A rump clinging to the coat-tails of a future “partnership”?

Recent media reports suggest that, with a supposed “recovery” on the horizon, employers and unions are increasingly making noises about a return to some sort of partnership structure. The leadership of the unions, most notably Jack O’Connor and Shay Cody, have raised the idea of reconstituting some type of formal Employer-Labour Conference.
IBEC’s response has been a cautious mixture: on the one hand, not entirely ruling out the possibility of such a forum, if only to deal with protracted individual disputes, while on the other, maintaining that firms are at different stages, and centralised wage direction is not an immediate priority.
The minister for jobs, enterprise and innovation, Richard Bruton, does not believe that any return to national-level bargaining would be feasible or desirable at present and suggests that this will probably remain the situation for a further “eighteen to twenty-four months.”
However, the union leadership appear to be of the view that if they make enough noise about an “inevitable” and “forthcoming” wage explosion the Government and employers will come to their senses, and unions will find themselves once more at the national table.
There is no doubt that within union officialdom at present there is a perception that, while things might be tough now, when the recovery sets in they will “get their own back,” so to speak.
The unions’ confidence on this front derives in part from two sources. One is the registration of wage increases in parts of the unionised sector in recent years. The second derives from a perception that the present crisis is simply cyclical, a normal business cycle of boom and bust, and that the economy has now passed the trough.
In reality, this confidence is misplaced. While it is true that wage increases have occurred in some profitable unionised firms, it is wrong to assume that general rising wage settlements are a matter of course. Most of this current wage growth has accrued to those workers in sections of the export manufacturing sector. This sector, dominated by the pharmaceutical and medical-device capitalists, has been generally sheltered from the effects of the recession. Such firms have maintained sufficient profitability to be able to continue meeting modest pay claims, partly in line with the last, stillborn national wage agreement and simply as a matter of due operational course.
The capitalists operating exclusively in the Irish market and SME sector, however, continue to face stagnation in the domestic economy and pressures to reduce unit labour costs in an effort to survive.
Furthermore, in a context of mass unemployment it seems improbable that the wage gains in the sheltered sector derived from any union bargaining power. Much of the modest pay increases have been accompanied by significant productivity concessions. The pharmaceutical and medical-device sector has undergone intensive productivity drives and labour-process restructurings in recent years, which have probably raised the relative rate of surplus value among workers in these firms. In most of these firms the union at the company level remains a fairly hollow shell, characterised by weak local structures, inexperienced shop stewards, and demoralised membership.
While there is of course some shallow evidence of wage increases in other sectors, such as retail, these figures can be misleading. The weekly Industrial Relations News reports that about 22,000 workers in retail secured wage increases in 2013. However, 14,000 of these were Dunne’s Stores workers; this pay move was a unilateral decision by the management and not negotiated through collective bargaining.
Even then some of the deals have included pay pauses or longer phases of pay-out, which would have brought down the average pay increase per year significantly. Like the pharmaceutical and medical-device sector, such deals have also included significant productivity items over and above “normal ongoing change.”
Recent macro-economic reviews by the Central Bank and the Central Statistics Office also cast doubt on any wage explosion arising in the near future. The data in these reports indicates that a high level of slack in the labour market, along with pay restraint in the public sector, is expected to keep economy-wide wage pressures well anchored from 2015 onwards.
In its latest quarterly report the Central Bank says that economy-wide pay per employee “probably registered a small decline” in 2013. It also notes that reductions in hourly pay, which were rare when employment losses were greatest during 2010 and 2011, have recently become a feature of the data.
The CSO’s earnings, hours and employment costs survey provides further evidence of wage reductions in 2013. On a quarterly basis, it says, economy-wide wages declined by 2.4 per cent in the third quarter. Comparing the first nine months of 2013 with the same period of 2012, weekly earnings are down by 0.9 per cent, which the Central Bank says is “consistent with the trend in compensation from the National Accounts.”
When less than a fifth of workers in the private sector are union members, when inflation averages a mere 0.5 per cent at present, and when GDP is down 2.3 per cent (the worst since 2008), it is difficult to see where a unionised wage explosion will come from. With the private labour force well disciplined by unemployment, and public-sector unions shackled until 2017 (thereby eliminating the relevant budgetary issues from the current labour cost expenditure equation), it is unlikely that the state and employers will have any need to invite unions into “managing our recovery” and constructing some sort of “understanding” on the industrial front regarding wage inflation.
Yet it is revealing that this is the best of all possible worlds that the union leadership can seem to envisage.
It’s tempting to maintain that the union movement appears slow to wake up to the potential game-changing quality of the present crisis. As Milton Friedman once observed, ruling classes should never let a good crisis go to waste. This is precisely the dictum our elites are following. As the CPI recently argued, the “Troika,” in alliance with the Irish ruling class, are engaged in a project precisely to ensure that the present crisis does not go to waste.
The aim is to fundamentally restructure the rules of the game between capital and labour. The project is to construct a “flexible” low-wage zone, filled with pliable labour, to facilitate the transfer of wealth from working people upwards to the Irish ruling class, and to create an amenable environment for foreign capitalists to operate in.
The unions, on the other hand, appear to believe that this is just a normal business cycle and that things will soon return to the days before the crisis. At the annual Jim Larkin Commemoration in Glasnevin Cemetery on the 2nd of February, Jack O’Connor said, for example, that the unions “must apply ourselves . . . to the immediate task of recovering ground which has been temporarily lost over the crisis years.”
As noted above, this strategy is to to secure significant rounds of pay increases and thereby coax employers and the state back to some sort of tripartitism. The result of this would probably be for the unions to subsequently exchange wage restraint for some tax reliefs.
In a context of weak local-level structures, demoralised membership and private-sector erosion, engagement with capital and the state—from a position of weakness rather than strength—is unlikely to be a strategy for revitalisation and growth. At best it indicates a role for the union leadership as pay moderators for a declining rump of union members and a road to further marginalisation and decline.
[NC] – taken from http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/02-unions.html April’s Socialist Voice

Legal attack on SIPTU is a warning to unions

Recently, various stories have appeared in the capitalist media about pay increases, hinting that IBEC and SIPTU want to return to some form of “social partnership,” purely on the pay issue. (None of the woolly stuff about social issues.)
At the same time, capitalist shock-troops are using different negotiating tactics: force and intimidation. On the one hand, employers’ organisations have been leaking stories about pay increases; however, they want the “pay increases” to come from a reduction in tax. In other words, everyone finances pay increases for employers, so they increase their profits, and there is a further reduction in public services.
In 2007 the Ryanair case undermined the concept of collective bargaining by claiming that unions could not engage with Ryanair’s internal pay negotiating structure. The courts supported Ryanair, allowing employers to ignore collective bargaining. Later, when the capitalist class launched their attack on the working class they first separated the private and public sectors.
The public sector is the most unionised part of the labour force. Over the years it has fought for, and obtained, good pay and conditions, which set a benchmark for the private sector. Consequently, it needed to be broken. Collective agreements were useful to the capitalist state when it came to attacking its own workers.
By means of the principle of divide and conquer, the public sector was first of all isolated and vilified by a vicious campaign in the media, with lies and misinformation about gold-plated pensions and huge salaries. This created an environment in which public-sector pay could be cut, and a special tax, called a “pension levy,” was imposed, using “emergency legislation.”
The public sector was to be browbeaten into submission. The Haddington Road Agreement and the “financial emergency measures in the public interest” legislation were the icing on the cake.
Once the public sector was taken care of, the emphasis shifted to the private sector. Whereas union membership is over 90 per cent in the public sector, in the private sector some estimates put it as low as 20 per cent. This has arisen for a number of reasons (which will be dealt with in a future article).
SIPTU is the largest union in the private sector. The latest move against it arises from the threatened strike at Dublin Airport over the defined-benefit pension scheme. Socialist Voice has already pointed out that pension schemes will be an area of attack in the battle to increase profits and reduce wages. The attack on SIPTU is not just aimed at doing it irreparable damage but also serves as a warning to the other unions that there will be consequences for any industrial action.
In the Nolan Transport case in the 1990s the Chief Justice stated that the class struggle was over. He accepted that unions exist to act for their members, and called on employers to recognise that fact. That strike also involved SIPTU, and the whole process of going through the courts cost it heavily, in members’ hard-earned subscriptions.
Now Aer Lingus (which is partly owned by the Government) is after SIPTU. Aer Lingus is suing for millions which it claims it lost over the threatened strike in March. The minister for transport, Leo Varadkar, described the Aer Lingus action as unhelpful but did nothing to stop it. Ryanair might also sue.
Regardless of the outcome, the cost of defending the action in the courts will neutralise SIPTU. The union official involved in the threatened strike is also being sued. In effect, any moves within SIPTU to strike in pursuit of pay claims have been effectually silenced or weakened by the use of compliant courts to tie the union up in the legal process.
After more than two hundred years of struggle and agitation there is still no recognition of collective bargaining. Although the right to strike exists, it has been curtailed by restricting sympathy strikes, using industrial relations machinery designed to cause delays, and provisions in the Constitution protecting property rights or the rights of consumers, so that the right is fast becoming one in name only.
The employers’ organisations are well represented in the Dáil and have a sophisticated system for lobbying and propagandising through the capitalist press. The state, far from being neutral, is used by employers to protect the interests of capital and ensure that no laws are enacted that would in any way threaten the interests of big business.
Unions are recognised in name, but there is no obligation to negotiate with them. Capitalists never waste a good recession.
[NOM] Taken from April’s Socialist Voice

What kind of movement do we want?

WFTU present at the 39th Congress of FNIC – CGT in France

The WFTU participated in the 39th Congress of the FNIC – CGT Federation in France and was represented by its General Secretary, George Mavrikos, who delivered the following speech.

Dear comrades,

On behalf of the World Federation of Trade Unions, we salute the workers of the chemical Industry Sector in France, the members and cadres of FNIC. We convey a comradely, militant greeting to the Working Class and all the Workers in France. The Working Class of France has played in the past an important role in the trade union movement among the lines of the WFTU and the International class oriented trade union movement.

Your congress, the 39th Congress of the FNIC is held in a crucial period for the working class who is struggling all over the globe against the tough, unjust and barbarian anti-people policies.

In our times, in this period there are two basic characteristics that define this period:

The first is the deep crisis of the capitalist system

All over Europe, all over the capitalist world, the crisis is deep, big and prolonged. For the workers and the peoples, the consequences of the crisis are hard. The unemployment is strikingly hard. The official unemployment rates are frightening:

Greece: 27,4%

Spain: 26,7%

Croatia: 18,6%

Cyprus: 17,3%

Portugal: 15,5%

Slovakia: 14%

Bulgaria: 12,9%

Italia: 12,7%

This situation is even worse among the youth and women. Unemployment is in the DNA of capitalism and is an ally of the capital and a threat for the struggles and the conquests of the workers.

At the same time, we witness generalized privatizations in all strategic sectors of economy. The salaries and pensions are under attack, they are limited, reduced. The social rights are also taken back, informal work, undeclared work is generalized, state and employer violence and authoritarianism are the arsenal of governments.

In Europe, neo-fascism, xenophobia and racism are growing and become a mortal enemy, for the working class, for the trade union movement, for the struggles of the workers and the struggles of the Peoples. This is the current image. This is today’s capitalist reality.

The European Union, the IMF, the World Bank and the governments, whether they’re neoconservative or social democrat, claim that the crisis is –supposedly- just a “debt crisis”.

We all know that there are indeed debts, for example in Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Ireland etc. But, the attack on labor relations, the salary cuts, the attacks on social security, the privatizations, high prices of all goods are generalized phenomena in all countries, whether they’re in debt or not. The crisis of capitalism encompasses the economy, politics, environment etc. The picture is the picture of a rotten, unjust and barbarian social system.

The important struggles held in Greece, Portugal, Spain and other countries, are struggles that are directed also altogether against the rotten capitalism.

The second basic characteristic of this period is imperialist aggression.

In Ukraine, Syria, Mali, Central African Republic, the rivalries between the imperialists generate a daily death toll. Like in the cases of Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, the imperialists claim that they intervene, kill innocent people, create waves of millions of refugees and immigrants, supposedly for the protection of “democracy” and “freedom”. The imperialists are pretending. We all know the truth and the truth is that they are fighting for the sacking of natural and economic resources, for petroleum, gas, for gaining new spheres of influence, new frontiers and promote their geostrategic plans and geostrategic games against the peoples, against the natural wealth that exists in the countries receiving foreign intervention.

In this picture we should add the continuing aggression of Israel against the People of Lebanon, against the Palestinian People, who are illegally denied their right to have their own state.

Facing this situation, a central, strategic question emerges:

What kind of trade union movement does the working class need today? What kind of trade union movement do the current conditions call for?

• Does it want a trade union movement – applauder of governments or does it need a trade union movement that will unite and organize the struggles against anti-people policies?

• Does it want a trade union movement that is a mere spectator of events or does it need an active trade union movement, in the frontline, that will shape events and developments?

• Does it want a trade union movement – collaborator, partner of the capitalists or does it need an instrument, a strong mechanism of struggles and demands.

• Does it want a trade union movement – “interlocutor and partner in social dialogue” or a movement that will project the demands and will utilize all forms of struggle?

• Does it want a trade union movement without ideological and political objectives or does it need a school of struggle with ideological and political supplies that will lead to the abolition of capitalist barbarism?

• Does it want a movement that will just describe the problems or does it need a movement that will demand solutions to the problems, in favor of the popular strata?

• Does it want a movement collaborator of the EU, the IMF, the World Bank or a trade union movement that will coordinate, will organize internationalist solidarity, will support the World Working Class in every corner of the planet?

The World Federation of Trade Unions was founded in Paris in 1945 and today it has 86 million members in over 120 countries of the world, the answer to the above questions is clear and known to everybody.

In addition, we consider necessary to stress that in our day, the workers, we need to hit the bureaucracy that exists inside the trade unions, hit careerism, hit corruption.

Striking against all these negative phenomena, it’s necessary that the class, militant, internationalist characteristics of the trade unions on sectoral, national, regional and international level be reinforced.

We call all militant unionists in France, Europe and the world to work on these basic points mentioned above, for a better present, for a better future for a world with social justice and without exploitation.

Thank you

Struggle and conflict will rebuild the movement

The TULF is committed to building a fighting trade union movement capable of enhancing the lives of union members and pushing for a better and more equitable society for working class. This will only be achieved when the movement takes on a number of principles based on the reality of class struggle today.

There are now examples from across the globe of Unions that are growing and winning on the basis of militancy and class solidarity. The Unions engaged in this kind of struggle are getting gains for their members and the communities they serve, and workers are responding to this in their droves by joining these Unions.

Workers want to join a union that will engage in struggle to protect their rights and advance their standard of living. This strengthens the struggle and contributes to more wins thus reversing the vicious spiral most Unions in Ireland are currently in. The simple principles the movement must embrace are in short militant struggle, member actions, and a total rejection of partnership.

Collective bargaining and negotiations must occur in conjunction with aggressive member actions. Concessions must be opposed and if necessary to make, only following militant aggressive / defensive struggle.  Successful negotiations are only achieved by an organised membership, not at private table, but in the office, factories and in the community.   Gains not involving the membership will not be defended over time.  Deals made behind closed doors will not build the movement. . We have to reduce our reliance on the law, IR institutions and mediation. Workers’ demands must be linked and tied to the community/customers/public they serve. Union ‘training’ must be radically transformed into class political education that places local struggles in the context of society and social relations more generally.

We need to train our shop floor leaders not just to negotiate but also how to organise internally and externally. We have to educate them not to be afraid of struggle.

Before individual grievances are taken the question should be asked what have you and your members done to resolve the issue through collective action. Will your colleagues sign a petition in support of you? Will you and your colleagues occupy the HR office or do a lunchtime protest? This creates real member empowerment and practically embodies the slogan “An injury to one is an injury to all.”

In this way, organising becomes the modus operandi of the entire union as opposed to an under resourced unit added on to business as usual servicing or just the latest buzzword.

We must embrace the key national issues of the sector the Union is in with a public-led emphasis and campaign for reforms and regulations that benefit the public at large. So, in nursing it’s about patient care, in teaching it’s about free universal education, in banking it’s to prioritise services over sales and community lending over corporate speculation.

We must also champion the cause of the unemployed and not see them as at best an after-thought and this can complement a national independent political vision and programme for working people that is followed fearlessly regardless of what Party is in government or not.

International solidarity has always been a key cornerstone of our movement and we must once again embrace those workers and State’s fighting for social justice and a better world. Rather than cot tail the liberal imperialism spouted by so many do-gooder organisations and charities, we must clearly stand by democracy, sovereignty and workers in struggle for the betterment of humanity.

This is not an easy road for the movement to take. The correct one rarely is. And it will mobilise and unite enemies both domestically and internationally, and some within the movement. But this is no reason not to change. For us to continue down the path of partnership, concession and political subservience to the Labour Party is merely to manage the decline of the movement and help big business place us firmly into the dustbin of history resigning the working class to a future of low paid, insecure and precarious work or free labour and unemployment.

The TULF stands in solidarity with those unions all over the world who are choosing this difficult route and strives to organise activists in Ireland to promote class conscious trade unionism for the betterment and advancement of working people and the unemployed– our class.

For Labor To Succeed, It Has To Be Disruptive

Taken from Talking Points Memo

Rosenfeld’s latest contribution to this here book club is especially timely. For the past few weeks, the liberal commentariat has been having one of its perennial debates over whether the labor movement is dying and, if so, whether we should mourn its passing. This particular iteration of the old back-and-forth was kicked off by Bloomberg View columnist Evan Soltas, who argued that American unions are as good as dead and that’s pretty much okay.

According to Soltas, the primary function of unions is to promote the narrow interests of their dues-paying members and “provide a voice for workers that management can hear.” As a side benefit, unions also sometimes improve workplace productivity and reduce turnover, so everybody wins. It would be a shame if workers lost their voice and productivity took a hit, says Soltas, but there are technocratic fixes to those problems (such as better monetary policy) which can achieve a positive result for all without recourse to fundamentally selfish labor cartels.

Needless to say — because so many others have already said it in the intervening weeks — this line of thinking relies on a historically suspect understanding of how unions operate. The movement is not a monolith, and some unions will always pursue their own self-interest at the expense of all else, but even a cursory glimpse at American history should belies the idea that myopic acquisitiveness is somehow an intrinsic feature of organized labor. In fact, as Rosenfeld notes, so-called “cartels” of self-interested workers have always played an irreplaceable role in the struggle to lift standards for the entire working class.

That’s why there’s no top-down, technocratic fix to the hegemony of the boss: The technocratic class is unlikely to do anything of note for the working poor’s living standards unless they’re forced to. The power of organized labor rests not just in its ability to bargain with individual managers, but in its capacity for disruption on a massive scale. This country’s economy has become more egalitarian and more progressive when the working class has used that power to extract concessions from the elite.

A classic example of massive disruption put to good use would be the General Motors Sit-Down Strike of the mid-to-late 1930s. By attacking the most powerful car manufacturer in the United States, the United Automobile Workers (UAW) sought to transform the whole industry. Their victory was a pivotal moment in the fight to better living standards throughout American manufacturing, and therefore the working class as a whole, but it didn’t come easy: In order to get there, strikers had to occupy a GM plant and hold it against violent attacks from the local police department. When GM finally agreed to bargain with UAW, it was a victory for raw labor power first and foremost.

Not all confrontations between the rich and poor need be that dramatic, but the fact remains that power respects only power. The only way to improve the fortunes of the working class is to demonstrate that it has sufficient capacity to undermine any economic status quo in which it doesn’t get a fair share.

Note that this doesn’t mean organized labor exists to provide a “countervailing force” to capital, which is how Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum characterized its mission in his response to Evan Soltas. There can be no enduring balance or harmony between workers and the boss; history never makes accommodations for that sort of lasting stability, and the only reason we pine for it now is because the post-World War II status quo briefly made the dream of a balance between class interests seem at least semi-plausible. We don’t have the luxury of such illusions now. So long as there is class, there will be class struggle.

The question, then, is what shape that struggle will assume in the future. Soltas and Drum may very well be right in at least one regard: The modern American union is a historically idiosyncratic phenomenon, shaped by legal institutions which emerged only in the mid-20th century. That form of organized labor was never going to last forever, but that doesn’t mean labor will stop organizing once it’s gone. Unions were around long before the passage of the National Labor Relations Act, and they’ll be around long after the post-NLRA labor system has crumbled. What they’ll look like then is anyone’s guess.

Ned Resnikoff is a reporter at msnbc.com, covering issues of class, labor, inequality and climate change.

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/cafe/for-labor-to-succeed-it-has-to-be-disruptive

Tribute to Bob Crow

Bob Crow

The Trade Union Left Forum is saddened by the death of Bob Crow, and wishes to express its condolences to his family, and to the members of the RMT and workers more generally, which he led with such ability, courage and dedication.

He showed clear principled leadership to his members, defending and advancing there interests and that of our class. Under his leadership, membership of the RMT increased by more than 20,000 embracing workers ranging from seafarers and rail staff to cleaners.

He was admired by large sections of the British working class. Bob stood out among trade union leaders for his commitment to working class principles and his opposition to class collaboration (social partnership). He was class conscious political trade unionism, for advancing the power of the working class for the achievement of a better society.

He believed in resisting the anti-working class austerity policies of the British Government, whether Labour or Conservative.  He and his union showed that this resistance is indeed possible and must be the basis upon which the movement rebuilds itself.

He and his union maintained a position of complete opposition to the European Union and what it stands for – profits for monopolies at our expense – with the RMT currently sponsoring socialist candidates in the forthcoming elections to the “European Parliament.”

He was extremely knowledgeable about Ireland and the struggles of the Irish working class.   He and his union were strong supporters of the Peoples’ Movement in its opposition to the Lisbon Treaty. He was passionate in his defence of socialism and sovereignty in Cuba and Venezuela and his promotion of human rights in Palestine. Bob Crow was credit and tribute to his family and our class and will be sorely missed. The best tribute we can pay to the memory of Bob is to continue to push for class orientated and politicised trade unions.

Defend public wealth: resist privatisation

“We have to get beyond sectoral interests and look at the common good, to defend the very idea of social ownership as an alternative to the anarchy and chaos of corporate monopoly capitalism.”—Extract from the TULF’s pamphlet Robbing the People’s Wealth.

This January the Trade Union Left Forum met in the TEEU offices and agreed to launch a campaign in defence of public wealth and opposition to privatisation. Members and activists from a range of unions, public and private-sector, shared their experiences of the scale of privatisation that is under way and the loss to the public of valuable assets and services.

Privatisation—or outsourcing, sub-contracting, opening up for competition—is not new. Indeed over the years the state has sold off, for a quick buck, billions’ worth of public wealth in the form of various companies, including ICC, ACC, Irish Life, Eircom, Aer Lingus, Irish Sugar, Irish Steel, and Great Southern Hotels, as well as refuse collection, natural resources, and many more. In more recent years it has also outsourced the provision of various public services, particularly in the health service and most recently in An Bord Gáis. Many of these have ended in disaster for the public.

Where profitable companies are sold, the continuing return they provided to the state in the form of a dividend is ended. For example, Irish Sugar went on to become Greencore; if retained in public ownership it would be a valuable state asset today for investing in health, education, and other vital services.

Others, as for example ACC and ICC, on privatisation lost their strategic investment mandate and went on to fuel speculative short-term investments, so contributing to the property bubble.

Eircom went through various owners, has been stripped of many valuable assets, loaded with hundreds of millions in private equity debt, fallen well behind in its provision of vital infrastructure, and in its most recent form has become a state asset of Singapore, through Singapore’s state company ST Telemedia.

In refuse collection we now have the sadly comical scenario of three or four massive trucks from different companies roaming through estates, picking up bins from every third or fourth house, with hidden registration charges often spent on pointless advertising, touting for each household’s business; and this is presented to us as private-sector efficiency! Nothing could be more inefficient from an economic and environmental point of view than this farce; and the public pay for it.

A positive example of how an efficient state enterprise can be run and be of immense value to the public is the ESB. Established in 1927, at its peak the ESB employed 13,500 workers in secure, well-paid, decent work, with educational opportunities not available to many workers in the private sector. The ESB never received a subsidy from the state but has been self-financing from its inception. Over the last decade it has returned in the region of €2 billion worth of dividends to the public purse.

As a result of EU law on energy deregulation—i.e. privatisation of the market—imposed on the ESB, it was forced to raise its charges, at the public’s expense, so that less efficient private-sector companies, such as Airtricity and Viridian, could enter the market and profit at our expense. In essence, the state is imposing a profit tax on the public for private enterprise.

As a result of this the ESB has had to hand over about 800,000 customers and has been forced into thousands of job losses. It now employs in the region of 6,500 workers. Any “job creation” by Airtricity and other companies is not real job creation at all but job displacement, from better-paid, more secure employment to lower-paid work.

The ESB, including its workers, should be defended and supported as a valuable state enterprise and public asset.

The Trade Union Left Forum is launching a politicised union campaign within the trade union movement and also more generally among the public, because campaigning works.

This Government wanted to sell off Coillte, the successful state forestry company. In recent years Coillte increased its value from €730 million to €1,400 million and turned an operating loss into a profit of more than €40 million. At present it employs more than a thousand workers. It is committed to sustainability and biodiversity, vital for Ireland’s environmental balance, and particularly for jobs in the agricultural sector. It is crucial to the broader forestry sector, which creates €2.2 billion in economic activity each year and employs more than 12,000 workers.

The sale of Coillte was prevented by heightened public awareness and interest in our forests and the value of the company to the public, led by both the trade union Impact and committed social and environmental activists.

In Germany, union and public campaigning has forced the Hamburg Metropolitan Region to renationalise its electricity grid, after private-sector involvement failed. Indeed in Germany since 2007 more than two hundred power and water grids have been renationalised by local authorities—evidence of the failure of privatisation and the value of public ownership.

As the TULF pamphlet suggests, the trade union movement has to move beyond sectoral interests and lead a public campaign in defence of public wealth and public ownership and to fight privatisation wherever it is proposed. This needs to begin with an ideological defence of public ownership and a heightened sense of pride and value in successful public operations.

Only the trade union movement has the capacity to make this campaign national and combine the complementary interests of the workers directly involved and the public who both own and rely on these assets and services.

What’s more, it is ICTU policy to lead such a campaign; yet little has been done. The TULF is committed to making this a union issue and encouraging inter-union support and activism.

Solidarity – More Than Just Support

What is solidarity? The dictionary definition online said “mutual support within a group”. Not very dramatic, rousing, or uplifting I agree. But it is still one of the most important, yet sadly underused, tools of the trade union movement.

A prime example of the need for solidarity is what was happening in Ireland coming up to the Christmas period, regarding the media portrayal of the ESB workers and their then-threatened strike action. They were being labelled as “selfish”, “greedy”, “holding the country to ransom”, just because they were standing up and fighting for their rights to reclaim the pension deficit sprung upon them. They had been forced into the position of strike action by a board of management who refuse to engage at any meaningful level. But more worryingly than the media portrayal, was the effect this portrayal has had on the public. Pages like “NO to the ESB strike” sprung up on social media outlets like Facebook. A page which grew in the space of a week to 2,353 supporters and is still on Facebook for all to see. A page which, in one post, called for the picket line to be broken and for people to take back the company “from the unions”. As if that wasn’t enough, one had to just look at the comments section of any online articles regarding the ESB workers stance. They were, in general, resoundingly negative towards the workers struggle.

Why is this? Where is the solidarity amongst the working class, the struggling people, which Ireland was long famous for at home and abroad? Have we become that begrudging a nation that, rather than fight together for better, we instead wish the worst on those that have. This is something the trade union movement has to recognise as a huge fault of our own.
The trade union movement across the country has roughly 800,000 members, and is the largest civil organisation on the island. Yet at any major protest or march, the numbers present are a fraction of this. As was said at the ICTU Youth Conference held in November, the trade unions are looked upon by its members as a service. Something you pay for just in case you someday need it. Therefore, most people have no interest in being active within the trade union movement.

People are also becoming disillusioned with the trade union movement and their individual unions. The current Government are not just continuing, but actively building upon the torturous austerity program that the Irish people are suffering through. Cuts to Social Welfare payments, the aggressive rollout of a compulsory JobBridge program for unemployed, water charges and the ongoing Irish Water fiasco, household taxes, the promise of job creation but the reality of forced emigration.

Workers have watched this happen and, in many cases, do not think the trade union movement have done enough to voice the opposition of its members towards these cuts. They may not be job specific, but they still affect workers and members. Couple this with public perception that the trade union movement donates to, or are conjoined with political parties, and you can imagine why people are becoming disenfranchised with trade unions, and deciding not to join. In my opinion, a clear and public statement of disaffiliation from all political parties by trade unions, would not only break this stigma, but would be extremely beneficial to the unions and create a membership boost.

Imagine a trade union movement that not only looks after the people it represents, but is active politically, fighting against austerity measures forced upon the country by successive Governments. What we need is a union completely disaffiliated from any political party, a movement which can activate against a particular cut or measure at a moment’s notice, which would pull any political parties worth anything to the worker along in its momentum, a union which does not allow, forget or forgive attacks against the workers and the workplace, a union movement not afraid to take a stand on and support the important social issues affecting the country and world, from the pro-choice debate and legalisation of gay marriage at home, to the continued atrocities in Palestine and the anti-homosexual agenda surrounding the Winter Olympics in Russia. This is something which would not only breed solidarity and activism amongst the trade union movement, but would also appeal to non-unionised workers, and encourage them to join, but most importantly get involved in the issues that they are most passionate about.

But there is not just the need for national solidarity. Global solidarity is equally important. In September of last year, a group of trade union activists stood on a drizzly Saturday afternoon, outside a McDonalds on O’Connell Street in Dublin. They were there as part of a solidarity picket with Sean Bailey, a young McDonalds worker and Unite Union delegate in New Zealand, who had recently been fired from his job. The reasons for his dismissal; exposing serial law breaking by the company over not providing meal breaks for many staff working more than a four-hour shift as mandated under the current law. This picket was important on two levels. Not only was it offering much welcomed support to Sean and his struggle, but it was highlighting to McDonalds that the workers, regardless of where they are from, will not take any form of erosion of workers’ rights lying down. It showed that an attack against one worker, even one over 11,000 miles away, is an attack against all workers.

This is the meaning of true solidarity, and it is not just with Sean. It is with all workers worldwide, as they fight for better terms and conditions against their respective employees. It is with the Wal-Mart workers in America as they fight for trade union recognition. It is with the McDonalds workers worldwide as they fight for a living wage. It is with the workers in Colombia who are beaten or murdered for being active in their trade union. It’s with the four workers of Connolly Shoes in Dun Laoghaire who are still, after 3 years, awaiting their court ordered compensation for unlawful dismissal. It is with bank workers who receive abuse for mismanagement they were not part of.

Solidarity is much more than the dictionary definition. Solidarity is the greatest tool trade unions have in their struggle for the working class. It is, as the American labor leader Harry Bridges said, “The most important word in the language of the working class”.

Professional and Industrial Organizing Scores Banner Year

“You heard a common theme from many of our speakers – if we stand still, we die. If we don’t change what’s not working, then we are condemning ourselves to a slow death.”

– President Edwin D. Hill at the 38th International Convention, Vancouver 2011

Change. It’s inevitable. But progress comes only through perseverance, doubling down and refining your efforts.

This year, organizing in the professional and industrial sector — comprised of utilities, telecommunications, manufacturing, government, broadcasting and railroad — has helped thousands of workers raise their voices for fair pay, decent benefits and the added dignity that comes on the job from having a union at their back.

“Probably the best part about it is that, all of a sudden, we’re a ‘we’ instead of an ‘I,'” said Julie Wichmann Huerta, who is a commission chief administrative officer for the Port of Los Angeles. “We have influence, we have clout — and we have a professional-level organization that is negotiating for us and making sure that our needs are met.”

The biggest win of the year came in January, when Wichmann Huerta’s co-workers who are part of the massive Engineers and Architects Association cast their ballots for Local 11. The vote brought more than 4,500 new members into the fold.

This year, 92 successful campaigns have won representation rights for more than 7,000 new members. The campaign win rate is a whopping 72 percent — significantly higher than the average organizing ratio for any union in any industry across the U.S. and Canada.

“It’s an exciting time to be building the IBEW,” said lead organizer Steve Smith, who has helped win voices on the job for workers at Comcast in the Northeast. Smith is one of 49 full-time organizers in the professional and industrial branch, a corps that has more than doubled in size since before the 2011 convention, largely due to added funding from the membership.
Other improvements include the addition of IBEW leaders assigned full-time to business development at various locals throughout the U.S. and Canada, as well as new membership-boosting trainings that have been launched by the Education Department at the International Office in Washington, D.C.

But behind the numbers are stories — lives that have been changed, families that have been strengthened, and hard-won dignity that reverberates long after the votes are counted.

“It is no secret that organizing campaigns are most successful when we utilize all of our resources — a and because of the work of our local unions, organizers in the field and leadership support, we are helping change the lives of the workers we touch,” said Membership Development Director Gina Cooper, who heads up professional and industrial efforts across the U.S. and Canada. “From the United States Infrastructure Corporation worker who framed every piece of organizing campaign correspondence that was mailed to him, to the City of Ocala workers who had all gotten together on game day and danced every time an IBEW commercial played, thousands of workers who wanted a voice are thrilled and excited that they are now a part of our organization.”

“These remarkable gains certainly say something positive about our continued organizing efforts in the professional and industrial sector,” said International President Edwin D. Hill. “But beyond that, these victories show that countless workers nationwide are saying ‘enough’ to unfair pay, lack of benefits and disrespect on the job. I applaud these brave men and women for standing up for their rights, and I know that we can continue the fight to make jobs better for more workers in the upcoming year.”

Delegates to the 2011 International Convention voted to provide more resources to organize new members by passing two per capita tax increases. The first went into effect this year, and another will be implemented in 2014. After that, if membership growth projections fall short, a third per capita increase will kick in in 2016.

The following are just some of the other high-profile stories from an action-packed year of successful organizing.

‘If They Can Get a Contract, I Know We Can Too’

In Lebanon, Mo., frustration had been setting in for years amongst the nearly 20 employees who handle water treatment, management and construction tasks for city of 14,000 in the central part of the state.

“They were upset about how they’d been treated at work,” said organizer Phil Meyer, who services locals throughout the 11th District. “There were unfair discipline actions, and they were upset about not having the proper safety equipment.”

Even obtaining full-time status had proved elusive for some. “One employee had been a part-time employee for 16 years,” said Tony Parrish, which meant no benefits for the worker and his family. Parrish is business manager of Springfield Local 753, about an hour’s drive southwest of Lebanon.

A group of Local 753 linemen who frequently rubbed shoulders on the job with the water workers recently won a contract with representation from the local. The water workers said, “If they can get a contract, I know we can too,” said Meyer.

A quick campaign yielded victory for the workers, who overwhelmingly voted to be represented by the local in July.

As first contract talks ramp up, Parrish says the new members are mobilized and engaged. “This is going to be a huge benefit to them,” he said. “They’re excited and they’re ready to move forward.”

Broad Territory, Bolstered Opportunities

With an outside jurisdiction that spans hundreds of miles, Philadelphia Local 126’s territory covers the southern half of Pennsylvania, Maryland’s Eastern Shore and all of Delaware. That distance makes the task of building linemen’s careers and boosting the membership all the more challenging.

To better make the rounds, local leaders have in the past few years established satellite offices in four strategic locations in the three states, while increasing the number of full time organizers to 16.

“A lot of people who have lived in Maryland or Delaware might not have really know who local 126 was unless they actually talked to a lineman down there,” said organizer Rick Fridell, who works out of the Bridgeville, Del., office. “People didn’t know that there were those types of opportunities down there — you don’t see union halls down there.”

The revamped, ambitious presence has yielded immediate results. More than 520 new members have joined the local since January 2012, and seven new contractors have signed letters of assent.
“We’re always trying to pick up new work,” said Local 126 Business Manager Rich Muttik. “That’s our No. 1 goal, to get everybody working and have everybody IBEW.”

And Muttik’s approach –as well as attitude — is infectious, especially to the businesses he partners with.

“One thing that Rich has said to me before is, ‘Our contractors don’t fail,'” said Cindy Gallo, owner of telecommunications contractor Fiber Business Solutions in Norristown, Pa. “That’s what struck a chord with me.”

Tech-Savvy Campaign Nets Win for Ca. Workers

Organizing 2.0 presents new opportunities for workers to connect over broad distances. Text, e-mail, blog posts, social media and Web sites are all playing a role in bringing workers together to raise their collective voices.

But what happens when a worker is trying to reach out to you online, and the company ups the ante to something akin to low-level cyber warfare?

This was the challenge facing workers at NCR in Ontario who had contacted the IBEW for representation. The employees service and maintain ATM machines, bank equipment and other electronic point-of-sale technology for the company.

“These workers are service orientated ,” said First District organizer Brett Youngberg. “They’re technicians and they’re mobile. It’s not like when you’re dealing with a factory where you can meet them at the gate and solicit them through leaflets.”

Mobile and Web technology proved fruitful in the early stages of the campaign late last year — that is, until management caught wind of the effort.

To keep workers and IBEW activists from communicating, NCR set up a firewall system to block any incoming e-mails to employees featuring particular keywords like “union,” collective,” IBEW” and more.

So organizers’ and workers’ next moves were to communicate through small-batch e-mails via Google’s Gmail system, which allowed Youngberg and his colleagues to send electronic attachments — including authorization cards — to workers without raising red flags or overloading the company’s system. This proved the perfect camouflage, as the organizers’ information now flowed to workers undetected by management.

It worked. Per Ontario law, employees were able to print their e-mailed cards, sign them in front of a witness and deliver them to the province’s labor board. Nearly 100 techs are now some of the newest members of Toronto Local 636.

“Our goal is to ensure that these people are well represented, that the employer lives by the rules — and we’ll take them to task if they don’t,” said Local 636 Business Manager Barry Brown.
A new Web site developed at the IBEW International Office is helping foster more communication and reach more workers in ongoing efforts at the company. Visit it at www.ncrabetterway.com.

>h3>IBEW Gets High Marks from Fla. School Personnel

Further south, tried-and-true shoe leather efforts helped win a voice on the job for hundreds of employees of the Duval County Public Schools in eastern Florida.

Workers who perform carpentry, maintenance, and other tasks for the 125,000-student district had been reeling from a recent round of layoffs that affected 30 employees.

“That’s when we realized that we didn’t have anybody that could really speak up for us,” said Ed Kicklighter, a carpenter for the district who was instrumental in the campaign.

After coordinating with leaders at Jacksonville Local 177, Kicklighter, some co-workers and local organizers gassed up their cars and hit the road to make home visits across the vast county, traveling as many as 50 miles at a time to meet one employee face-to-face.

“When we came knocking on the door, they knew that we weren’t just sitting back waiting for them to come to us – we were willing to sit in their home, in their environment, where they’re comfortable,” said Local 177 organizer Bill Stuart.

Kicklighter said his fellow co-workers were largely receptive to the home visits.

“They knew we needed something,” he said. “Of course, we had a few who didn’t want to talk and wanted no part of it. Since then, some of those guys shook my hand and said, ‘You’re right. We needed this.'” More than 300 district employees are now the newest members of Local 177.

“It’s a great win for us,” said Joe Roberts, who directs business development for the local. “It gives us a lot more visibility in the community, and all of the people who have worked for the school board are active in the community with little leagues and things like that, so it spreads the idea of the IBEW beyond where we are now.”

Drivers for High-End N.Y. Chef Supply Company Vote IBEW

In good times or bad, New York City’s elite will call on their best chefs. The city’s restaurant and tavern sectors expanded during the latest recession, often opening up for business in rehabilitated venues where industrial manufacturing once thrived.

New York City Local 1430 has lost much of its manufacturing membership. But the local never lost its spirit for organizing. So, a while back, Business Manager Jordan El Hag and his staff decided to target the Big Apple’s food distribution industry, offering workers a voice on the job and the benefits of collective bargaining once so widely enjoyed by its members in the factories of electrical equipment manufacturers.

In September, the plan to target food distribution was validated when drivers for Chefs’ Warehouse, a supplier of specialty food to upscale eateries, hotels and gourmet stores, voted 62 to 36 for representation by Local 1430.

“The 2-to-1 vote shows the effectiveness of letting prospective members know what to expect during a representation campaign and getting their buy-in to run it themselves,” says Local 1430 Business Agent Sammy Gonzales Jr., who first reached out to drivers and warehouse workers in July 2012.

While drivers didn’t have major complaints about pay or medical benefits, they wanted the company — which has warehouses in major cities including Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Miami — to institute fairer, consistent procedures. They were concerned, for instance, that the company was making arbitrary decisions in moving employees up to “team leader,” a position that provides a $100 per week bump in pay.

“They weren’t treating the drivers right,” says Gosnell Butler, who has worked at the company for two and a half years. As workers compared their paychecks and saw inconsistencies, they “woke up to see what was happening.”

“We discussed how forming a union is about being a partner in a company’s success,” says Gonzalez, who, along with Lead Organizer Joe Mastrogiovanni Jr., outlined what kind of opposition might be mounted by the company.

Gonzalez and others met weekly with drivers, whom he described as seasoned and experienced professionals, to answer questions. They supplemented information about the union and the campaign through text message blasts and e-mails.

“We told drivers that Local 1430 was the avenue [for pulling members together], but they were the union and they needed to take ownership of the campaign, not let it get sidetracked by divisive tactics from the employer,” says Gonzalez.

The “inoculation” effort, designed to help workers anticipate well-worn anti-union tactics, was particularly important, he says. Some of the drivers were on the company’s payroll in 2008 and 2010 when two different unions vied for representing the work force, with each one failing to achieve a majority.

“Organizers, aware that drivers worked irregular shifts, showed up at the warehouse nearly every day,” says Gonzalez, to underscore the perception that Local 1430 would not abandon workers as company opposition mounted.

Divisive tactics were deployed as soon as the campaign went public. The company — which had revenues of $480 million in 2012, a 21 percent increase since 2009 — called in four “union avoidance” consultants from Delaware and Virginia. They held non-mandatory meetings, advising drivers that the union would sap their savings in dues and put their livelihoods in jeopardy by recklessly striking the company.

While drivers weren’t compelled to attend, the meetings were held within earshot of the dispatcher’s office. As drivers walked by, they heard the same anti-union barrage from the consultants that had been discussed in meetings with organizers.

Complementing the misinformation campaign and attempting to undermine the growing relationships between drivers and Local 1430, Chefs’ Warehouse hosted picnics for the work force and gave away free food to employees. The drivers were undeterred.

El Hag and his staff knew at the start of the campaign that some of the company’s warehouse workers were interested in joining the drivers as local union members. But, as he and organizers assessed the terrain, they deliberately proceeded to first focus on the drivers, a more cohesive group. The plan worked. El Hag says IBEW’s Third District Vice President Don Siegel, Mastrogiovanni and International Representative Brian Brennan provided crucial support.

“Teamwork between locals and the International is always critical,” says Mastrogiovanni. “Jordan El Hag and Local 1430 made no false promises to drivers. They lived up to their word and they gave Chefs’ Warehouse workers the opportunity to better their lives.”

Organizers hope to deepen their numbers inside and beyond Chefs’ Warehouse’s New York City locale, convincing more potential members to take ownership of their futures by joining IBEW and partnering with a thriving business.

According to The Bull and Bear Financial Report, Chefs’ Warehouse supplies 20,000 products to chefs, compared to about 1,600 for the average specialty distributor. The report projects a minimum growth rate of 15 percent in annual sales for the next five years.

‘All In’ Strategy Wins Florida Municipal Campaign

Two years ago, after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker launched his war on public employees’ collective bargaining rights, some self-appointed experts on the labor movement predicted a quick demise for public sector bargaining units everywhere.

That dismal forecast for organized labor never made it down to Ocala, Fla., a politically conservative city in the center of that right-to-work state.

On Aug. 15, city employees — who perform a wide range of jobs ranging from call center operators to crime scene technicians and building inspectors — voted 203 to 97 for representation by Gainesville Local 1205.

The margin of victory reversed the percentages of a prior organizing loss by another international union a few years back.

But, more importantly, the strategy and tactics developed during the Ocala campaign demonstrated the effectiveness of the all-in, multi-dimensional approach that was the theme of September’s IBEW Membership Development Conference.

The campaign tapped the creativity of the city’s work force and reached out to IBEW retirees and the wider community, mixing modern online communication with traditional, time-tested organizing techniques.

Members of the Ocala volunteer organizing committee joined Local 1205 Organizer Tommy Ward and Lead Organizer Doug Williams making house calls to their co-workers.

They packed city council meetings wearing IBEW T-shirts and hats to oppose severe cuts in their pensions — the main catalyst for the organizing campaign. And, with a stroke of good luck, a letter sent by the local union to prospective members outlining the benefits in organizing arrived the same day a national TV ad promoting the IBEW was aired during the 2012 NFL playoffs. “The IBEW was legitimatized,” says Williams.

“We left no stone unturned in this campaign,” says Williams. He requested a list of all IBEW members and retirees in the 15 towns in the area surrounding Ocala and sent letters asking them to attend city council meetings in support of the city’s workers.

The union’s online organizing tools proved their worth. An international representative saw Ocala targeted on IBEW’s Organizing Accountability Reporting System (OARS) and called Williams with contact information for his wife’s uncle, who worked for the city.

Above all, Ocala workers like Steve Kindred made a personal commitment to reaching out to their peers.

“When I started working here, I never thought I would be making house calls, testifying at city council meetings or going to Tallahassee to count ballots in a union election,” says Kindred, an Ocala engineering technician. He carried his positive experience as a former member of two municipal collective bargaining units to his co-workers during the campaign.

In 1996, Kindred retired after 20 years in military service as a nuclear reactor operator and supply officer and went to work as a permit technician and engineering technician in two cities in the state of Washington.

The son of an Ohio union steelworker, he joined Teamster and Machinist bargaining units in each city. “We had a defined set of rules to work by and none of the horror stories [that are spread about conflicts between unions and employers],” says Kindred.

Everything changed in 2009 when Kindred moved to Ocala and got a job inspecting commercial building sites and producing drawing for upgrades to the city’s storm water system. He had no union to join. Only the police and fire departments were organized.

Policy changes in his department, says Kindred, came down so frequently that “They needed a town crier to come through every morning and say ‘hear ye, hear ye.'” Promotions were often reserved for managers’ cronies. Competence and seniority counted for nothing.

The city’s leaders announced austerity measures after the economic downturn of 2008. First, longevity awards would be discontinued. Then, a portion of the value of accrued vacation and sick leave would no longer be paid at retirement. And the city began changing from a defined benefit pension plan to a hybrid plan that would leave workers paying more out-of-pocket and sharing market risks with the city. The new plan, combining defined benefit and defined contribution portions, would lower the multiplier that is currently in place, leaving prospective retirees, like Kindred, age 55, with a lower benefit.

Kindred and some of his co-workers went to work. They contacted Local 1205, not just to organize a union, but for support in moving the city’s political leaders to reverse their decision.
The city spent money on “pet projects like drunken sailors,” says Kindred. But when officials ran out of money, the first place they looked was cutting pensions and other benefits. And, compared to similar Florida cities, management is top-heavy.

Winston Schuler, an engineering technician who has worked for Ocala for almost nine years, performing traffic timing studies and administering electronic management of the city’s transportation system, saw the city’s work force reduced by a third before the benefit changes were proposed. He told the Ocala StarBanner, “We do feel appreciated by the citizens, but don’t feel that upper management feels the same way about us.”

Schuler, like Kindred, the son of a union steelworker, drew up a questionnaire and asked his co-workers for ideas and counter-proposals for independent negotiations with the city. Then Schuler, Kindred and other bargaining unit members, led by a co-worker who is currently organizing other city professionals, set up a committee to meet with the city’s managers to discuss the pension changes and propose other options.

“The city council passively listened while employees passionately stated how cutting benefits was a bad idea. Then council members would say that ‘times are rough’ and say they had no choice,” says Kindred.

“Just as I was getting dejected about the lack of progress with our committee, I got an [organizing] letter from the IBEW,” says Kindred. He made a commitment to organize. “I’ve always believed that old saying that all it takes for bad things to happen is for good people to stand by and do nothing.”

Winning the organizing drive, he says, took a lot of “personal relationship building.” There was “a lot of surprise from our co-workers when a familiar face came to the door [talking about the union],” says Kindred.
While there’s still a lot of skepticism about what difference a union can make, says Schuler, his co-workers are hoping for the best as first contract negotiations begin.

“My wife and I have six children and five grandchildren. I’ve been working since I was 11. I’m 51 years old now and deserve a decent retirement.”

Tommy Ward told the Ocala StarBanner, “We are looking forward to working with the city hand-in-hand, workers and city leaders.”

http://www.ibew.org/articles/13ElectricalWorker/EW1311/MembershipDevelopment.1113.html

National Wage Control or Union Won Increases?

It seems that IBEC and the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) are both calling for some kind of new centralised national wage/income agreement to control pay, as some would put it, in the ‘national interest’. The two leading figures from these organisations (Danny McCoy and Kieran Mulvey respectively) have all in recent weeks made noises about the possibility of a national agreement between union, employers and the Government on pay and income with the Sunday Business Post going as far as suggesting informal discussions have already commenced on this.

Is this signs of a tip in class power or is this a cynical move to manage and control growing worker militancy, when it comes to wage claims, in the ‘national interest’ – defined broadly as not allowing wage increases outpace inflation? When the claim for wages is accompanied with a suggestion to put in place a dispute resolution mechanism it would worryingly suggest that claims over and above the decided % will be met with opposition from State institutions and this new mechanism.

We have to ask ourselves in whose interest would this kind of agreement be and why are big business calling for a national agreement now when they wanted nothing to do with one previously? What is the political economy of such a move?

Business and Government want to suppress pay. Suppressed pay boosts profits. Profits are often made directly at the expense of workers’ wages. Profits from outsourced services largely come from pay cuts or pay stagnation. Wage stagnation supports the profits of exporting companies. This covers both the interests’ of big business multi nationals operating a variety of outsourcing contracts both private and public sector and also big Irish business engaged in exporting. Wage stagnation is also required by EU economic regulations and its public finance straight jacket. Wage claims are class struggle at a very basic and local level.

It is clear business and the Government are worried about growing union and worker militancy on the wage front. They may also be concerned that recent union wins on pay, particularly for the low paid in the retail sector by Mandate trade union, may have an inspiring effect on workers and lead to increased demands and mobilising efforts. SIPTU, and Jack O’Connor, have made it clear in recent times that they are pushing for pay increases in the private sector and this is welcome news for these workers. Other union are also making positive noise in this direction.
IBEC, however, have also stated that they expect both income tax and social welfare to be looked at in conjunction with any agreement and the said dispute resolution mechanism. Meaning they will seek income tax reductions for the wealthy and also a reduction in social welfare for the unemployed.

What does the union movement need to be conscious of? The class interests of big business in coming to an inflation based flat rate national agreement that is actually harmful to wage claims arising from organised militant workers. Putting claims over and above any set national rate into a negotiating mechanism removed from direct negotiations. Removing wage struggles from the workplace damages local union organisation and worker militancy and also disincentives union organising. It breeds an attitude of ‘we all get this anyway’ and ‘isn’t this a Government pay increase’ both damaging to union strength and leverage. But most importantly it is likely to make it even more difficult for the lower paid to win pay increases above inflation, increase their standard of living and reduce inequality.