The Blanket

Fighting the Sharks

Sean Smyth 16.09.02

In recent weeks we have seen the reality of privatising in Northern Ireland with the sacking of twenty-three workers at Aldergrove Airport for taking strike action in their demand for a living wage.

And with the publishing of the finance plan for (NI) The Assembly has shown that it is set to push through the privatisation of our health, education, and public transport under a massive extension of the private finance initiative (PFI) and public private partnerships (PPP) which will lead to the minimum wage rapidly becoming the maximum wage for many workers in NI.

The assembly's finance committee is recommending the extension of PFI/PPP in to all areas of the public sector. At the end of last December Tony Blair was pushed onto the defensive about his plans to extend privatising major trade unions and even some Labour MPs told Blair that they were not prepared to allow the NHS and schools to go the same way as the disastrous privatised railways.

But in Northern Ireland there has been virtually no debate on the issue because the UUP, SF, DUP, SDLP are all in favour of PFI/PPP. Before the Assembly report was even published, the DUP's Peter Robinson and SF's Martin Mc Guinness both set up new PFI working parties in their departments. Robinson wants to use PFI/PPP to privatise public transport and water. In his 10 year plan he said that Translink were to get a extra 310 million, half of which is to come from the private sector which will lead to cuts in bus and rail services and job loses.

And since 1995, 50% of the water service ground staff have been replaced by out-side contractors (privatisation through the back door) and in this time we have had two cases of water poisoning. And now we have Sean Farren SDLP supporting the minister for DRD saying that we will all have to pay between £40, and £50, extra per house hold for our water supply.

Martin McGuinness says that PFI is an "innovative procurement method" for schools but in reality it is just over a year since the North Win consortium handed over a new block, built under PFI/PPP to the NWIFHE. Already the collage is £1.5 million in debt and unable to pay the exorbitant mortgage costs due to North Win.

Waiting lists on the NHS are longer than ever, and have increased from 48,000 to 57,000 in one year. There is a 12-month waiting list for heart surgery and a 18 month wait for other surgeries. and still the minister for health SFs Bairbre de Brun is happy to implement PPP/PFI in to the national health service.

PFI was dreamt up by the Maggie Thatcher and the Tory Government in 1992. PFI means paying private firms to build and maintain schools, hospitals, and other public services. The contract/mortgage is usually for 25 to 30 years, during which time the private firm is guaranteed a profit of up to 16 or 18 per cent, at the end of the contract/ mortgage the private firm owns the building.

Despite the appalling record of PFI/PPP and introduction of profit motive, the main parties in the Assembly claim there is no alternative and that all money coming from Britain has a condition that 14 per cent of it will be spent on PFI/PPP projects.

The four main unionist and nationalist parties at Stormont claim that they are unable to get extra money for public spending because of the unfair "BARNETT FORMULA"(which decides the amount of money given to Northern Ireland) and because they do not have tax varying powers.

But all four of them have been lobbying to lower corporation taxes in the North of Ireland to the same low level as in the South, from 30 per cent to 12, or even 10 per cent. This is a formula for less money for public services rather than more. As it is manufacturing industry in the North is exempted from paying rates, local and multinational companies get generous subsidies and "tax holidays" of up to five years, this is a massive level of corporate welfare.

PFI/PPP is just another means of giving more public money into the private hands. There is a growing resistance, especially within the trade unions to PFI/PPP in Britain. Millions of people have a deep suspicion about the corporate takeover of public services. Such privatisation is a key part of the WTO trade liberalisation agenda, being promoted by the EU through the General Agreement on trade in services (GATS).

Many trade unions in Northern Ireland have policies opposing PFI/PPP. What is needed is a clear resistance to the privatisation agenda, linked to a demand to tax the rich to pay for health, education, public transport and welfare.

The political parties will not lead that fight, they have declared their position. It's time for the unions to organise a massive campaign against PFI/PPP and to defend public services and jobs and wages. For the last thirty-plus years the working class has born the brunt of sectarian attacks. Now when things should be getting better for all, it is the working class who is again in the front line - this time not only from sectarianism but all so from the multinational capitalist corporations and the Stormont Assembly who sit in their ivory towers telling us there is nothing they can do about it, and that it is the best deal for NI.

The working class in NI need leadership from their unions the ICTU and the trade groups. By uniting the workers under the battle cry of no privatisation for the first time in many a long year the trade union movement has a change to unite workers on a common goal which could lead to the defeat of sectarianism.

PPP/PFI destroys not only jobs but all so communities and puts profit before people, say no to the privatisation of our public services and remember the Assembly elections are only 9 months away. You voted them in - you can vote them OUT.

Workers of the NI unite.

The author is an Independent Socialist






Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives





Start doing the things you think should be done, and start being what you think society should become. Do you believe in free speech? Then speak freely. Do you love the truth? Then tell it. Do you believe in an open society? Then act in the open. Do you believe in a decent and humane society? Then behave decently and humanely.
- Adam Michnik

Index: Current Articles

11 Ocotber 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Just Desserts?
Anthony McIntyre


'Robocop' Raid Seen as PSNI Reversion
Eamonn McCann


A Secret History of the IRA
Niall Stanage


Immigrant Slave Labour
Liam O Ruairc


Fighting the Sharks
Sean Smyth


Academics on Independence, Part 2

Paul Fitzsimmons


Wake Up and Smell the Occupation
Sam Bahour


From the Mouths of Babes
John Chuckman


6 October 2002


That Book
Tommy McKearney


"SOS - Save Our Stormont"

Anthony McIntyre


Birds of Ireland
Brian Mór


The Right to Live
Davy Carlin


Interview with Colombian Human Rights Worker



Willpower of Revolutionaries




The Blanket




Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices