Wages down, prices up... surely we must strike together! & Northern Ireland’s Brexit: Sunak’s orange lane

 Wages down, prices up... surely we must strike together!

For once union leaders refused to be blackmailed.  Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said negotiations over pay had to be conditional on the teachers’ strikes being called off.  The leaders said no.  And this week, teachers up and down the country - and in Scotland - are taking strike action.

    Also back on, are the railway workers’ strikes, which first began last summer.  And civil servants are still striking.  In fact, not one section of workers has been offered a decent pay increase.  Not even nurses organised in the RCN union, which called off the 48-hour escalation it had planned last week, in order to try to negotiate a deal.

    As for commentators making comparisons with private sector pay, which they say is 5% or more above the offers made to public sector workers (but postal workers and most railway workers are private employees!) this is a nonsense.  Car workers, for instance, may have got above inflation (14%, even) pay rises in the last few months, but the bosses have taken the money back by cutting their shifts.

    For the government, it’s a political decision not a financial one, to refuse to pay the striking public sector workers.  Hunt could easily find the cash.  Instead the choice is to present a tax-cutting budget (coming next week).  And of course, a Tory government full of Thatcher-worshippers, wants to be seen defeating the working class.  All the more reason to beat it soundly!

    In the meantime prices keep rising: with the energy price guarantee increasing from £2,500/yr to £3,000/yr from April, bills could go up by £500+.  The expert Martin Lewis is banking on Sunak stepping in beforehand, to prevent this.  Yet energy bills are already too high, while food prices were up by a record 17% this week!

    So yes, the working class has to kick back against the unbearable cost of living and demand pay rises in line with price rises, across the board, in the public sector and in the private sector.

    And it’s not enough that union leaders don’t allow ministers to blackmail them into calling off strikes. The real problem over the past many months has been that strikes have remained passive, sectional and unco-ordinated - and above all, that the strikers themselves are not taking all the decisions which affect them.  If workers are to win the pay rises and the reversal of cuts in jobs and conditions which threaten them, that is something that will have to change.

 Northern Ireland’s Brexit: Sunak’s orange lane

Sunak is crossing his fingers that Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party politicians will give his 300-page “Windsor Framework”, the thumbs-up.  He says this will be the real test of success for his NI Brexit Protocol deal with the EU.

    Yes, this minority of political and religious unionist bigots in the DUP (with around 20% of the vote) have the final say over Northern Irish affairs, just as their predecessors always had, courtesy of successive British governments.  But lately, since Brexit, only because they provide back-up to the far-right, Brexiteer wing of the Tory Party in Westminster - despite their shrinking electoral support (due to Northern Ireland’s “demographics”).  It seems to have been forgotten that the majority of the NI population voted against Brexit.

    So the question is, will the Unionists say yes to “Windsor”?  And will they then agree to end their boycott of Northern Ireland’s mini-government - the Stormont Assembly?  In fact Stormont has been prevented from sitting for much of its existence, by either Loyalist Unionists or Irish Nationalists, thanks to the sectarian veto powers built into the power-sharing terms of the Good Friday Agreement.  But lately Stormont hasn’t sat simply because the DUP, which lost the last election to its “enemy” Sinn Fein, refused to play second fiddle to SF’s (now) first minister, Michelle O’Neill.

    Of course, what’s not being stressed too much in the current discussion of Sunak’s “breakthrough agreement” with the EU, is the fact that the new framework is just superimposed on top of the old Northern Ireland Protocol, which mostly remains.  Or that Northern Ireland retains its hybrid status inside the EU Single Market - which is just as well for NI business people, since this direct access to the EU is an advantage.  In fact, Sunak has highlighted this as a selling point, much to the amusement of Remainers.

    Yes, it’s not for nothing that this is one part of the “United Kingdom” which has already shown some economic growth, while the rest of the British economy has been shrinking...

    So now a “green lane” with reduced checks at the “Border in the Irish Sea” is to be opened for goods destined to stay in Northern Ireland, while goods continuing into Ireland and the rest of the EU will take a “red lane” so as to be checked.

    As for the “Orange Lane”, that is, the deeply reactionary Unionist one, it remains open all the way into the heart of the Westminster government, as always.