This is how the Irish Times summed up the forthcoming negotiations between ICTU (The Irish Confederation of Trade Unions), the Government and Ibec (the employers). The talks follow an invitation from the Taoiseach Brian Cowen to the ICTU leaders, who have deferred the strike action planned for Monday 30th pending the outcome of the negotiating. The decision to call off the action reflects the fact that the trade union leaders have been very keen to pull off a deal, and are confident that they have a big mandate from the members. Even the IMPACT ballot which didn’t reach the 2/3 majority required for strike action weighed in at 65%. The sniping from the Irish bourgeois press that the strike call was a flop is more wishful thinking than anything else.
But the problem for Cowen and the trade union leaders is that there is very little room to manoeuvre. GDP fell by an annualised rate of 7.8% in the last quarter of 2008, the government’s deficit is running at €19.5 billion, unemployment is racing towards 400,000 and tax revenues are down 24% on the year. The bosses are anxious to come to an agreement, but they are determined not to pay for the crisis in fact Cowen is after €6 billion in cuts. The unions are after more government borrowing and lessening the effect of the pension levy. David Begg the ICTU leader may well be after keeping his powder dry, but the fact is that prevarication and lack of decisiveness on behalf of the ICTU leaders will frustrate and demoralise some layers. You can’t turn the mood of the workers on and off like a tap. On the other hand many workers will be well aware that if we are going to stop the Fianna Fáil/Green Party government and the bosses in their tracks then that means militant action. The only reason Cowen invited the unions to the table is the fear of the working class. As we’ve already explained, this is like a poker game and there are very high stakes.