Monday, November 30, 2009

Workers' Fightback: Irish Public Sector Strike/Student Movement Grows

This week's update looks at struggles based outside the UK, but with profound implications for battles right around this ever more interconnected world.

Firstly, 24th November saw a one day general strike amongst public sector workers in the Republic of Ireland. Around a quarter of a million people are reported to have taken part, with teachers, lecturers, nurses, local authority workers, firefighters and civil servants striking against the Irish government's drastic proposed cuts to public service spending. Even police took industrial action short of a strike, by refusing routine tasks. Protests also took place in Northern Ireland, against Sinn Féin/Democratic Unionist administration proposals.

Ireland's economy was among the worst hit by the first wave of the global economic crisis. As in many other countries, the state and national bank funnelled massive amounts of taxpayers' money into backing the elite's gambling debts. The Bank of Ireland has already committed €16 billion to the Irish 'bad bank', and the Fianna Fáil /Green coalition plans to shift that debt onto the backs of the Irish working class, by slashing at least €4 billion from budgets, and enforcing a 7% tax on the pensions of public sector workers.

This dispute is significant for two main reasons. Firstly, although the Irish government's attacks on public spending are particularly severe, they are a foretaste of what other national governments are planning over the short and medium term. Secondly, they show that Irish trade union leaders - like their equivalents around the world - are siding with governments to impose the cuts that the super-rich demand. They only beg to be involved in negotiations, and for the pace of cuts to be slowed - stalling the momentum of grassroots opposition.

This is illustrated by a leaked letter written by Peter McLoone, boss of the IMPACT union. In it, McLoone warned union officials that: "In my judgment the alternative [to pay cuts] is likely to involve a significant reduction in public service numbers over the next three to four years, with the likelihood that some additional exceptional measures will also be needed in 2010 to deal with the budgetary crisis next year."

As the fight against cuts escalate, workers in all nations must discover that they have far more in common with each other than with their national ruling elites - trade union leaders included.

Another truly worldwide struggle is for decent university education. On a global scale, the neoliberal university has been in formation for the past few decades, and this process is accelerating under the crash conditions. Movements continue to build in California, Austria and Germany, where occupations have freed up space for much debate and discussion, potentially helping to radicalise many young people, who are making the connection between banker bailouts and student/worker poverty. An Austrian student statement explains:
"These events are connected to the worldwide development of social movements. In this sense what is being fought for is not only better working conditions for students, teachers and other university personnel – rather it’s a fight for better working conditions across all sectors and borders."
Similarly, a Californian communique announces:
"November 2009, this is what is happening: we have found each other, and we are learning to act, finally. This means developing close bonds, learning what it truly is to say ‘comrade’; someone who shares your conditions, shares your enemies, and who you trust with your life. Someone who knows that it is always necessary to take sides. We have learned what it means to say we."
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