ICTU President Brian Campfield at the SF Ard Fheis

I wish to thank Sinn Fein for providing the opportunity to address this Ard Fheis on behalf the Irish trade union movement.

It is of course an historic year during which we are commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising and the trade unions, generally, if not universally, take great pride in the role played by James Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army  in the Rising. I say generally because trades unions are also victims of the divisions in our country and in the interests of working class and trade union unity we have had to adopt a nuanced approach to  1916 and related events.

In respect of Connolly’s role in 1916 he was taking a stand against Empire,  he was taking a stand  against  the slaughter of the First World War and  in doing so he was claiming a stake for a Workers’ Republic in Ireland.His vision of a country where  working men and women would be enjoy the fruits of their own labour  hasn’t yet been realised.

Three years before the Rising in 1913 both Connolly and Larkin were pitted in the bitterest of battles  against the Dublin Employers and William Martin Murphy  and his ilk; the representatives of that class of Irishman who would disown and betray the national cause on a colossal scale.

Yet in this Republic  of  today  the employers, the Capitalist Class, take pride of place and their interests trump that of workers, their families and their communities.The modern day William Martin Murphys  are operating a new form of slavery and serfdom, trying to control workers through zero hours contracts, flexible employment contracts and not so well concealed bullying and intimidation and anti- unions policies. Most of these  companies, to  paraphrase   Brookeborough the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland , would  not have a trade unionist about the place and many of them don’t.

Others tolerate unions because they have no choice and at this point I wish to pay tribute of the workers in  Dunne’s Stores  who have refused to be intimidated by one of our own home grown capitalists and to the TESCO workers who are enduring the might of a multi- national giant with a courage  and spirit not unlike  that of the men and women of 1916.

In 2016, and not only in Ireland, there is a grave inequality of wealth and this is primarily the consequence of a gross imbalance of power. This is exemplified starkly in the power of large corporations to sue governments for policy decisions which interfere with their bottom line, profits; the power of companies to shut up shop, transfer their production and devastate communities and families without any consequences.

And the virtually secret negotiations between the European Commission and Canada and the US on  the Canadian and European and the  Trans -Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership will deliver even greater power to corporations through the creation of private secret courts to enable corporations to sue governments. It will also give effect to an extended system of regulatory convergence which will cause immense problems in relations to environmental , food safety and other standards.

In a nut shell CETA and TTIP and the increasing power of corporations equate to the hollowing out of what democracy we have left and our political system and governments will be  further  weakened as the power and influence of the corporations is consolidated. The European Commission and our governments are trading away democracy.We need to build a campaign here in Ireland to oppose these proposed agreements. We need to do it in the interests of democracy and we need to do it in to protect both citizens and workers alike.

Colleagues, in an effort to redress some of these inequalities Congress has developed a 10 point plan for workers. We have communicated this to all political parties in the Republic of Ireland.

We are demanding

  1. Significant improvements to the pay and terms and conditions of employees and the introduction of statutory mechanisms to deliver these objectives
  1. A democratic, accountable high quality education system which is inclusive, affordable and accessible; with a share of public spending of at least 7% of GDP, with proper contracts and tenure for staff and priority for the educationally disadvantaged and those with special educational needs.
  1. A universal single tiered health system, democratically accountable, responsive to the needs of citizens and with a spend of a minimum of 10%of GDP.
  1. An unprecedented programme of investment in affordable and social housing targeted at resolving the housing crisis by 2019, the 100th anniversary of the 1919 Democratic Programme.
  1. The abolition of the current system of water charges and a referendum to enshrine public ownership and control of our water sector.

In addition we have laid out our demands in relation to Youth, Childcare, and the proper resourcing of our important community sector which employs thousands of workers  delivering vital services.

We also demand a new approach to pensions, no increase in pension age and a positive resolution to the problem created by the increase in the pension age to 66, leaving many workers between the devil and the deep blue sea after they are retired at age 65.

We also need to address the systematic removal of trade union representatives from decision making  processes in this state. We need to reinstate  the  Workers’ Voice to counter that of powerful pro- business interests.

In respect of Northern Ireland let me say that we value devolved government because it has enabled us to avoid or mitigate some of the worst of the Westminster Tory policies. We will continue to campaign against all austerity measures irrespective from where they emanate and we will continue to expose the plans to reduce corporation tax as unacceptable. We will continue to fight privatisation of any public services or functions.

Delegates, guests, the Irish trade union movement will work with all parties that are committed to improving the position of working people, we will criticise and campaign against any injustices and we will work towards the fulfilment of Connolly’s aim to establish a Workers Republic in this country, where it is the people who  exercise the power not  the corporations, not the  home grown capitalists and not institutions such as the European Commission.

I will conclude with the words of Jemmy Hope, perhaps the most radical of the United Irishmen. The import of these  words is as true today as they were when he wrote them.

“It was my settled opinion that the condition of the labouring class was the fundamental question at issue between the rulers and the people, and there could be no solid foundation for liberty, till measures were adopted that went to the root of the evil, and were specially directed to the natural right of the people, the deriving  a subsistence rom the soil on which their labour was expended.”

In the modern context, these words will find a resonance with all those workers who are struggling today for a decent wage, for  fair terms and conditions of employment and for their future employment security.

I wish you success for the remainder of this Ard Fheis  and look forward to working with you and all other progressive forces in Irish society, North and South,  to advance the interests of the Irish Working Class.

Go Raibh Maith Agat