Union boss warns of more cuts if deal is rejected
O’Connor urges any undecided voters to join the ‘Yes’ camp on Croke Park agreement
THE Government will "come back for more" cuts if the Croke Park agreement is rejected, SIPTU general president Jack O’Connor warned yesterday.
Making the strongest case by any union leader so far for a ‘Yes’ vote for the agreement, he said the proposals negotiated by the Government and the trade unions offered the best guarantee of reflecting the interests of the citizens of Ireland.
With the outcome of the Croke Park deal still “finely balanced”, and an outcome to the voting likely by early June, Mr O’Connor’s intervention is seen as being aimed at the undecided the union voters who are crucial to the deal being passed.
Mr O’Connor — once regarded as among the most militant of trade union leaders — told a May Day commemoration that the agreement provided the surest route to protecting public services and economic recovery.
He said it was fine for those opposed to the deal to say working people did not create this mess, “but that does not address the issue. And let us be clear. It is potentially the most serious problem that has confronted this country since the Second World War in terms of its capacity to compromise our economic sovereignty and independence. . . There are trade unionists who believe that the proposals can be rejected without any requirement to engage in industrial conflict as a consequence, but they are not calculating for the €3bn cut in the deficit in 2011 and again in 2012, which are essential to the fiscal plan that the Government has locked us into with the European Commission. And make no mistake about it, the Government will come back for more.
“It is impossible to anticipate the outcome of such an industrial conflict but it is clear that it will be represented as one-sixth of the workforce acting against the interests of everyone else in society and, even if we win, we will still be faced with the enormous legacy of debt and the need to borrow in the financial markets to maintain the services that are essential to civilised living. The wealthy can and should pay more but, in and of itself, this is not sufficient to resolve the problem.”
He went on: “People ask how we can trust this Government which has twice reneged on national agreements with both private and public service workers. The point is that we did not just start mistrusting them when they cut pay and welfare in the December Budget, or when they did likewise the previous February in the so-called pensions levy, or when they attacked the medical card entitlements of elderly people, or when they reneged on commitments to improve employment protection legislation in the private sector.”
Mr O’Connor said forcefully: “We didn’t trust them when they were elected in 2007, or in 2002, or in 1997. We didn’t adopt a neutral stance in those elections. We didn’t do so because we could see that the queue of speculators, developers and financial parasites flocking to the tent at the Galway Races didn’t adopt a neutral stance.
“We did what we could to ensure that the voice of working people wouldn’t be drowned out in the representation elected to the Oireachtas. But the Government was elected and re-elected and as long as they are there we have to deal with them as we live in a democracy.”
But he said in dealing with the Government, the trade union movement employed a medium-term negotiating strategy that was not an end in itself but a surer way to a better outcome for their members and for working people.
“That is why the proposals guarantee jobs, preclude compulsory redundancies, minimise outsourcing, prevent further pay cuts and provide a framework for restoring lost pay over time. It is also why these proposals ensure full participation by union members in the restructuring of the public service, which is inevitable one way or the other.”
He insisted: “They offer the best guarantee of reflecting the interests of the citizens of Ireland in a way that is compatible with those of public service workers, rather than the ambitions of those focused on the accumulation of profit through privatisation of state assets and services on the pretext of correcting the national finances.”
Mr O’Connor’s strong speech in support of the deal came after David Begg, the general secretary of ICTU, admitted the future of the Croke Park agreement was very finely balanced.
He also warned that the alternatives would be “unpalatable.”
Union sources said the Croke Park deal was being seen as a “survival strategy” and pointed out that the pro- Croke Park votes among unions such as INTO, Siptu, and AHCPS amount to 993, while those against including ASTI, CPSU, and Unite amount to 912.
Votes among the “undecideds”, which include the crucial union Impact, currently locked in a face-off with the HSE and which has 585 votes, amount to a total of another 690.