A Blind Man on a Galloping Horse

In recent weeks we have seen a clear demonstration of exactly who runs the economy, and consequently our lives: it’s big business, multi-nationals and global conglomerates – not governments.

When the ‘markets’ decided that a recent budget posed a threat to their profits, they effectively pulled the economic plug and dictated how taxes, public spending and wages should be skewed in their favour.

Again and again

That is a scenario that has been recited repeatedly. Governments can say and do what they want – but the markets, the multi-nationals and the big financial institutions will ultimately dictate policy and how our lives are lived. They will recover their losses at out expense, they will enforce austerity, demand that public spending is cut, that services are privatised and that working people bail them out when their fundamentally flawed economics once again hit the rocks.

A blind man on a galloping horse could see that tinkering, negotiating or pandering to capitalism is as pointless as it is futile. That same man on that same horse can also see the impotent and diversionary nature of our local identity politics.

Comforting

How comforting must it be to those who sponge off the backs of working people to know that everything here is seen in terms of Orange and Green, that flags, symbols and culture wars are promoted as more important than jobs, education, public services, opportunity and a quality of life. How re-assuring must it be for all the main political; parties that the Northern Ireland electorate, the local media and almost every civic institution is happy to go along with that, repeat it and re-enforce it?

The current cost of living crisis provides us with only the latest example – if any of us care to look – of the self preserving powers of the economic elite. Profits continue to rise, the markets have been made safe for good returns in investment and all the while children go hungry, homes go unheated and human potential is devalued and wasted.

It is time to tackle the myth that the market and “consumer choice” can provide a solution. This model has patently failed. Lining the pockets of the capitalist class will only deepen the problems.

Thousands of working people across almost every sector of employment have been forced into taking industrial action in defence of decent wages, workplace rights and safer and accessible public services.

The market economy has flexed its muscles. Working people must demonstrate the overwhelming power of unity and solidarity that only the working class movement can muster.

It is time to call time on the anonymous and faceless financial institutions that dictate and direct our lives and time also to call time on their self serving sectarian subalterns in Stormont and elsewhere.

BEING NEUTRAL IS NOT AN OPTION

In the last twelve months workers across the public and private sectors have taken, were considering taking or were planning to take industrial action in support of justified demands for above inflation pay rises, securing services, health and safety concerns and their workplace rights.

They were representative of every section of the economy: shop workers and transport staff, delivery service drivers, manufactures, factory workers, heath and care staff, postal workers, university lecturers and hospitality staff….. 

Thousands more were engaged in ‘Work to Rule’ protests and thousands more again took action ‘Short of Strike’.

This week the Royal College of Nursing will announce the result of the strike ballot amongst its membership. It is expected to be overwhelmingly in favour.

These are very difficult and challenging times for working people and their families. Health and well being are being compromised, mental health pressures are mounting daily, the call on food banks increases week,ly homes are going unheated and children are going unfed. As a direct result of this economic crisis and the government’s response, many people here will not survive the winter. 

In the midst of this human degradation and suffering, the priorities of the two largest parties: one refuses to form an Executive the the other places the claim to  First Minister above all else. 

Only a socialist society and a socialist economy can bring an end to the exploitation, indignity and misery inflicted on working people by a capitalist system.

However, there are real, immediate and pressing problems confronting working people. The awareness, confidence and belief that has been generated in recent times must not be wasted or watered down.

The current struggles are about much more than above inflation pay rises.

The actions of the trade union movement and the reactions of government, capital and the media have brought the entire set of working relationships into focus.

Now is the time to shift that relationship in favour of working people. We all have a collective responsibility to support and defend the movement towards a new dynamic based on the rights of workers, a high wage economy, an end to zero hours contracts, affordable, accessible and flexible childcare and a four-day working week.

Pretending to neutral is no pretence at all. 

This is how Mick Lynch, General Secretary of the RMT Union summed it up  at a meeting outside Westminster during the week:

Support and Solidarity

The current situation is almost without precedent. Industrial action is being forced on workers in local councils. the health service,  schools, universities and colleges and many companies in the private sector as inflation, the cost of living,  profit taking  and dividend payouts to shareholders leave thousands of families in poverty and debt.

For only the second time in their history, nursing staff in Northern Ireland are considering strike action in support of an above inflation pay rise and safer working conditions for them and their patients.

Next week will see industrial action being taken by three teachers unions across Northern Ireland. One of them, the National Education Union (NUE) has only taken to the picket line once before in its 130 year history.

Council staff have have been on strike, many of them for several weeks, in support of better pay and conditions. Other workers in other sectors look set to join them in the coming weeks.

Workers wages are not causing inflation, profiteering, bankers bonuses, shareholders dividends and capitalism are.

Home grown and Westminster Tories are quite prepared to face down workers, their just demands and their rights. We must be even more resolute in our support and solidarity for those taking or considering industrial action. 

We must ensure that it is working people, public services and jobs that win the day.

Picture: Workers Party members supporting striking council workers in Lisburn/Castlereagh

Time to support and defend

Workers in almost every service and manufacturing sector have been, are planning to, or are currently taking industrial action in defence of standards conditions, safety, jobs and wages. It is a situation almost without parallel.

Nurses and midwives are considering strike action for the second time in three years, local council workers have been forced on to the picket lines and university staff have been forced to defend their pensions, terms and conditions and levels of pay.

Shop workers and transport staff, delivery service drivers, postal workers and hospitality staff are all either taking or considering industrial action to counter a cost-of-living crisis they didn’t create.

Supermarket staff can’t afford the products they are selling, restaurant workers can’t afford the food they are serving and factory workers can’t afford the products they are making.

Compounding the Crisis

People in employment, including many in the NHS, are dependant on additional benefits and food banks to get by from week to week.

The crippling cost of everyday essentials, heat, fuel and energy compound the crisis.

All the while, banks, energy giants and major corporations pile up their profits.

Royal Mail, whose staff are currently on strike for better pay and conditions, quadrupled its profits last year to £726 million, the top six energy companies recorded profits of £1,268 million and between them Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Bank profits were over £729 million.  A further, conservative figure of, £35 billion is estimated to stolen from public funds through tax evasion every year.

A Socialist Society

Only a socialist society and a socialist economy can bring an end to the exploitation, indignity and misery inflicted on working people by a capitalist system.

However, there are real, immediate and pressing problems confronting working people. The awareness, confidence and belief that has been generated in recent times must not be wasted or watered down.

The current struggles are about much more than above inflation pay rises.

The actions of the trade union movement and the reactions of government, capital and the media have brought the entire set of working relationships into focus.

Now is the time to shift that relationship in favour of working people. We all have a collective responsibility to support and defend the movement towards a new dynamic based on the rights of workers, a high wage economy, an end to zero hours contracts, affordable, accessible and flexible childcare and a four-day working week.

Cut profits, not jobs and services

The Workers Party supports the industrial action of the RMT Union to secure
decent pay, job security and good working conditions.

Rail workers who worked through the pandemic are now confronting an attack on their terms
and conditions and are facing a pay freeze and hundreds of job cuts.

This is unacceptable at any time but is outrageous in the midst of a cost-of-
living crisis when inflation is at 11.1% and rising. Private train companies
bolstered by public contracts seek to generate even greater profits at the
expense of workers’ rights.

The Tory government which has the power to resolve the dispute, has instead
chosen to prolong it.

Today’s strike action is a clear message from workers of their determination to
secure their future. The RMT is fighting not only for its members rights but for
the future of the railways.

The Workers Party sends its solidarity to the RMT and to the other unions
working to secure workers’ pay and conditions and labour rights.

International Trade Union Conference hears Workers Party condemn use of Agency Workers to Break Strikes

Yet a further erosion of workers right is being planned by the Conservative government.

The current restriction on employers hiring agency staff to replace striking staff is being considered by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps ahead of industrial action to be taken by rail staff, but would apply to all sectors.

The move has drawn strong opposition from trade unions including the RMT Union which represents transport and other workers.

It has also been criticised at an international trade union seminar organised by PAME in Athens this week to coincide with its Congress.

Addressing the seminar on behalf of the Workers Party trade union group, Lily Kerr, a lifelong trade unionist, said,” The British Government has stated that it is considering using agency workers to break strikes. This comes against a background where companies are refusing to honour collective bargaining agreements, governments do nothing to support the workers, and in many cases threaten anti-trade union legislation to support the monopolies”.

In the past number of months, we have seen P&O Ferries sack 800 workers without warning by Zoom, and employ agency staff at £1.80 an hour to replace them. University Staff are currently taking industrial action against cuts to staff, pay and pensions. Many public sector workers are taking industrial action because pay increases are not keeping pace with unprecedented levels of inflation”, she said.

“Every gain and achievement, every piece of legislation that granted even limited or modest forms of progress, social or economic rights, was fought for and won by workers themselves through vigorous struggle.

“We know that it is socialism which provides an alternative, a new social order which will bring about the emancipation of the working class and the peoples of the world. 

However, comrades, that does not mean that we can afford to, or indeed should, wait until the overthrow of this corrupt system, before we demand meaningful rights and social progress in the workplace and in wider society.”, added Lily.

Every gain and achievement has been fought for and won by workers themselves
through vigorous struggle.

See Lily Kerr’s speech in full here:

Solidarity, support and donuts

Lily Kerr extending solidarity and sharing donuts with staff on the picket line in North Belfast

Lily Kerr headed up a group of local Workers Party members as they joined with staff on the UNITE the Union picket line at Alexandra Park Recycling facility in North Belfast earlier this morning.

Workers from local councils, the Education Authority, the Housing Executive and number of colleges have been forced to take industrial action following the refusal by management to move on a pay offer of just 1.75% – effectively a cut in income after eleven years of pay freezes.

“It is intolerable,” Lily said” that these workers, who helped keep our society functioning during the pandemic and who now face rapidly escalating rises in the cost of living, should be treated in such a callous and uncaring manner”.

“The Workers Party is adding its voice to the growing demands for management to propose a realistic pay settlement in line with staff expectations and one which will recognise the massive hike in living costs and the invaluable contribution these workers make to our everyday lives”, Lily said.