What is the
Programme for National Recovery?

The Programme for National Recovery, launched in October 1987, was the culmination of almost a year of talks between the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the then Fianna Fail government led by Charlie Haughey. It was a three-year deal which committed the trade union movement to industrial peace in return for 'moderate' pay increases (i.e less than inflation), tax reform, and government action on unemployment. Pointing to the situation in Britain where Thatcher had decimated trade union organisation, ICTU leaders claimed that the deal would protect the movement here from similar attacks from the right.

It was sold to workers on the basis that by accepting pay increases which were lower than inflation, this would help the government to get the public finances under control and that as a result of this jobs would be created. Despite the fact that within days of the Programme's launch (at a Press reception attended by the entire Fianna Fail cabinet and the leadership of ICTU) the government announced a massive round of public service cuts, and despite the fact that the Programme itself specifically endorsed job losses in the public sector, ICTU leaders heralded the PNR as a victory for the trade union movement.

What ICTU failed to point out was that the only side which had given specific commitments in the deal was the trade unions. While pay increases were specifically pegged at rates which were well below expected inflation - with no review for at least two years - commitments by government and employers were couched in vague and generalised terms. Indeed, it would be more correct to describe them as aspirations rather than commitments. The deal was opposed by some on the grounds that it was a poor deal, that more could have been achieved with stronger negotiators. Others - including the WSM - opposed the very notion of the trade union leadership doing centralised deals with government and employers over the heads of the members.

So began what was to become known as "social partnership", leading to The Programme for Economic and Social Progress (1991 - 1993) and the current deal the Programme for Competitiveness and Work (due to run until the end of 1996). Each succesive deal has brought ICTU closer and closer to the government - to the extent that it is no exaggeration to describe them as being the third arm of the current Fianna Fail/Labour coalition government. All of the consequences pointed out by the deals' opponents back in 1987 have come to fruition.

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This article first appeared in Red & Black Revolution No 1.
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