Date Released: 07 October 2013
In his Presidential Address at the SIPTU Biennial Delegate Conference, SIPTU General President, Jack O’Connor, said that if the Government exceeds the 5.15% deficit target for Budget 2014, his union will urge the Private Sector Committee of Congress to “spearhead a radical new drive for pay increases across the economy”.
Jack O’Connor made his address following the official opening by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Oisín Quinn, of the Biennial Delegate Conference at on Monday, 7th October, in the Round Room, Mansion House, Dublin.
In his address Jack O’Connor stated that the only way the 3% deficit target could be reached by 2015 is through growing the economy by 5.3% over the period and that the only way this could be done was by boosting domestic demand which had fallen by 24% since 2008, partially as a result of austerity budgets.
He said, “If they insist on over egging the pudding to impress the financial markets there is another way to stimulate domestic demand and that is by substantially increasing pay…A rise in real earnings need not dramatically affect the country’s export competitiveness, because already Ireland’s real effective exchange rates (deflated by consumer prices) has fallen by 17% relative to our trading partners since peaking in Spring 2008”.
He also called on the Fine Gael Party “to lift their veto on a tax contribution from the rich so that the biggest element (of the adjustment) would be funded entirely by those who can most afford it” and that “the public tolerance for austerity has passed breaking point”.
Jack O'Connor defended what he called the union’s “rear-guard strategy” over the past five years saying, “It’s like being accosted by a band of armed robbers on a remote country road on a dark, wet, winter’s night, demanding your car on pain of your life. You can mix it with them in the hope of overcoming them or give them the car and suffer the misery of carrying on - on foot. You can get another car but you can’t get your life back. No-one could reasonably accuse anyone of being unprincipled for making such a decision”.
He continued, “Meanwhile we fight where we can win. Indeed we, in this Union, have sanctioned industrial action in almost 40 instances over the last two years. In this regard I want to make it absolutely clear that members who make democratic decisions by secret ballot vote to take action in defence of existing Agreements or to advance their interests will receive our absolute and fullest support”.
He said the union had done everything it could to “to head off a single Party monopoly Fine Gael Government (or worse, one dependent on a handful of right wing independents). Sighting the direct quotes from the Fine Gael Party’s Election Manifesto, he said that such a Government would have inflicted more than an additional €1.2 billion thus-far, would not have reinstated the legal mechanisms that protect the pay and conditions of over 200,000 workers and would be selling off all our State Enterprises, Airports, Ports and Harbours which are critical to the resurgence of the economy.
He defended Labour’s role within the Government. “At the end of the day, Delegates, unpopular and all as it is to say it, it comes down to the distinction between making noise and making a difference! The Labour Party is defending working people and civil society within this Government to the limits of their electoral mandate. They are battling at the very gates of hell, outnumbered by more than two to one and against the background of the straightjacket of the Troika Agreement. This is not apparent to people, but unless those of us who know it have the courage to say it there is a real danger that we will end up with a Government that will dismantle the core gains of a century of Trade Union work. Does that mean that this is what we expected when we recommended a vote for Labour and transfers to the other parties on the Left? No! But the electorate chose differently. Does it mean that we regard the Government’s Budgets to date as fair – no we most certainly do not! But neither do we subscribe to the simplistic – ‘It’s all Labour’s fault’ analysis - because it ignores the elephant in the room - the inconvenient truth that 60% of those who went out to vote in the last election voted for Fine Gael and Fianna Fail and the others who guaranteed the rich that they would be required to contribute little or nothing – and that based on the current opinion polls if there were an election in the morning those people would still command an absolute majority in the next Dáil”.
Jack O'Connor also called for unity on the Left, disagreeing with those who describe Sinn Fein’s economic policies as “fantasy economics…we do not indulge in describing the Sinn Féin Party’s economic policies as ‘fantasy economics’ either. They are not fantasy economics. They are increasingly largely consistent with the analysis of the Nevin Institute. Neither do we challenge the integrity of the people further to the Left. But we do respectfully argue that there is a poverty of ambition on the Left. It’s not sufficient to vie for leadership of the Opposition. The Left has a responsibility to embrace the lessons of history and to build a unified, cohesive and credible alternative that faces the hard choices to challenge the outlook and value system that has been dominant in Ireland since 1922. Otherwise it will never command the support of a majority of the electorate”.
He said that the decade of rebellion which followed the 1913 Lockout did not bring about an Ireland by the egalitarian ideals of those who led the Resistance and that… “Instead public policy in both of the jurisdictions which emerged has always reflected the interests and the values of William Martin Murphy and his kind. Individual greed has always been prioritised over the interests of the public good. Even to the extent that the right to Collective Bargaining, the core issue at stake in the Lockout, which is respected in virtually every EU country, is still denied in this Republic. It all led ultimately to the credit led property bubble here and the seminal decision of the night of 29th September 2008, which saw the Government of the day sign us all up for the colossal debts of our reckless bankers, condemning us to our third existential crisis in sixty years and generations to a legacy of reparations.”
He went on to question, “would not the egalitarian values of equality, community and solidarity provide a better more sustainable basis upon which to construct the future? And would not today – World Day of Decent Work – be a good day to start? Perhaps a good place to begin would be by conducting an extensive, comprehensive and detailed study as to why it is that other small countries in Europe have succeeded while we have failed. Why is it that countries such as Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden are able to maintain higher employment rates and consistently lower debt levels, despite vastly better public provision and social infrastructure underpinned by higher levels of public spending funded by taxation, than us? And incidentally substantially higher proportions of their workforces are organised in Unions. What is in their value system that has enabled them to do it – and what is missing from ours?”
To read Jack O'Connor's full speech click here