Unions losing traction?
Was it just me or have comments from the various unions and ICTU over the past 24 hours suggest that they are now prepared to seek a deal rather than return to the streets, because they are worried that their mass protests will be shorn of the mass bit?
There was a debate about the numbers turning out to protest last Friday and how many of them were drawn from the private sector. No matter how the figures are finessed and talked up, to me there seems to be a recognition (and I’d say even among the union leadership) that the turnout was poor and that further protests in November and December will produce diminishing returns. All it will go to show is that the public (and private sector workers) aren’t with them on this, and that the Government has called their bluff.
Just to continue the poker metaphor. The situation is so bleak for everybody and so unfair for everybody that it reminds me of the words from a great Tom Waits song, On the Nickel.
“I know a place where a Royal Flush, will never beat a pair.”
The Government’ won’t and can’t turn back on its promise on th pay bill. If it does so it is finished. So it’s intent on implementing the cuts no matter what. There’s none of that conflict of old when the bean counters from Finance were trumped by the social partnership champions in the Department of An Taoiseach. Two different Brians but not two different lines apparently. They are both ad idem on the need to cut deep.
So compromise is the name of the game. The rather grand sounding ‘bridging mechanisms’ are being discussed today. In plainer English, that mean a temporary fix. In other words, the Government will get its €1.3 billion in this Budget either by cuts in basic pay rates, or overtime and allowances, or both. And at the same time a longer term review programme will be initiated that will see a combination of measures including reductions in numbers and changes in work practices and productivity. But the point will be that it will only replace the temporary fix in Budget 2011 and in later Budget.
And not totally. If the Government wants to cut €4 billion next year, and €3 billion the next year , and €2 billion the next, then it’s going to have to continue gouging at the margins. So the €1.3 billion is not going to be wholly whittled away or replaced by other measures.
It’s going to be dressed up as something else. But my sense is that compromise with a big C is the name of the game for the public sector unions.