The need to build working class unity and fight back

The National Executive Committee of the Communist Party of Ireland held its first meeting of 2022 in early January. It evaluated the current national economic, political and social situation and the challenges now facing the working class.

It is now clear to workers that public health considerations are of secondary importance to the interests of employers where Covid regulations are concerned. The relationship between government and business interests, both large and small, is increasingly being laid bare. The Irish government as well as the Executive in Belfast are determining and shaping health strategies more than ever in the light of the demands and needs of employers, and not primarily by public health requirements.

Employer organisations are now determining and deciding who and for how long those infected by Covid-19 should be off work. The tactic of divide and rule has been applied very effectively, pitching the interests and needs of one group of workers against another group of workers, while at the same time exploiting the basic necessities of families, households and individuals who cannot afford to remain out of work for any substantial length of time in the absence of proper government and employer supports.

In the education sector, schools have been kept open, at all costs, regardless of the impact on both students and workers. Despite being told on numerous occasions by government TDs and Ministers that schools are one of the safest public spaces due to safety measures implemented within schools, the most recent health report has stated that schools in the latter half of 2021 were the public spaces with the highest rate of transmission, a fact that would come as no surprise to any student or worker who has been in attendance.

The response of the trade union movement has been weak and lacklustre reflecting its inability to come forward with any alternative to the current Irish Government and Executive strategies in relation to controlling this pandemic. It also reflects that it is hamstrung by allowing sectional interests to determine a collective response. 

However, it has been clear that unionised workers have significantly better protections and pay during the pandemic than non-union workers particularly in the low-paid private sector. Over the course of the pandemic inequality as grown as reflected in the wage disparity between low-paid workers and highly-paid workers.

The parliamentary opposition has equally shown itself to be hopelessly lost for alternatives. Without a clear alternative strategy and clear leadership, workers are left with little choice but to try and follow the often contradictory guidelines of the political institutions, the state and the employers.

The Communist Party of Ireland reiterates its position that the controlling of the pandemic must first and foremost be determined by the health and safety needs of working people, by public health considerations backed up by adequate and robust government restrictions when necessary and supports for workers and families where required, especially those in the healthcare jobs. 

We reject the idea that the needs of employers and the necessity to keep the economy open at all costs is in the interests of workers or the economy, it is only in the interest of capital, that trys to keep all non-essential sectors open, while a virus rips through society. 

The mixed messages and anarchic way in which government has dealt with the pandemic over the past two years reflects a lack of political foresight, clearly revealing an establishment bending to the whims of business interests.  What is also clear is that the public health service will still be in crisis on both sides of the border and totally inadequate after this pandemic eases. The present structure is not sustainable. People’s health must be prioritised: we need to build one all-Ireland full- funded public health service, free at the point of entry, from the cradle to the grave and everything in-between from crèche to care home. A good start would be nationalising the private hospitals south of the border and taking back into public ownership all the NHS services that have been contracted out in the North.

Halt the decrease! Pay the increase!

The Communist Party of Ireland makes the call to the trade union movement to launch a campaign to halt the decrease in wages by demanding an increase in pay to protect workers from continuing inflation. We call on the movement to instigate a mobilisation effort of its members of as many sectors to ensure the most effective weapon against this attack on wages. Working people across Ireland need to demand a pay increase.

Working people are being impacted by the effect of imperialist adventurism in the imposition of sanctions on countries like Russia and Venezuela in relation to commodities like oil and gas, in its ongoing strategy to control and subdue forces it is not able to control. The sharp increase in energy costs such as petrol/diesel, gas and electricity prices is having a knock-on effect across the board and a very significant impact on low-paid workers’ incomes and on the living standards of those on fixed incomes like the unemployed and those on state pensions across Ireland.

Working people have been forced to reduce their use of heating and energy consumption due to the spiralling costs. There is a clear need for the workers’ movement across Ireland to come forward with a united strategy for a pay increase at least equivalent to the rise in inflation. The recent victory by Dunnes Stores workers in securing a 10% pay increase is an important bench-mark and a good starting point. Inflation is eating into workers’ pay every week leaving many, including middle income earners, struggling to meet rising costs. Workers need to be organising and demanding inflation-proof increases. 

The trade union movement needs to develop a pro-active strategy to secure greater pay, terms and conditions for workers. The ICTU needs to move from passively adopting resolutions to actively begin to mobilise workers to demand and secure legal changes that give workers the power to defend themselves, including an end to precarious employment and bogus self-employment and to advance their collective interests in their place of work without fear of reprisal. 

The most immediate demands that need to be sought are:

  • Pay increases to match inflation
  • All state benefits such as children’s allowance and state pensions to be increased in line with inflation.
  • Move to the living wage as the statutory minimum payment.
  • Statutory sick leave, paid by employers for all workers.

The CPI call upon all trade unions across Ireland to support the Trade Union Freedom Bill which is going before the Stormont Assembly to ensure that it meets the needs and strengthens the rights of workers. This bill seeks to undo some neo-liberal attacks on trade unions. We need the introduction of similar pro-worker legislation south of the border. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions recently unanimously adopted the policy to have all rights restored to workers that were lost on the introduction of the 1990 Industrial relations act. This policy must not be left gathering dust in the ICTU head office.

Workers need to organise at grassroots level in their trade unions to ensure their executive committees follow up on what progress has been made since this decision was taken, in particular what sub-committee of ICTU is dealing with it.   Workers must organise a relentless campaign for the trade union leadership to initiate a national campaign for a new workers’ rights act to tip the balance of power back to workers away from capital.

Brexit and the continued decline of unionism

The shadow boxing that passes for “negotiations” between the EU and the British state in relation to the nature and extent of the economic and political relationship between both of these economic power blocs has left unionism and Irish nationalism floundering. Neither are capable of influencing or shaping the outcome of negotiations. 

The primary goal of the British is to protect and secure their interests and that of global finance capital, to create a “Singapore on the Thames”, while the EU strategy is to protect the political and economic hegemony of European monopoly capitalism as expressed through the Brussels bureaucracy.

Unionism has failed to have the Northern Ireland Protocol scrapped, and is unable to influence British policy. Its campaign against the Protocol throughout 2021 turned into a damp squib, reflecting its decline both politically and economically. Unionism’s reliance upon the threat of violence by loyalist paramilitaries, in its vain attempt to try to  shape and influence politics, which never materialised, is but another reflection of its decline in its power base and political relevance.

The Irish government is equally unable to fundamentally shape or determine the strategy of the EU even if it wished to. The Irish establishment have no separate interests outside of what is required by the EU itself. National unity, independence and sovereignty are mere bargaining chips to be called forth when its suits their short-term political interests.

The Irish state slavishly follows the foreign policy strategy as determined by the European Union in regards to militarisation, Ukraine, Latin America and Palestine. It follows its own class interests which dovetail with those of EU and run against the best interests of the Irish people and positions held by a significant section of our people.

It has become clear that the Irish state’s membership of the UN Security Council just supplies an additional proxy vote for the western imperial powers and was obtained under false pretences in the canvassing of member states. Instead of pursuing policies of cultivating international peace the Irish seat is being used to cheer on NATO sabre-rattling.  The Irish state has gone even beyond that in the involvement of its forces in an aggressive role in Mali in a military campaign to enforce French hegemony on that country. 

What is clear, as we begin a new year, is that the unity of working people of all-Ireland is more necessary now than ever before if we are to defend ourselves from the ravages of Covid, inflation on our living standards and autocracy from our democracy.. Unity is what is needed to advance our interests in the economic, political and social spheres. Workers need to be actively involved in their trade unions, not to be confined by what they are, but to be empowered by what they could be by unleashing the potential that lies within our organised collective strength. 

The pandemic has laid bare the inhumane and predatory nature of the economic system imposed upon us. In order to end homelessness, rack -renting landlordism, precarious employment, poor working conditions, to secure decent health services and public services, to end partition and imperialist domination, then we need to advance a clear alternative radical transformative strategy centred on the needs and interests of working people of all-Ireland. The future belongs to those that fight for it.