Today in the twenty six counties the free state government, employers organisations, headed by IBEC (Irish Business and Employers Confederation) and the ICTU (Irish Congress of Trade Unions) unions are in what can only be described as a betrayal of the organised working class. By organised I mean those workers who are organised into trade unions. The agreement between the above trio is called “Partnership” which is basically an agreement which the employers can break at any time it suits them, as they have already done. The ICTU affiliated unions agreed with their “partners” last September a deal which was suppossed to last for three years. This deal was well below what any self respecting trade unionist would argue for, the exact details I have not got at hand but are not relevant to the point in question, an agreement which tied the hands of those sections of workers who wished to fight. Of course the employers and governmnet are delighted that they can immobilise a large section of the organised working class with the conivance of their leaders.
Since last September the employers and government have broken this, at best pathetic, agreement as even this was not sufficient for them in their assault on the proleteriat. The trade unions had to respond to this, what can only be described as a betrayal, by balloting their members for a one day strike due to take place on March 30th 2009. One union, IMPACT, failed to get the two thirds majority needed to sanction the industrial action. They were one percent short of this suicidal figure. The two thirds rule is a liability and should be replaced by a simple majority. This was sufficient for the ICTU unions to return to the negotiating table and call the intended action off. This action had been mandated by the other ICTU affiliated unions but this tiny detail was conviniently forgotten or overlooked in their, the leaderships, hurry to get back in the employers good books. The ICTU union leaders were delighted to be back at the negotiating table. At this point it may be correct to explain what negotiating means, it does not mean the same as consultation which it appears many union chiefs have forgotten. Negotiation means going in with a militant plan to attain the best available deal appertaining to a given situation which under “Partnership” the ICTU union leadership failed to do. This “Partnership” was/is very much weighted towards the employers favour and ties the hands of any militant shop stewards movements. It is a case of the ICTU leadership plotting out a map of coexistence with the employers whose interests are poles apart from the union members they are suppossed to represent.
The shop stewards and the local union shop is the backbone of any trade union and not those highly paid fat cats at the top. It is often very difficult to spot the difference between a trade union leader and the employers, not only because they dress similar which in itself is not a problem but when the language used is identical then there is a problem. Under “Partnership” the hands of the shop stewards and the rank and file union members are tied in a manner not dissimilar to handcuffing. “Partnership” has resulted with the union boses accepting that workers must realise a cut in living standards is inevitable to bail the capitalist system out of the mess the bourgeoisie have made of it. Due to incompetence on behalf of the employing classes. the bankers, property speculators, developers etc. the workers have to pay, and pay with the conivance of their union leaders. It is time for the shop stewards movements to reassert themselves and call lightening action over the heads of the official trade union leadership.
However all is not lost. There is a breed of new unions slowly coming through most prominently led by the Independent Workers Union who are not shackled by “Partnership” simply because they are not affilliated to ICTU. ‘a group of Irish Trade Unionists, organised around the IWU, is convinced that organised labour as it is presently structured under the ICTU has lost its way. The leaders of the large, bureaucratic unions have become little more than an arm of management and the state. They often function to control workers rather than advance their interests’. These words from the IWU are vindicated by the actions of the ICTU leaders in negotiating/ being consulted within the terms of “Partnership”. As a member and activist of the IWU I am convinced this union will not go down the same avenue of betrayal. We follow in the footsteps of Connolly and Larkin and will continue to do so.
Irish Republican Socialist Party
Branch Secretary Dublin Cumann.