Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Belfast Trade Union Rally against public service cuts

Trade Union Rally Belfast October 23rd 2010 03On Saturday Norngirl and I gathered in the crowd before a mobile stage set up in front of Belfast City Hall. The rain was pouring down soaking anyone without an umbrella but with a firm statement to make, thousands had turned out to tell our Finance Minister and the current coalition government exactly what the trade unions and like minded people think of their solution to the country's financial problems. Flags, banners, music and speeches were seen in front of a wet but determined crowd.

I'd never been to a trade union rally before - mainly due to the fact I'm not a member of a trade union or even work in a trade that has a trade union but in this day and age a bit of solidarity is much needed. Norngirl is a member of a union but I think we would have gone along anyway. We wanted to show our support in opposing the austerity measures in public spending to be inflicted on this part of the world and also to try and get some of the politicians in Northern Ireland (the ones who think they are above being held accountable for their actions just because there are hard choices to be made) to think twice... like Finance Minister Sammy Wilson who decided to tell everyone before hand that the protest was "a waste of time".

As reported by the BBC and was said quite eloquently at the rally by ICTU Assistant General Secretary Peter Bunting:

"What annoys Sammy Wilson most is you being here today. [...] Sammy wants us to sit down, shut up and take our medicine - like good patients for his prescription of austerity and privatisation."

Trade Union Rally Belfast October 23rd 2010 04

Thankfully not all of his colleagues agreed and the social Development Minister and Education Minister attended the event. Maybe he should listen to people first and then make his mind up rather than make his mind up and complain about people's criticism? You would think he would have learnt from his highly controversial spell as Environment minister and look how that turned out for him. To be hoped he's better with maths than science but anyway, back on topic.

For me, the saddest thing is when the government's only plan is to ask the every day hard working person to pay more than their fair share to fix a problem most helped prevent rather than cause. A plan that was dreamt up by the same political party who encouraged the philosophy and ethos which resulted in the need to bail the banks out in the first place. Yet the way the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition have chosen to proceed just places even more trust and control to the very same organisations that have been shown by their failings to be inept, greedy and untrustworthy. So politically the cuts are Conservative in nature - using the opportunity to pass more control of government to business, to pass even more of what I would see as the government's responsibility on to big business in the hope they will be able to do a better job.

Trade Union Rally Belfast October 23rd 2010
I mean why should our government worry about looking after the basic needs of society and its future health and mobility?

David Cameron wants us to look after that aspect of society for free as a part of his 'Big Society', and whilst we'll all be happily doing our bit (twice over) to get the country out of a mess, is he going to put pressure on private businesses to give people more money or time off to help us achieve his public aim? I doubt it very much. I rather predict that if our government didn't bend over to their friends in big business, their friends wouldn't be so friendly and would take their bat and balls away to play with another country and leave us even worse off. Some would say that's 'market forces' other might find blackmail more appropriate.

So the plan is to let big business have more control so they'll stay and even more will want a slice and of course they will. They're operating to make a profit, and so they should if that is what the business is set up to do, but how many investors will hang around when the going gets tough since many are even finding ways around paying tax when the going is good? Unlike our Finance Minister's attitude to those trying to make their voice heard, maybe he, along with MPs on a national scale (especially those who have the final say in Westminster), should be putting up a little bit more of a fight. Maybe standing up for those who elected them when it comes to clawing back the bailout deficit? Is it unreasonable to expect government to first demand a proportionate amount from those who gambled and lost causing the problem? Especially from the likes of the financial sector, an industry where the highest level of incompetence is rewarded by pay-offs. Payouts only outshone by the extremely disproportionate bonuses awarded for even the smallest success.

Yet instead what do we have coming? Well Corporation tax with this government is expected to be dropped to 24p per £1 of profit for large businesses. To put that in perspective it will be the lowest corporation tax of all the G20 countries and the lowest of any large western economy including the USA!

It is also the lowest rate this country will have ever had and a reduction of a huge 9% from 1997. In that time we have gone from boom to bust and instead of asking the businesses who have profited in this time from operating in this country to help bring back their own good times the majority of that bad debt is passed onto the lowest denominator... the individual who isn't positioned to argue back.

Trade Union Rally Belfast October 23rd 2010 01I honestly do realise that commerce, trade, the financial markets and interactions between government, the public taxpayer, other stakeholders and the business world are a little more complicated than the simplistic views I'm waffling on about here and there are safeguards (at some levels) in place, but sometimes the set up just becomes a huge joke which might be legal but it isn't right and it winds me up.

I'm sure I'm not alone in being very worried about the attitude of putting even more faith in non-democratically elected hands in regards to the welfare of the state. The current record of private enterprise holding back from making poor choices for short term gain is not good. Things might get better but then, if and when it all goes wrong again, where do we end up? After a few such cycles and a few currency wars, when do we either declare the country bankrupt or have the package we call the UK bought out like a football club with the cost of the debt of buying us secured against the country and further strip the country of its assets?

Inept government choices and greed of the financial world apart, when are the chummy pals in higher government in the UK going to earn their keep? Even our First Minister and Deputy First Minister are trying to get the government to see some sense in relation to Northern Ireland's funding.

It is understandable that people stand up for their livelihoods and that today means saying "no" to non-democratically elected individuals and organisations getting away with not paying their fair share. To call for a change in philosophy when it comes to finding a better way rather than taking the easiest way out of the situation and to call for better governance of what we do have.

What sort of life are we setting up for those future generations who aren't born into a privileged background? If we only have a puppet government which is only there to facilitate economic forces, at what point does the power of democracy shrink to the point where we're not working to live, we're living to work, or have I just got the wrong end of the stick when it comes to the average citizens role in life? I thought freedom was somewhere in that list of human rights.

Trade Union Rally Belfast October 23rd 2010 05
The job losses in Northern Ireland have been generally reported in the local press at a figure of around 30,000 in the public sector. That doesn't include the knock on effect this will have on the private sector. Unions such as UNISON and NIPSA are trying to protect the public sector. That is, trying to protect jobs and prevent the government detrimentally affecting the most vulnerable in society. They will undoubtedly oppose cuts which impact worst on front-line services in anyway possible. In the likes of myself there is support from those working outside the public sector even if we can't actually do anything but add volume to their voice. I may not agree with every last point I heard at the rally but compared to what I hear from Westminster and from our own Finance Minister here in Northern Ireland, it's a point of view with reason and with people rather than profit at heart. That is admirable in my book and it was well worth getting a soaking for.


  1. The other day one of our union representatives passed out a flyer with the names of the candidates that the union is supporting. I believe every single one of them was a democrat and I'm not voting for a single one of them.

    My union is supporting a ballot initiative on Amendments 5 and 6 and I will vote 'yes' on that though to help combat gerrymandering.

  2. I guess in the UK politics mirrors the US in some respects. Oddly though with the multi-party system we already have a gerrymandered system which suits the two largest parties in England. Oddly part of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government see's two parties with different views on the voting system working together so it's all a big tangled mess. Hopefully though there will be some reform. Not that it effects Northern Ireland that much. Politics here means other people choose what happens. It's almost like being allowed to shout but only from inside a glass box and only a murmur gets heard where or when it matters. Gotta love politics!



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