The politicians in Stormont believed they would get away with destroying our jobs and our services. They believed that ordinary people would just accept their rhetoric and spin and not fight back. The strike on March 13th of workers in education, health, civil service and public transport shows that they were wrong to underestimate people. We are not going to take four more years of brutal austerity.
Neither can we accept the politicians’ justification for destroying thousands of jobs. Whether compulsory or voluntary, redundancies are job losses which will cripple our economy and leave future generations on the dole queues! The trade union movement must be very clear on this and organise to oppose all redundancies.
The March 13th strike must mark the opening shot in a campaign of sustained and co-ordinated action to defeat the austerity agenda driven from Stormont and Westminster. As a next step, the trade unions should call a second day of strike action in the lead up to the general election.We must learn the lessons of the battle against pension cuts in 2011.
The public sector strike on November 30th saw millions of workers united in struggle across Britain and the North. The power of the organised working class brought society to a standstill in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, this movement was then sold out by sections of the trade union leadership who made a rotten deal on pensions with the ConDem coalition. The sell-out of November 30th has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many workers who took action on that day. The sell-out undermined the confidence of union members to fight the cuts.
Many may fear that March 13th will be just another token strike.Pressure must be applied on trade union leaders and officials to ensure the same does not happen again. Where trade unionists face leaders who are not prepared to lead a real a struggle, they must organise to force them or, if necessary,replace them.
A powerful movement of strikes and industrial action would act as a strong spine in the battle against austerity. It would give confidence to communities to resist the destruction and closure of vital services and give confidence to young people whose prospect of work is being destroyed by Stormont redundancy programme.
Strike action and community resistance have the capacity to force back the politicians but to really end the austerity agenda we need to build political alternative.The Stormont House Agreement blatantly shows the real character of the Executive parties – sectarian and pro-austerity. MLAs tell us they have ‘no choice’, that ‘Westminster holds the purse strings.’ Yet, it was them not ‘Westminister’ who pushed for cuts in corporation tax. This will mean at least another £400 million in cuts for us and bigger profits for fat cat bosses!
Some trade union leaders however believe that they are “partners” and they have a responsibility to protect Sinn Fein and the DUP. In doing so, they perpetuate the idea that idea that politicians here are not to blame or have no choice.
Some have even tried to suggest that some of those implementing the cuts are actually “anti-austerity.”It is time for these trade union leaders to wake up and smell the coffee – these parties are no friends of working people! Not only is this approach of appealing to these parties deluded and misguided, it is also extremely dangerous for trade unions which have a history of uniting working class people to support one sectarian force or another.
Instead, the trade union movement must be politically independent of these sectarian and pro-austerity parties, but that does not mean shying away politics. The election of Syriza in Greece and the reaction across Europe reflects a growing desire to break from the austerity agenda and build a different society. Many workers are also inspired by the movement in the South against the water charges. Increasingly, ordinary people here are becoming disillusioned with the dead-end of right-wing, sectarian politics offered by all the mainparties.
The trade union movement must actively support the building of a new anti-sectarian party which fights for the interests of the working class and all those who face oppression. Real steps must be taken in this direction, including the possibility of supporting a slate of anti-austerity and anti-sectarian candidates in the 2016 Assembly elections. A discussion must urgently begin amongst trade union activists and all those fighting austerity about what kind of alternative is needed.
The struggles against austerity must be linked particularly with those communities and workers in England, Scotland and Wales that want to fight. The approach of appealing do devolved administrations or parties that may form the next Westminster government is a dead-end. These parties have all been involved in implementing cuts and will have no hesitation in doing so again. Instead, we must build a movement that has confidence in the power or ordinary people to defeat Stormont and Westminster austerity.