The Trade Union movement in Northern Ireland is gearing up for November 30th.
Around 70 delegates attended a half day conference in Belfast last week organised by the Belfast Trades Council. This conference was constructive, (a far cry from the debacle of the Irish Congress of Trades Union’s People’s Assembly earlier in the year which degenerated into a far left walkout and tirades of abuse directed at Union officials) looking at arguments, ideas and activities in the lead up to November 30th.
The UNITE Chief of staff and the Stop the War Coalition’s Andrew Murray made the case against austerity and why it was necessary to build the 30th November as a starting point for a campaign against the Con-Dem coalition government. He made the case that we were not all in this recession together, that society was more unequal now than it was in the 1920’s, that the average public sector pension was a little over 5000 pounds whereas CEO’s pensions were in the millions. He pointed out that the austerity drive had hampered growth and so our alternative to austerity and war and for social investment to create jobs would get a hearing amongst millions of Trade Union members.
Murray also made the argument for the necessity of an organisation like the Coalition of Resistance which brings together anti cuts activists and coheres the wider movement politically.
A member of the Greek Trade Union Federation and PAME addressed the conference making a similar point, saying that it was necessary to build links between Trades Unions, left and community activists.
Unison’s Patricia McKeown outlined the positive responses and general goodwill given to the recent health sector strike but pointed out that there were changes in the approach of the media and the political parties. She suggested that where once the Northern Ireland media might have been relatively charitable in their coverage of industrial actions, this was no longer the case. Already there had been articles in the local papers attacking public sector wage rates, pensions, on union organising and on strike action. It was the same with politicians who once might have been seen on picket lines who were now arguing against industrial action. The union movement, she argued, would need to look various ways of getting the message across in terms of building support for upcoming strike activity and would have to much more measured in its dealings with the Assembly.
The key issues coming out of the conference were to build the yes vote for industrial action on the 30th of November and to look the possibilities of marrying Trade Union activities with anti capitalist events like the Occupy movement or NI Uncut.
Counterfire Belfast will be campaigning for a yes vote in the strike ballots but we are also aiming to be part of setting up a Coalition of Resistance in Northern Ireland in the near future.
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