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From The Socialist newspaper, 18 March 2015

Northern Ireland: Workers strike back against austerity cuts

Kevin Henry

Friday 13 March saw tens of thousands of workers in education, health, civil services and, importantly, public transport, take part in coordinated strike action against a Stormont austerity agenda.

The action involved Nipsa, the largest union in the North, the teachers' union Into, Unite, Unison and the GMB, against a backdrop of anti-union propaganda in the local press. Union busting tactics were used against ambulance workers on the day - management declaring a 'state of emergency' in order to stop workers striking!

However, the strike was overwhelming supported by the population. An opinion poll on the Belfast telegraph website put support for the strike at 82%!


The political effect of the strike was seen on the Monday before, when Sinn Féin did a U-turn on welfare reform. They accused their government colleagues, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), of acting in bad faith and not implementing measures necessary to protect the vulnerable.

The real reason was summed up by a Belfast Telegraph commentator: "Maybe it has dawned on the party [Sinn Féin] that in slashing services and triggering massive strike action later this week it is now the target of the unions and the workers."

Sinn Féin, who are not in principle opposed to 'welfare reform', ie cuts, fears being exposed for implementing vicious austerity in the North, thereby damaging their image as an 'anti-austerity' party in the South.

This all serves to underline the weak nature of the Northern Ireland assembly. It has not just been Sinn Féin but also the DUP which has been forced back from austerity measures when faced with a determined protest movement.

Socialist Party members where out on force on the day, joining the marches and visiting picket lines, not just in Belfast but in Derry, Newry, Enniskillen, Craigavon, Magherfelt, Cookstown and Dungannon. Our members distributed 10,000 leaflets to build for the strike action.

We also distributed almost 10,000 leaflets on the day and sold over 250 copies of our strike paper.

Where next?

In several key unions, Socialist Party members played an important role putting pressure on trade union leaders and officials to ensure strike ballots were won and the strike was enthusiastically built for.

Socialist Youth members were to the forefront in campaigning to get young people to join the strike - including mobilising college students to join the marches, and in Queens University organising a referendum where 87% of students voted to take strike action.

On the picket lines, the key question on people's minds was, where next? Unfortunately, the answer largely received from the speakers' platform in Belfast would have left them disappointed. Shockingly, the trade union official chairing the rally said: "People always ask, where next? To that I say to the cafes and pubs"!

This lack of serious intent was a million miles removed from the Socialist Party, whose material on the day declared: "Name the next strike date."

The key issue now is to ensure that 13 March isn't a one-off event but the opening shot in a campaign that can stop Stormont implementing its austerity agenda.

Socialist Party members in the unions are campaigning for a second day of strike action in the run-up to the general election. If the current trade union leaders are not prepared to do this, then union activists must organise to make them do it.

Linked to this is the urgent task of building a new party of protestant and catholic workers that can challenge the establishment parties in Stormont that have nothing to offer but division and poverty.

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Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
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In The Socialist 18 March 2015:

Socialist Party news and analysis

Fight for £10 an hour now!

Ukip: a party of the bosses, for the bosses

PM supports wealthy bigot

Them & Us

Elections 2015

Use your vote to hit the 1%

Councillors do have a choice over cuts

'I can be a voice for youth and the Somali community'

International socialist news and analysis

Fight gender, caste and class oppression!

Socialist Party workplace news

We need a fighting, democratic union

Northern Ireland: Workers strike back

Revealed: Tesco's plotting against Doncaster drivers

Essex: nine day fire control strike

Midlands NSSN: Building the rank and file fightback

Socialist elected to Unite executive council

Bus drivers ballot against pay robbery

Socialist Party reports and campaigns

Socialist Party fortnight of action 21 March - 4 April

School students inspired by struggle

Going to Hull in a handbasket

A parting of the ways with Solidarity

Socialist Party general election appeal 2015

Campaigns news in brief

Socialist Party comments and reviews

How can civil liberties be protected?

Manchester: Labour cuts hit rough sleepers


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