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23 July 1998 Edition

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Workers in struggle: Partnership hypocrisy

``We could end up with a whole new raft of claims''. That is the worry this week of Bertie Ahern. Having conceded to the Garda Representative Association some of the central elements of their wage demands, including increases between 6% and 13%, the Fianna Fail/Progressive Democrat coalition now wants to close the door on any similar claims from public sector unions.

The Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) was first into the fray staking their claim for similar treatment to the Gardai. The INTO were backed in their petition by the ATGWU whose regional secretary Mick O'Reilly told the government that they could not camouflage the Garda pay offer.

Central to this new round of wage confrontation is the pay increase elements of Partnership 2000. The Partnership 2000 agreement is the fourth in a line of wage agreements stretching back to 1987. Each agreement has committed the government, employers' organisations and the trade union movement to a series of wage deals. Over the 11 years of the agreements workers have seen their wages increase by the annual inflation rate.

Any other increases secured in wages have been the result of local productivity agreements or the overdue reform of the PAYE tax code. Changes in PAYE tax have been taken in step with parallel reductions in taxes on profits and capital gains.

Now with the 26-County economy clearly in a prolonged boom cycle Irish workers are realising that the profitability of the companies they work for is increasing at a far faster level than their wages.

Partnership 2000 commits workers to increases of 2.5% for the first 12 months, 2.25% for the second 12 months, 1.5% for the next nine months and 1% for the last six months. Local bargaining with further increases of up to 2% in the second year of the agreement is also allowed.

The core inequity of this agreement and previous partnership agreements is that it does not apply to all workers. A brief study of the salaries, benefits and perks paid to the executives of Irish companies clearly shows wage increases way beyond anything agreed under Partnership 2000.

For example in January of this year Bertie Ahern gave his support to a £10,000 wage increase for TDs. Given their existing salary of £34,000 this would have meant an increase of over 29% for TDs compared to the 2.25% promised to workers under Partnership 2000. The 29% increase is also way above the 2% allowed in local productivity agreements for the second year of Partnership 2000.

Figures released in February of this year showed that in 1993-94 there were 2,100 people in the 26 Counties earning more than £100,000 a year. Now in 1998 that figure has risen to 4,600. How many of these people had their wages curtailed by social partnership agreements?

Other workers not bound by the Partnership 2000 agreement were the executive directors at Fyffes. They secured a 14% wage increase in 1997, taking home an average payment of £282,000. Green Property directors had a meagre 32% wage increase in 1997, an average of over £213,000 for the six top executives.

In April three executive directors at Irish Permanent took home a shared bonus of £1.2 million. One wonders what section of the Partnership agreement did that come under? The ten executive directors at Independent Newspapers saw their salaries rise by 37% in 1997. The six executive directors of Readymix had increases of 25%.

A list like this could go on and on. The only conclusion you can draw is that the Partnership 2000 agreement is a sham. If all workers were being treated equally it might have some merit. The opposite though is the case. One group of workers are having their wages constrained and a second elite group are clearly benefiting from this inequality.

Bertie Ahern called for public sector unions to take a responsible attitude to wage negotiations this week. Perhaps he would be better off directing those comments at the bosses who have been creaming off the top. Wage restraint should apply to all workers or none at all. The halfway house that exists under the partnership agreement has become merely a vehicle to exploit the 500,000 workers covered by the agreements.


United Auto Workers


``We're fighting for dignity and honesty at the bargaining table'' This was the message from United Automobile Workers (UAW) President Stephen Yokich. Yokich was speaking to thousands of UAW members and community supporters at rallies in support of striking workers in Flint, Michigan, on Monday 20 July.

9,200 UAW workers have been on strike at two separate automobile parts plants in Flint since June. A further 175,000 General Motors (GM) workers have been laid off because of a shortage of parts produced normally in Flint. The strikers are taking industrial action over what they see are attempts by GM to undermine the plants' commercial viability.

The UAW strikers are concerned about health and safety, production standards and GM's ongoing programme of outsourcing production to non-union plants as well as to Mexico where they are the largest private sector employer.

GM has reneged on plans to invest in new plant in Flint. The pickets in Flint were placed after GM removed vital equipment from one of the plants. GM have compounded the strike by threatening plant closures.

In Ireland former workers in Packard and United Technologies will remember what it was like to be toyed with by a multinational company like GM. The UAW workers' battle with GM is thus one which represents the interests of all workers.

Workers unite


The Charter for Class Politics was launched in Belfast on Thursday 16 July at a meeting chaired by writer and broadcaster Eamon McCann.

The aims of the Charter are to campaign for a minimum wage of £4.61 an hour, to repeal British anti-trade union laws, to abolish the 11+ and scrap tuition fees, and stop the privatisation of public services.

Colm Breyce, an organiser of the Charter said ``Many trade union members believe that the promise of new investment in the months ahead will be empty for working class people if those jobs have bad pay and no trade union rights. The big supermarket chains and American computer firms are coming here because of the low wages and lack of union rights.''

The Charter has been signed by over a hundred trade unionists across the north including NIPSA representative David Carlin who added, ``We want to rekindle the spirit fo solidarity, that when a group of workers stand up for their rights they are not left to fight alone, but can rely on the practical support of other trade unionists, collecting money for them and so on.''

An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

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