Mass strike rally in Northern Ireland, January 18 -- image via screenshot
In the largest strike in Northern Ireland in decades, at least 150,000 public sector workers took to the streets January 18 to protest the political deadlock and lack of political will that has led to the freezing of their pay for nearly two years despite promises and the cost of living crisis. The 24-hour strike involved teachers, nurses, bus drivers, and others.
The Workers Party of Ireland said the strike "represented a militant and determined stand by workers and their unions in an unprecedented escalation of their action over pay and conditions and the protection of public services."
The successful generalised day of action across Northern Ireland involved workers across every sector, including government administrative staff, healthcare and education workers, teachers and lecturers, roads maintenance teams and transport workers, including bus and train staff.
This mass action was the culmination of a series of actions over the past two years and has been about much more than specific demands. It has concerned defending and ensuring quality public services in the face of a relentless campaign of budget cuts, austerity measures, low wages, poor working conditions, the rundown of public services and continuing attempts at privatisation, implemented by the bourgeois parties against the interests of working people and their families.
As thousands of workers across the public sector prepared to take part in Northern Ireland’s biggest ever day of industrial action, the campaign to undermine their stand, obscure the arguments and divert attention away from the core issues heightened. Sections of the bourgeois media and right-wing commentators attempted to divide workers, hype up public inconveniences and questioned the effectiveness of industrial action.
The striking workers were not deterred and public opinion backed the industrial action. Working people recognised that public services, and wage levels that reflect the skills and dedication of those who provide them, are central to the security and quality of life of the people. They understood that workers withdraw their labour and take to the streets to protect services, pay and conditions in the face of over ten years of underfunding, under resourcing, derisory pay and conditions and the erosion of public services.
There is no alternative to mass and militant industrial action. Over the past three years workers have pressed their claims for pay parity, above inflation pay rises, improved conditions and the protection of public services. Those claims have been ignored and dismissed. Conditions have deteriorated and services have declined. During that time the Workers Party of Ireland has stood on the picket lines with those workers. Our Party members participated in today’s mass actions and will continue to support their struggles.
The WPI welcomes the increased militancy by trade unions; the determination to struggle for proper pay, conditions and pensions for workers; against low paid, precarious and casualised work; and against the privatisation of public services.
The Workers Party of Ireland reasserts the necessity and centrality of class struggle. 2024 will be another year of class struggle and an opportunity to intensify that struggle; demonstrating the increasing contradictions of the capitalist system; its increasingly reactionary response to the people’s demands and its inability to meet their needs; and the certainty that the construction of a new society, a socialist future, remains the only alternative for the emancipation of labour and the working peoples of the world.
Image via X
The Communist Party of Ireland also supported the action:
The Communist Party of Ireland stands in solidarity with the 15 trade unions representing 170,000 workers taking part in the Generalised Day of Strike Action across the 6 counties. The co-ordinated day of strikes is the most significant, militant action by the organised working class in the north for a generation.
Our Party calls on the British Secretary of State for the 6 counties to immediately accede to the demands of the public sector unions. Over the past year the strike actions in pursuit of the unions’ demands have had unprecedented support from union members and the general public. Unfortunately, even though he has admitted that he has the funds to settle the dispute, the British Secretary of State is refusing to do so until the DUP agrees to restore the Executive.
His refusal to settle the dispute exposes the lack of democracy which exists within the 6 counties. Westminster is in control of the purse-strings and even if the Executive was functioning, it could only administer the funds provided by Westminster. The absence of the Executive merely removes the veneer of democratic control by the Assembly.
The Generalised Day of Action, called by the ICTU, shows the power of the organised working class. This power must be used to push for a better society in which the interests of the working class are central. Central to any such campaign must be demands for an all-Ireland health system free at the point of use, an all-Ireland housing policy and all-Ireland industrial and environmental plans.
Rally outside a hospital -- image via X