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Striking unity in Northern Ireland

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NORTHERN Ireland saw its biggest civil servants' strike in 16 years in December as thousands struck against poverty wages.
Issue 1883

NORTHERN Ireland saw its biggest civil servants’ strike in 16 years in December as thousands struck against poverty wages.

Ryan McKinney is chair of the number 8 branch of the Nipsa union, which organises civil servants in Northern Ireland. He says, “The strike was extremely successful. It is important in showing that Protestant and Catholic workers have more in common with each other than with their politicians, who tell them their allegiance should be to ‘their community’.

“Strikes like this show the sectarian polarisation that we saw in the elections isn’t the only force at work in Northern Ireland. Most of the workplaces have almost a 50-50 breakdown. Workers’ struggles can provide from below a counterforce to the sectarianism being whipped up from the top.

“I work at the Child Support Agency. On Wednesday of this week we will have a meeting with 600 people there. The first thing on everyone’s lips will be, ‘When am I getting a bloody pay rise?’ It’s not about the peace process. It’s a great example of people uniting and fighting together.

“The union leadership are meeting next Monday to decide the next step. There is a lot of pressure from union branches for more strikes. There is a good atmosphere amongst members. The overtime ban and work to rule have continued.”

Management imposed an offer on the Northern Ireland civil service in November. Civil servants in Belfast and Derry walked out unofficially.

There were pickets in every town in Northern Ireland on Thursday 11 December. Postal workers, bin collectors and delivery drivers respected the picket lines everywhere. Over 500 strikers attended a rally organised by the Nipsa union at lunchtime.

Johnny, a striker at the Derry pensions branch, said, “People here have to work seven-day weeks to earn a decent wage. You shouldn’t have to work Saturday and Sunday, especially when you have children, just to bring home a living wage. But so many people here work through the weekend, it means our overtime ban will really have an effect.”

Fellow worker Daniel said, “Some people would be better off on benefits, the pay is so poor. It’s a disgrace that top civil servants got a pay rise of 4 to 9 percent of an awful lot of money while 4 percent of our lousy wage would be just a couple of quid.”

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