As the Twenty-Six County budget looms ever nearer and Britain’s Stormont administration considers cut backs, there is much uncertainty and fear in working class communities throughout the Ireland.
Workers have already suffered severe cuts in their living standards in recent times and are justifiably concerned as to the increased hardship the upcoming budget and cuts will undoubtedly deliver for them.
While there is uncertainty as to the specific detail of the budget, one thing is guaranteed. It will once again target low income workers and social welfare recipients to carry the burden for the greed and incompetence of the business class and the Twenty-Six County administration who created the current economic crisis.
Over recent months there has been a concerted campaign through the media by the likes of IBEC and Fianna Fáil to demonise public sector workers, to pit private sector workers against public sector workers and to lay the groundwork for more public sector pay cuts and job losses. The Twenty-Six County administration has also flagged up its intention to cut social welfare rates and child benefit, claiming that the rates are too high and that the cost of living is reducing.
Contrary to the myth they portray that welfare recipients are somehow living in the lap of luxury, the reality is the complete opposite. Those living on social welfare were already struggling to survive before the most recent cutbacks imposed on them over the past 12 months.
Welfare recipients have already seen their Christmas bonus taken away and a decrease in rent supplement support, while 18-20 year olds have had their entitlements halved. Low paid workers and families on welfare have suffered disproportionately as a result of cutbacks in the early childcare supplement payment and the school book grant scheme, as well as by the enormous increase in school transport costs.
Workers have also suffered unjust pay cuts, tax increases and pension levies that have brought many families to the brink as they struggle to keep a roof over their head, to feed and clothe their families and to cope with the ever increasing costs of accessing essential health and education services.
While these measures have already caused enormous hardship, any move to impose new cuts on the same people will be utterly disastrous for thousands upon thousands of families throughout the country. Poverty levels will escalate rapidly, along with the inevitable rise of poverty related illnesses and deaths. Every year, in the region of 3,000 people die in Ireland from cold related illnesses. That figure will significantly increase if the Dublin government proceeds with its planned cutbacks in the budget.
This will place yet further strain on an under-resourced health service, whose frontline staff are already over worked and unable to cope as a result of major cutbacks that have already been introduced, while further frontline cuts are planned.
The Twenty-Six County government claims the finance is not available to properly fund these essential services at current levels as well as maintaining present public sector pay and welfare rates. Yet, they had no hesitation in taking billions from the public purse to shamefully bail out the banks through NAMA.
Also unmentioned in all of this is the hundreds of billions of euros worth of oil and gas which lies off the Irish coast in the Corrib gas field and elsewhere. At the stroke of a pen, the Twenty-Six County administration could nationalise these valuable resources. The wealth generated from these fields could be utilised to provide welfare for those in need, wiping out poverty in the process, to deliver much needed funding for essential health and education services and to prevent further job losses and pay cuts as planned for the upcoming budget.
However, rather than discussing the nationalisation of these resources, they have shamefully focused on ways to target the most vulnerable in Irish society – low income workers and social welfare recipients – in order to maintain the lavish lifestyles of the business class and their political friends.
It is essential that workers, and all those who oppose the cuts, take to the streets on Friday [November 6] and participate in the ICTU-organised demonstrations. An unequivocal message must be sent to the Twenty-Six County administration and the one in occupied Ireland, that enough is enough, that we will resist by all means necessary the attempts to bleed workers and the poor in order to bail out the business class. Irish workers did not create the crisis and must not be made to pay for it.
There is also another very important message to be issued that day. That is a message to the leadership of ICTU and those trade unions that have supported the so-called social partnership process in recent decades. The message is that their policies of collaboration with the political establishment in Leinster House and the employers’ organisations has failed workers miserably and must be consigned to the dustbin of history.
They must not be allowed to back down in the face of government hard-ball tactics or by being bought off with minor concessions. The determined actions of workers at Dublin Docks, Waterford Glass, Visteon and Thomas Cook, among many others, are shining examples of the way forward for Irish workers.
What is at stake here is of fundamental importance for workers. The only gains that workers will ever achieve will not be given freely to them, they will have to be taken by workers themselves.
When people take to the streets on Friday, we must ensure that we stay on the streets until we have defeated this administration’s efforts to make us pay for the failure of capitalism. The days of Irish trade union leaders playing the role of the Duke of York, leading workers up the hill only to lead them back down again, as happened when they cancelled the proposed state-wide strike earlier this year, must come to an end.
The only way to prevent the imminent cuts is for all of us, workers and trade unions, the unemployed, working class communities and political activists to mobilise on the streets in our thousands.
Irish society now has two clear options. It can proceed with the current failed capitalist system based on greed and the hoarding of wealth for the minority, with poverty and hardship for the majority, or it can build an alternative Ireland based on public ownership and a decent standard of living for all.
Now is the time to make a stand for, not just this generation, but for generations to come. Support the day of action on Friday. The time for radical change is at hand.