Nation braces for wave of public strikes
By Shaun Connolly and Niamh Hennessy - Friday, December 11, 2009
HOSPITALS, schools and vital services could be crippled by open-ended national strikes in the new year, union leaders warned last night as anger over budget cuts to public sector pay and welfare benefits intensified.
SIPTU president Jack O’Connor escalated the battle with the Government after wage cuts of 5%-7% were forced on most state workers, threatening a fresh wave of intensive industrial action unless ministers backed down. "It is open to us to name a day, some day in January and say that’s the day we’re stopping – my union has a mandate for that – and that we won’t be starting again until it’s over one way or the other."
Mr O’Connor stressed he hoped such extreme action would not be needed.
The threatened strike move came as a survey showing steep price rises for key goods flatly contradicted Government claims deflation would cushion struggling families against their sudden drop in income.
Welfare claimants and the low-paid bore the brunt of Finance Minister Brian Lenihan’s €4bn cuts package, which provoked a strong backlash, with opposition parties insisting the Government was "running scared" as it rushed the slashing of the benefit budget through the Dáil before TDs faced the full wrath of voters at the weekend.
Fine Gael and Labour rounded on the 4.1% cut in welfare payments, branding it unfair and unjustified.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen defended the move, saying the Government had no alternative and the budget had been "well received".
Anti-poverty campaigner Fr Sean Healy of Social Justice Ireland was scathing about the measures, insisting they would cause real hardship for the most vulnerable in society. Fr Healy ridiculed claims by ministers that the pain had been evenly spread, because they had taken pay cuts on their own lavish salaries. "People who are earning €4,000 a week after they have taken their pay cut... are in no position to understand the impact of a reduction in income on somebody receiving €204 a week on welfare," he said.
Ministerial claims that the poor would be cushioned from the cuts by deflation were also contradicted by evidence from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) which showed that in the year to November price increases had already pushed petrol up by 6.5% before this week’s budget hike in duty. Bus fares shot up 12%, rail travel rose by 8%, third-level education costs rocketed by 20%, and insurance costs, already up 17% in the last 12 months are expected to climb by another 10% in the new year.
While prices overall are down 6% on the year, opposition parties point to this being driven by mortgage cuts which often would not benefit the poor.
Problems continue to mount for the Irish people while the banks who are the root cause of the current economic woes are being bailed out by the government. This should sound like a familiar story to us in the U.S. It seems that some things know no national borders. In the meantime as the flood waters recede and the extent of the damage becomes evident, the Irish Red Cross is beginning to process requests for relief from victims of the horrific floods in Ireland. Please be generous with your donations.