recently:

“‘As such the goal posts could be moved at any stage and it is quite likely that the Coalition will be back for more. The gloves are off, the FF and Green Party ministers know that they are going to be ditched at the next election. They have a job to do on behalf of the bourgeois; make the workers pay for the crisis. This is a one sided Civil war against the trade union movement and the working class. In these circumstances the role of the trade union leadership has to be to put forward an intransigent class position. This crisis is of the bosses making, The government will no doubt claim as will their counterparts in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Britain, that there is no alternative. But any policy that attacks working people has to be opposed, and more effectively than the trade union leaders have done so far.’ Croke Park Deal: Weakness invites aggression 8/6/2010

“The experience of the policy of ‘social partnership’ has been that sooner or later the illusions of the trade union leaders have been wrecked either on the basis that the government have shown Begg and McLoone the door as they did with the two week unpaid leave proposal in December, or the pressure has built up from below and forced the trade union leaders to organise demonstrations and actions, and in many cases against their better judgement.

“Trotsky pointed out in the Transitional Programme written in 1938 that the trade union and labour leaders represented the most conservative layer in society. Again in 1940 he explained that no matter what, they would try and reach an agreement – any agreement - with even the most reactionary government. He explained further that under conditions of crisis these agreements will always fall down on the basis of pressure from the bosses or the workers. Those words ring very true today.” (The Croke Park “Deal” agreed: Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile…)

It is less than six months ago that the bourgeois press in Ireland were placing huge pressure on the Public Sector workers, and in particular on the leaders of the unions, to accept the proposal. So what has changed? The truth is that the crisis at AIB and the knock on effect on the speculators in the financial markets is threatening the Irish economy. The only answer that the Irish ruling class can come up with is to make the workers pay. Eamon Delaney in the Sunday Independent argued that the “Government has to grasp the public service nettle”.

“Think of it. No wage cuts for public servants for two years, but absolutely no job cuts and, as a consequence of some curious procedure of self-administered 'reforms' in the public service, those pay cuts might be reversed anyway. Unbelievable. This is the great Croke Park fudge and it's going to cost us a fortune.

“Meanwhile, the public purse is being bled dry, and the Government is taking in way less than it is spending. The public-sector wage bill is now a whopping one-third of the Government's spending, but nothing meaningful has been done to curb this spend.

“In the UK, and in Northern Ireland, wholesale cuts are being made across the same sector to try and restore order to their public finances, and there is so far a grudging acceptance by the unions about this.

“But in Ireland, there is no such political bravery -- or fairness. The Croke Park deal is ringfenced against financial realism, despite the recommendations of the McCarthy Report.

“In the wider public sector with its quangos and commissions, money is still being frittered away, and the overall bill for public-sector salaries and index-linked pensions is crippling the exchequer. And incidentally, whatever happened to the recommendations of McCarthy, launched with fanfare?”

So the answer is clear, at least in the mind of Eamon Delaney. What Ireland needs is a dose of what’s on the cards in Britain. But, surely only a few months ago, it was the British Tories who were arguing that what Britain needed was a dose of what was being administered to the Irish workers. More than anything, what this means is that the bosses will try and drag in any argument and twist anything to justify placing the burden on our shoulders. Another article claims that the Croke Park Deal is going to affect Ireland’s recovery.

“Forget the bank bailout, the biggest obstacle to long-term recovery is the Government's commitment to the Croke Park deal. By keeping public salaries so high, it will hinder wages across the economy from the further fall of around eight per cent that needs to happen to recreate the jobs we lost. It also burdens low-paid private-sector taxpayers in riskier employment to bear the brunt of higher taxes. And that could derail recovery.” (Commitment to Croke park deal will derail our recovery, By Marc Coleman)

But surely, the Irish bosses were arguing last year that the big problem was the cost base of the Irish economy? Ireland is hugely dependent on trade and has been directly affected by the falling value of sterling against the euro and the fall off in world trade. Ireland is a long way from mainland Europe and the economy is small. It costs more to export from Ireland to the rest of Europe than it does to export from say France to Belgium. This is far more of an issue than Public Sector wages. These have already been cut and to claim that further cuts would help the economy is nonsense. Cutting wages would further cut the market which would adversely affect the economy.

Once again the old attempt to divide the public and private sector workers gets an airing. Low paid workers will be forced to pay higher taxes and that will derail recovery. We would argue that there is no reason at all for low paid workers to pay higher taxes. What about the millions lost in tax avoidance? What about the tax breaks and the thousands of rich people who get away with paying no tax at all?

Not content with attacking the public sector workers himself Coleman calls upon a very unlikely supporter to back him up. Poor James Connolly is dragged in to the argument:

“A good illustration of the madness in economic comment we are suffering right now was given by Joe Duffy recently. On Monday, he was on the telly extolling the virtues of his hero, James Connolly. ‘In his day, capitalists treated workers as just another number on a balance sheet,’ he said. Now with a salary of €408,000, Joe's own balance sheet is doing quite well from the capitalist culture that is (but isn't supposed to be) our national broadcaster.

“But Joe has revealed something very important. As another of his heroes, Karl Marx, once said, economics boils down to the question, ‘Who rules whom?’ In Connolly's day it was the capitalists ruling the workers. But as Joe's salary of €408,000 shows, the public sector is the new oppressor of the workers. To sustain salaries like Joe's, Lenihan is now promising Joe's comrades in Ictu that the lavish salaries at the middle and top of the public service will be untouched.

“Crazy rules that drove the incomes of public sector retirees up in line with pay rises and promotions received by their successors -- rules that doubled and trebled pension entitlement   will also be sacrosanct. To pay for this, younger, lower-income workers in the private sector, workers suffering negative equity and fear of unemployment, will be taxed even more.

“If he were alive today, I know whose side James Connolly would be on.” (Commitment to Croke park deal will derail our recovery, By Marc Coleman)

But what did James Connolly really say? This is what he said in 1897:

“The Socialist who would destroy, root and branch, the whole brutally materialistic system of civilisation, which like the English language we have adopted as our own, is, I hold, a far more deadly foe to English rule and tutelage, than the superficial thinker who imagines it possible to reconcile Irish freedom with those insidious but disastrous forms of economic subjection – landlord tyranny, capitalist fraud and unclean usury; baneful fruits of the Norman Conquest, the unholy trinity, of which Strongbow and Diarmuid MacMurchadha – Norman thief and Irish traitor – were the fitting precursors and apostles.

“If you remove the English army to-morrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain.

“England would still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs.

“England would still rule you to your ruin, even while your lips offered hypocritical homage at the shrine of that Freedom whose cause you had betrayed.

“Nationalism without Socialism – without a reorganisation of society on the basis of a broader and more developed form of that common property which underlay the social structure of Ancient Erin - is only national recreancy.

“It would be tantamount to a public declaration that our oppressors had so far succeeded in inoculating us with their perverted conceptions of justice and morality that we had finally decided to accept those conceptions as our own, and no longer needed an alien army to force them upon us.

“As a Socialist I am prepared to do all one man can do to achieve for our motherland her rightful heritage – independence; but if you ask me to abate one jot or tittle of the claims of social justice, in order to conciliate the privileged classes, then I must decline.”

Connolly’s views on the bankers, the capitalists and “perverted conceptions of justice and morality” are crystal clear. In fact he would have been the first to condemn a capitalist government attacking its own people on behalf of the financial speculators, the IMF, the ECB and big business. He would have had plenty more to say about their hired lackeys in the press. But he would also have had something to say about the remarks made by Labour TD Sean Sherlock, also published in the Sunday Independent:

“Labour frontbench spokesperson Sean Sherlock has warned public sector workers, and the Government, that unless the pace of reform intensifies there will have to be compulsory redundancies in the sector.

“The Labour TD was commenting on the ongoing failure of the Croke Park deal to deliver any real changes in how the public sector operates.

“Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr Sherlock said: ‘Croke Park was signed and sealed in April and we have not seen anything emerging since then in terms of a reduction in numbers or changes in work practices.’

“The Labour TD added that ‘as a Labour Party politician, what you are faced with is that if the Croke Park agreement does not live up to people's expectations, the political reality, given the state of the national finances, is that unilateral action might have to be taken'’.

“When asked if this could include job losses, Mr Sherlock said: ‘If there is not progress on a voluntary basis, we will see a move towards statutory redundancies'’.” (Labour warns of public jobs cuts, by John Drennan)

Connolly took a very clear view on the question of workers’ representatives, particularly those who were feted by the press:

“...we question if there were a dozen present at Sligo who did not feel that the president’s appeal to capitalists to come and exploit the Irish workers – for that, stripped of all its tawdry rhetoric, is what Mr Bowman’s address meant – an appeal coupled with the assurance that Irish workers could make ‘Irish investments remunerative’, i.e. could make good, fat profit for their master – was an appeal which was to the last degree insulting and humiliating to the working class of this country.

“A Socialist in the position of Mr Bowman would have striven to infuse into the minds of his hearers a spirit of revolt against the system that holds them as its slaves, a system that tortures them with want in the midst of locked-up storehouses of plenty; a Socialist would have taught the workers to manfully take their destiny, politically and socially, into their own hands; Mr Bowman taught them to whine for capitalists to come and exploit them. The wage received by 87 per cent of the wage workers of Ireland is less than £1 per week; Mr Bowman tells them to achieve the industrial regeneration of Ireland by establishing ‘people’s banks’ out of their savings!!! Out of the savings of men who support a family on less than £1 per week?? This is what the capitalist Evening Herald termed a ‘splendid statement’.

“We do not grudge Mr Bowman the praise of the capitalist newspapers; he has fairly earned it, fairly earned the praise of the journalistic champions of the master class. But there were some Socialists, we believe, amongst the delegates to that Congress and we mean to have an explanation of their silence on that occasion. Were they afraid that they also might be accused of personal enmity to the president if they dared to criticise him? If they were, it is not of such stuff revolutionists are made.” (Irish Trade Union Congress: James Connolly 1901)

As we have explained on many occasions, Labour needs a socialist programme. The party will come under a lot of pressure over the next period to get involved in cross-party talks over the budget. The Coalition parties are desperate to find some sort of consensus that they can point towards. This is solely designed to spread the responsibility for their actions. It would also be the focus for a potential national government. The Labour leaders must not fall for this. Instead they should offer a clear socialist alternative to the crisis. That would be in the best traditions of Connolly and Larkin.