How the Actions of the Prison Officers Association and the Irish Police Demonstrate the Need to Oppose Austerity Now, Not Later

Austerity is biting hard and even workers who are legally blocked from taking strike action are fighting back. Thus today, members of the Prison Officers Association (POA) union took united industrial action in reaction to the Government’s failure to maintain a safe and functioning prison service.

These brave workers successfully protested for much of the day, before eventually being forced to return to work when the Courts deemed their collective defiance illegal. Locally, Anthony Cook, who is the POA branch chairman at Leicester Prison, reported to the local press how 45 officers took part “in the protest action, which is pretty much most of us in all honesty.” (November 15, Leicester Mercury)

Attacks on prison officers and prisoners alike has reached intolerable levels, and while the Government’s Justice Secretary, Liz Truss, has now offered to increase the number of frontline officers by 2,500 over the next two years, this is nowhere near enough. Bear in mind that since 2010 the Government has already cut 6,000 frontline prison officers, thereby ensuring that our prisons have become increasingly unsafe and dysfunctional.

Such frontal political attacks on workers’ rights are being enforced upon the global working-class, and another good example is provided by the Irish police (as members of the Garda Representatives Association) who earlier this month were set to take open strike action, in violation of the law. This illegal strike was only called off at the last hour when the police succeeded in forcing the hand of their pro-austerity Government.

In Ireland, the resurgence of public interest in opposing the pointless and poverty-inducing politics of austerity is being concretely demonstrated by the increasing popularity of the Anti-Austerity Alliance. Yet in a desperate attempt to crush such inspiring signs of public resistance the Government is in the process of attempting to imprison their political opponents: thus Anti-Austerity Alliance MP, Paul Murphy, along with 17 other adults, is being charged with kidnapping, because they took part in a peaceful protest in front of the car of the then Tanaiste (deputy prime minister) and leader of the Labour Party, Joan Burton.

This attack on Irish workers came to a head last month when a seventeen year-old student who participated in this protest was found guilty of kidnapping (that is, falsely imprisoning Joan Burton), although because of his age he did not receive a prison sentence. But now the State has “proven” that this one student was guilty, it seems likely that the other 18 adults will likewise be found guilty, although they are likely to face lengthy prison sentences when their show trials eventually take place early next year. This political attack on workers and their political representatives must be, and will be, vigorously opposed (for further details see their ‘Jobstown Not Guilty’ campaign @Jobienotguilty).

Back in Britain, todays industrial action, considered alongside Jeremy Corbyn’s timely propulsion to the leadership of the Labour Party, demonstrate that a serious fightback against austerity is urgently needed and can be won. But for the Labour Party to begin to play a serious role in aiding this fightback, democratic processes must be brought back to the Party’s internal structures, so that those Blairite political representatives who don’t believe Tory cuts and austerity can be fought can swept aside and replaced with genuine socialists!

POA protest in Leicester (photo from Leicester Mercury)

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