SIPTU, NIPSA, Unite and GMB members in one of Northern Ireland’s district councils, Newry, Mourne and Down, are preparing for battle. The council has full authority over the pay and terms and conditions of council workers. It has launched a brutal attack. Including attempts to remove trade union facility time, cut workers’ pay by up to £2500, reduce voluntary severance terms and introduce a so-called job evaluation process which opens the door to further attacks on pay.
Industrial action strategy
Members of all four unions have responded to this Thatcherite attack with a vote for strike action and action short of strike action. The council bosses are already under pressure, it is time to force them back. Now, a well-planned strategy is necessary to win a victory for the workers. Union members must, with the assistance of union officials, democratically decide and control the fight back. Action is needed that not only kicks off strongly but also makes it clear that the unions are serious about winning this fight. That they are prepared to escalate if necessary. While SIPTU is the decisive union in the dispute it is vital that the strategy must seek to bring all council workers on board, including those who voted against action and those who did not vote at all. In addition, the strategy must recognise the need to organise to overcome any difficulties caused by Covid 19 working from home arrangements. Such an approach can bring council services grinding to a halt, bring the council bosses under pressure and, critically, force the Newry, Mourne and Down councillors to retreat.
The politicians must not be allowed to get away with their usual game. Verbally supporting the workers but not using their powers to change the direction of the council. Sinn Fein/SDLP nationalist bloc has an absolute majority. In this case, workers’ action can force these parties to change things. But Newry and Mourne is not the only council in Northern Ireland that is taking an aggressive anti worker stance. The Northern Ireland councils appear to have entered into a race to the bottom. For example, Antrim and Newtownards are also attacking workers. In that case the political/sectarian makeup is almost exactly the opposite to Newry, Mourne and Down. It is under DUP/UUP unionist-control. From the point of view of the interests of the working class, the colour of the council (orange or green) makes little difference. Both are attacking workers’ livelihoods. What really matters is where the councillors stand on ‘class’ issues such as pay, terms and conditions and protection of public services.
In the long run council workers cannot rely on the current political parties. What is needed is a new party of the working class that rejects the politics of poverty and privatisation. One that puts the interests of council workers and the working class first.