If there was ever any doubt as to the blistering scale of the attacks in the Fresh Start Agreement, they should be dispelled following Minister John O’Dowd’s announcement that £72 million is to be cut from the Department of Education in 2016. This should come as a call to arms to all trade unionists and a warning sign of the severity of attacks to come.
The Assembly aims to cut 1.2 billion over the next four years in a deal which will devastate services across the board, including the loss of 20,000 jobs in the public sector. No Fresh Start then, just more of the same, as Stormont seeks to repackage a rotten deal from last year.
Cllr Gerry Carroll has condemned the cuts and the deal and called for resistance:
“The truth is, Stormont is fully supportive of these cuts. If they weren’t, they would warn people, tell them to get organised, work with government agencies and Trade Unions to make them unworkable. Instead, they are implementing them and demoralising young people about their futures. These people are powered by despair, by inaction, by the idea that nothing other than their little charade on the hill is possible. Our job in 2016 is to give hope that a different way is possible; one that combines the skills and talents of our young people with collective action, people power and working class unity. Or the politics of socialism for short.”
The Stormont House Agreement hit the rocks in 2015 when thousands of public sector workers took to the streets in opposition. Sinn Fein were forced to back track over their implementation of welfare reform, and the Assembly went into a crisis over the budget. People power forced their hand then. Similar action today from teachers, classroom assistants and support staff, can do it again. We need rank and file pressure on Trade Union leaders to get them to come out and clearly oppose this deal.
ICTU, in a massive climb down has already stated it won’t be opposing Fresh Start. This is a bitter disappointment; one that will have severe consequences for the future. Now anytime the Tories want to implement cuts, they will think they can get away with it because the Trade Unions here are afraid to fight lest they annoy Stormont.
It also means that if ICTU stand by the deal they are shackled when it comes to opposing attacks on jobs or services, rendering them powerless in the face of O’Dowd’s £72 million cuts to Education. This is a dark day for the trade union movement in the North and it is vital the ICTU position is challenged.
ICTU, along with certain parties in the Assembly, would have us believe there is no alternative but to accept this deal; it’s either that or collapse Stormont and have the Tories implement austerity through direct rule. Not so.
There is, after all, a much better strategy than simply ‘bargaining’ with the Tories. It involves mobilising the trade union movement, mobilising community campaigns, and mounting a real opposition to austerity through strikes, protests and People Power. That’s what will really give the Tories something to worry about. That’s our greatest bargaining tool, and the only strategy which stands a chance of mounting a real opposition to Tory austerity.
NIPSA have come out against the deal, along with PCS and with other Unions expected to make announcements in the coming period. Health workers are also set to strike over pay in the run up to the Assembly election in May. They are demanding a pay rise, and have stated they will undertake a series of actions, including industrial action, in the run up to the Assembly election, with the intention of making the demand for a Living Wage a central issue in the campaign
Also Unison have already rejected Stormont’s pitiful offer of a 1% pay rise: an insult and deeply hypocritical as the Assembly recently gave MLA’s a pay rise of 11%.
A Trade Union campaign has also emerged in the North against the closure of Mental Health Day Centres in Belfast. Activists have held protests, collected thousands of signatures and sent thousands of letters of complaint into the consultation process, which is seeking to cut mental health services in the city.
We need to continue to build these campaigns, and give people the confidence that when we fight back, we can win