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Boom and battle for workers’ share

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Issue 1724

news of the world

Boom and battle for workers’ share

A WAVE of strikes has broken out in Ireland, the country hailed as the economic success story of Europe.

This week alone:

  • Train signallers were set to bring train services to a halt with a two-day strike for more pay.
  • Pilots at Ryanair are set to strike for the day on Friday against attempts by bosses to impose longer working hours.
  • Clerical workers at the Independent Group of newspapers are also to strike this Friday. Journalists at the Independent Group have voted by 94 percent for strikes.
  • Most secondary schools will be forced to shut on Wednesday of this week in a work to rule by teachers fighting for better pay.
  • A strike on Dublin’s buses on Monday was only just halted at the last minute.

This follows a wave of strikes, walkouts and other industrial action against low pay by significant groups of workers in Ireland.

Secondary school teachers held a nationwide strike over pay last week. They are demanding a 30 percent pay rise to keep up with inflation and astronomical housing costs.

Signal workers also struck for the day last week against bosses’ plans to introduce an “annualised hours” package, which could mean signallers losing up to 4,500 a year.

When signal workers struck in Galway, bus workers and train drivers joined them on the picket lines. There has been an almost continuous series of strikes, walkouts and work to rule action by Dublin airport workers in recent weeks, including caterers, baggage handlers and cabin crew at Aer Lingus.

Health workers in many areas are also in dispute, with a work to rule and one-day strikes in three hospitals last week over pay and working conditions. The so called Celtic Tiger economy in Ireland has been hailed by governments and business leaders around Europe.

It has even been seen as a model for Scotland and Wales by leaders of the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru in Wales.

But the Celtic Tiger has only delivered benefits for the rich, and the strikes are a sign that workers are demanding their share.

As Kieran Allen, editor of Socialist Worker in Ireland, wrote in an article in Irish Sunday Business Post:

“The picket lines at railway stations, schools and Dublin airport are only the most visible signs of a huge discontent that is now sweeping Ireland. Many workers are asking why they cannot buy a house, even though the Celtic Tiger economy is supposed to be a rip-roaring success. They want to know why it takes hours to travel to work through gridlocked streets. They wonder why their lives have become more stressful as they face constant demands for more ‘flexibility’ and productivity at work.”

Bad deal

IRELAND IS ruled by a right wing coalition government, led by the Fianna Fail party.

It is united with business and trade union leaders in arguing that workers must “tighten their belts” because pay rises will jeopardise Ireland’s boom. Trade union leaders have embraced the idea of “social partnerships” between government, bosses and trade union leaders.

The union leaders, just like the TUC’s John Monks in Britain, say “partnership” will reduce poverty and end the free market Thatcherite policies followed by successive governments in Ireland.

But the opposite has been true in the Celtic Tiger. The current “Programme for Prosperity and Fairness” agreement means pay rises of 5.5 percent.

Yet inflation is currently running at 6.8 percent. On top of this effective pay cut workers face astronomical house prices. Mortgage rates have rocketed by 46 percent over the last year. The price of home heating oil has risen by 61 percent.

Holding workers’ wages back over the last decade did not stop inflation rising or result in low prices.

Now workers’ action is exposing the farce of “partnership” and is putting pressure on union leaders to pull out of the partnership agreement altogether.

Growing divide

THE GAP between rich and poor in Ireland has grown despite the boom.

  • Ireland has the lowest business tax rates in Europe. By 2002 corporation tax on profits will be just 12.5 percent.

That compares to the 30 percent rate in Britain, which is the second lowest in Europe.

  • Bosses in Ireland pay less in tax than the cleaners they employ, who will pay a 24 percent rate of tax.
  • Between 1987 and 1997 the share of the national economy going to workers in wages, pensions and social security fell by 10 percent.

Yet the share going to the rich in profits, dividends and rent actually grew by 10 percent.

  • Ireland now has the second highest level of poverty in the developed world.

A million people-out of a population of just three million-are living below the poverty line.

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