Interview with UNITE’s Regional Coordinator, Walter Cullen

Interview with Walter Cullen, Regional Coordinator,UNITE

The interview was conducted by Nina Ogden of EIR, and Gene Douglas, editor of LaRouche Irish Brigade website, on May 1, 2013, at the offices of UNITE in Dublin, Ireland.

At the time of the interview, UNITE had just pulled out of the “Croke Park II” negotiations between the Irish government and the unions representing public employees. UNITE rejected the austerity measures being imposed on public sector workers. Since the May 1 interview the government has begun to  back down from their demands, Last minute negotiations are going on now and many of the public employees unions are preparing “industrial action” strikes.

The interview will appear in an upcoming edition of EIR

 

Ogden begins by describing the fight for the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall in the U.S., and the broader fight for a global Glass-Steagall.

CULLEN: “Best of luck with that. We need all the help we can get.” Do you want me to describe the particular fight we are in, or the general issue in Ireland?

OGDEN: Whichever you think is important – both!

CULLEN: As Paul Krugman wrote, those who are pushing austerity are not doing it because they have to, but because they want to. The attitude is, “never waste a good recession to roll back the gains of labor.” Some time ago, the public employee unions were pushed into the practice of “centralized” contract negotiation, that is, all the unions have to agree to a pay-and-benefits package at the same time. UNITE has opposed this practice. It is better for each union to negotiate on its own behalf.

The property bubble was going to collapse. The same minister who who is negotiating with the public sector unions, was also one of the architects of the bank bailout. Yes, protecting the depositors was the correct thing to do, but they also protected the junior and senior bondholders, and the bailout was pushed with the use of fear. We looked at the Credit Institutions and Stabilization Act of 2010 The level of the debt was such that it couldn’t be paid in twenty years with austerity measures. Irish unemployment is probably over twenty per cent, if you include emigration. The Irish Bank Resolution Corp (IBRC,a merged entity of two nationalized failed banks,ed.)  sold financial products based on mortgages. Social partnerships collapsed. The government wasn’t interested in actual negotiation. The government introduced pay cuts unilaterally. “The government said to the unions, come in and talk about taking 1 billion Euros off the total pay.” And told us in advance, if we can’t all agree to this after negotiating, we’ll cut the 1 billion Euros anyway, unilaterally!  “UNITE was the only union which said, we aren’t giving up any pay.” We {have} a solution, but we haven’t got the hearing to present it! An alliance of four unions pulled out of the talks. We and these other unions set up meetings around the country, and we’re telling people, we’re not living with any of these cuts, because it’s the wrong thing to do. When you cut pay, it leads to a loss of revenue, and this leads to the loss of funds for the public sector! To aid the economy, you need a stimulus which spends into the economy, and workers are the only people who can do that. IMF figures last week asserted, in retrospect, that austerity is the wrong way to go.

The negotiations are proceeding under threats! The existing protections, under the Croke Park I agreement, are being removed. The thinking in the government is, why waste a good recession?! Use the opportunity to suppress the workers, and then if there is a cyclical recovery, we would have to begin all over again to achieve the rights we had won before, and then lost.

Look at the case of Wedgwood Manufacturing Company. This company became insolvent, and the pensions also became insolvent. But there is an EU directive on pensions, which would protect those pensions to a degree. So we went to the European Court of Justice. There was a similar case before them brought by British workers who were employees of the same Wedgwood Manufacturing Company. While the Court was considering their case, the British government acted, and put in their own protections for the British workers. So then we initiated a suit against the Irish government. A decision by seven judges was 100 per cent in our favor. But the Irish government had just let this case go on to completion, at great cost to the Irish taxpayers.

OGDEN: You are waging a wonderful fight. This fight against austerity is actually the same fight that is being taken up throughout the whole Euro zone, and if done in the right way, can give people hope.

CULLEN: Here, it’s harder than just fighting the Troika. The Irish government is going farther even, than the Troika is asking. The Troika says, that the spending cuts must come from overall cuts, not just cuts to wages. But the Irish government wants to make all the cuts just in wages alone. The insistence on wage cuts is making people really pissed off. Take the Garda [Irish police – Ed.] for example. We have a problem with low morale in the Garda, owing to the pay cuts. There are countless cases of Garda swapping children, that is, the person going off shift takes over the care of children who were being watched by the person coming on shift. They cannot afford anything else. What kind of way is this to treat the Garda who are responsible for protecting public order? They can’t pay their mortgages. In the government there is absolute inflexibility. You can’t make any arguments that are at variance with austerity. Their attitude is, we are following this model, austerity, and this model is the only model, so let’s just get on with it.

DOUGLAS: You know, when you were speaking about stimulus, actually the stimulus spending in the U.S. and other places, was just about bailing out the banks.

CULLEN: Well, Iceland is a good example of telling the banks to get lost. Iceland just told the banks to “get lost,” and the banks didn’t collapse!  But people are brainwashed. The German people are brainwashed to support what Merkel is doing. The only model that is accepted is that the banks have to be supported, to make them profitable.

So the negotiations really are being conducted in bad faith. The result is being rigged. They unions are being played against each other. If you put all the union ratification votes into one package agreement, then you can go easier on one union, to induce them to vote for an agreement which shifts the pay cuts onto another union. If I am voting on a contract which does not cut my pay, I will probably vote for it, although if it is ratified, it will slash someone else’s pay. So the votes against the agreement by the people hurt the worst, are overwhelmed and the agreement would pass.

This entry was posted in Austerity & Bank Bailouts, Economy, Glass Steagall, Ireland and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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