The NESC, which "traditionally provides the framework document for national agreements" is itself made up of experts from 'the social partners' and provides much of the consensus and direction of each Programme before the government, the union leaders and the employers even sit down. Long before you are called to give your views at consultative meetings of shop stewards, or special delegate conferences, the bones of the next agreement will have been worked out by economists and researchers.
As regards the public service the government seems to want a new agreement in place even before P2000 runs out and before talks on a new national Programme begin. (The public service apparently has the capacity to accommodate an infinite number of parallel universes, each with its own Programme.) Having seen off Conciliation and Arbitration, the government wants to replace relativity with performance-related pay, within a year.
It all sounds familiar. The government plans to open negotiations with the ICTU on this new agreement immediately. We presume the ICTU will come to the relevant members (such as the Fire-fighters!) for a mandate with which to enter these negotiations!!
Bertie Ahern has also reactivated the 'community and voluntary' wing of consensus, the National Economic and Social Forum, and extended its mandate in "evaluating the effectiveness of policies which are being implemented within the framework of social partnership agreements" ('Irish Times', 13-11-98).
We are also told that "the debate on what comes after Partnership 2000 has already begun in the trade union movement". Had you noticed? Or have you ever noticed a debate on any of the Programmes in the literature of our own Union before a ballot? (In a referendum the government must now give coverage to both sides.)
Apparently, there was a think-in, among the union leaders (we are fed wads of hype about workplace partnership), in Galway last month. So far, what has got to the members from this debate has been provided by the media. ATGWU leader, Michael O'Reilly, makes an interesting claim ('Irish Times', 13-11-98): "if there was one vote per person in the trade union movement (as opposed to bloc votes at an ICTU conference) we would reject these agreements."
But be afraid, be very afraid. Bertie Ahern has spoken of "a framework for the next decade" and (by a strange coincidence) Peter Cassells has mentioned a "ten-year plan"!
The 'social partners' - clearly determined to perpetuate partnership - are on the ball in preparing for a replacement for P2000. The '43 percent' in SIPTU, and - if Michael O'Reilly is correct - the majority in the ICTU, should begin to gird our loins for a heave against P2001.