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26 November 2009 Edition

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Attempts to divide and conquer workers must be resisted

A quarter of a million public service workers staged a one-day stoppage across the 26 Counties on Tuesday. The extensive areas of the country hit by flooding were exempted from the action and workers in the emergency and other front-line services made huge efforts to assist those hit by the deluge.
Wide sections of the media, in a grossly hypocritical exercise, praised the public service workers in the flooded areas and heaped abuse on those who joined the stoppage. It seems that when emergency service workers risk their lives to help others they are heroes but when they take limited industrial action to defend the falling incomes of themselves and their families they are villains. 

The attacks on the workers reached the level of farce when RTÉ and other media claimed that the queues of cars crossing the border to shop in Newry were all striking public servants. And, ever reliable, Tony O’Reilly’s Herald AM free-sheet, painted a fantasy scene of Dublin pubs and clubs thronged with civil servants while the city centre was “packed with schoolchildren – many of them drunk – taking advantage of the day off on Tuesday”.  
What is happening here is an effort to divide and conquer workers in the public and private sectors. The tactic is to demonise public service workers and portray them as wasters and spongers. Much of this is being done by bosses in the private sector who refuse to recognise trade unions and who want to drive wages down further and worsen working conditions. Because it is easier for the unions to organise in the public sector, far more public service workers are unionised than those in the private sector. The question must be asked if private sector workers had been better organised would as many of them have been laid off or forced to take such savage wage cuts?  
It is essential that attempts to divide and conquer workers in this way are resisted. The vast majority of workers are on low or modest incomes and have a common interest in opposing the disastrous policies of the Fianna Fáil/Green Government.  
Tuesday’s stoppage was not just about the pay of public service workers threatened with cuts in the Budget. It was also demanding a better, fairer approach to the economic crisis. It was about public services which everyone needs and which are under threat in the forthcoming Budget. It was about defending those on social welfare – including the growing numbers of unemployed – from savage cuts.  
Tuesday’s stoppage was a display of unity and solidarity. More of those qualities will be needed to ensure a fair and viable route out of the economic crisis.

An Phoblacht
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