Northern Irish CBI sharpens its knives: Time to fight the cuts

Capitalism is in a deep crisis and the bourgeois are planning austerity programmes that could last for a generation. The crisis in the north took longer to hit, but that’s all changed. The Tories have already telegraphed the likely cuts in the north and the CBI has weighed in with its “advice” on how to deal with the crisis. But what would their proposals mean?

There may once have been a time when the bourgeois in the North of Ireland had some claim to be able to speak authoritatively about the best way forward for the economy. But that was decades ago. These days however there are more people on long term sick in the North than there are working in private industry. Huge swathes of industry that existed in the past have been left to rot and rust away. The North has also lost much of the strategic importance that it held from the point of view of British Imperialism at the time of the formation of the Free State.

But with the prospect of some £2,000 Million in cuts the CBI have decided that now’s the time to have their say. Given the experience of the Irish, British, Greek, Spanish, Portuguese and French workers it is no great surprise that the menu served up by these Gentlemen is more of the same; as CBI Northern Ireland chairman Terence Brannigan explains:

"We have too many structures, with too many layers, employing too many people, often rewarded too highly while delivering too little to the people who ultimately employ them - the citizens of Northern Ireland.

"Currently pay levels within the public sector are about 30% higher than those in the private sector and job numbers have increased dramatically over the last 10 years.

"Therefore what we are saying is we must reduce the deficit between public sector and private sector pay and we must reduce the number of public sector employees."

Mr Brannigan said businesses had already had to adjust to a new economic reality by streamlining, downsizing, freezing and cutting wages and developing more affordable pension provision.

"We now need to see similar action from the public service if Northern Ireland PLC is to achieve a level playing field that will address the chasm that exists between the public and private sectors." (BBC Northern Ireland 22/9/10)

So the way to solve the crisis in the North – which has been delayed precisely because of the relatively high proportion of state funding in the North - is to sack thousands of workers and cut the wages of those who are still in jobs. That’s a recipe for an economic disaster in the North. ICTU have pointed out that one in every three private companies in the North are dependent on state contracts so any cuts in the public sector will have an immediate effect on the Private sector also.

The Tories have already identified that there are a number of areas – none of which funnily enough is in the South east of England, where there are a high proportion of jobs dependent on state funding. The estimate for the North is that some 68% of jobs are reliant either directly or indirectly on the state. A cut of 20% in state funding will have a huge impact on the economy.

The response at Stormont has demonstrated that none of the parties has a clear alternative to the cuts. Sammy Wilson has come up with proposals to cut spending on Ministerial Cars and to abolish Northern Ireland’s Human Rights Commission, while SF Agriculture Michelle Gildernew commented that:

“... Sammy Wilson may chase headlines on issues like the Human Rights Commission or ministerial cars, any examination of the DUP record in the Executive, when it comes to taking decisions on cutting back bureaucracy, points to a party content with scarce public money being wasted on over-management and diverted from frontline services,”.

This won’t hold water with public service workers who understand that this type of language is a recipe for cutting vital services and placing more and more pressure on the “front line”.

The scale of the cuts means that it is inevitable that there will be a reaction from the Public Sector workers. Already NIPSA and ICTU have planned protests. But perhaps even more so than South of the Border the dominance of the public sector in the North means that the fight against the cuts needs to develop a political character.

The cuts will fall heaviest in the working class areas and on the old, sick and the young. As NIPSA General Secretary Brian Campfield explained on 21/9/10:

"The cuts represent economic vandalism and ignore the fact that it was banks and other financial institutions which precipitated the crisis yet it is low and middle income earners, women and young people who will bear the brunt of the cuts."

Already the dominant parties at Stormont are coming under pressure reflecting the sectarian blind alley enshrined in the Stormont Assembly. But these cuts have the potential to put a different sort of pressure on the DUP and SF. The trade union movement in the North has a responsibility to take the lead in fighting the cuts and there will be growing pressure for a struggle to defend jobs, services and communities. But in the absence of mass working class political representation in the North the trade unions will inevitably be fighting with one hand tied behind their back. The next period will inevitably show up both the DUP and the SF as no friends of working people. The need to begin to build that socialist alternative will become more and more apparent.

Source: Fightback (Ireland)