May 1 Right2Water Conference


Below is a brief overview of the recent right2water conference for those that were not in attendance. A range of issues could be discussed but these are simply what we felt are the key points.

The Conference

On May 1st, the traditional day of workers celebration and mass action, a function room in the head office of the Communication Workers Union in Dublin was filled with 180 guests for a day of presentations and discussion. The Right2Water Campaign, an important component of a much larger mass movement fighting water charges, called a conference entitled A Platform for Renewal. As a result of limited information in the weeks leading up to the event speculation had been rife. A new political alliance or party? Policies for the Water Movement? A new alliance of movements or the widening of a deeply effective, empowered and conscious force?

In the end what transpired was what can positively be seen as a starting point for a broader political alliance of unions and communities on a range of issues. 180 guests. 60 from each of the Right2Water designated pillars (Trade Unions, Politics and the Community), and a packed schedule of speakers from Podemos, Syriza and the Berlin Water Movement as well as a quick fire look at struggles and perspectives from Ireland with water campaigns in the north, political economy from Trademark and a report on a study of the water movement occupied the majority of the day.

The final part of the day moved from broad discussion to a specific set of proposals. Michael Taft and Brendan Ogle of UNITE presented ‘Policy Principles for a Progressive Irish Government’. 7 topics emerged, with a ‘Right2’ prefix covering Water, Work, Housing, Health, Education, Debt Justice and Democratic Reform. This was argued to be ‘the beginning’ of a process of ‘debate and discussion’ which should go out to every corner of the island and every community.

We would encourage all trade unionists and communities to get involved in this process collectively. Meet and discuss the proposals and make a submission in this way they will more genuinely reflect the views of working people and communities.


To get to this point much has happened. Social Partnership collapsed and the trade union movement had no response. It couldn’t prevent the attack on workers terms and conditions of employment and rights by successive governments and employers. While there were occasional national mobilisations there was no sustained campaign against austerity and all too often the brave and heroic stands were by small groups of workers with little to lose (La Senza, Thomas Cooke, Paris Bakery and Greyhound).

The Trade Unions engaged with the Water Movement has started to change this. 5 Unions – Mandate, UNITE, CWU, CPSU and OPASTI – have been involved in a serious and effective mass movement and now are setting out a political program. They are encouraging the rest of the trade union movement to follow suit and actively engage with communities and thousands of workers who are not members of any union. Political parties from the  left, to independents to moderate ex labour and Sinn Fein are in the room together engaging on these union proposals. Communities, the grassroots of the movement, are also at the table, although still underrepresented considering the centrality of their role in the water movement and wider challenges to existing power in Ireland.

This is an unprecedented and a positive step forward.  The TULF has constantly argued the trade union movements is in the unique, structural, position to pull together a serious class conscious movement of working people fighting for radical and meaningful change.

Questions Remaining

Important questions remain and points are still left unanswered.

What is needed to achieve what Right2Water have set out? Certainly some have a modest idea of just a policy platform, others would like this to be the start of a push for a left government but still more wish to see this as a movement for a deeper transformation of Irish society. What infrastructure is needed in terms of policies, media, education, or other institutions? What tactics, strategies, vision and ideas are necessary as first steps or as longer term goals for a more fundamental transformation of Ireland?

In terms of the policies to be debated what is needed or wanted by the left, by radicals and by class conscious activists? What can be added, how can it be engaged and proposed?

Finally what of democracy? What are the challenges and opportunities of 6 weeks of consultation that exist, of debate and discussion beyond 6 weeks? How can this process exist to deepen class conscious debate and empowerment? If democracy and empowerment is the starting point of renewal what of extending democracy to politics as a whole or even to the society and economy we live in, to the work places and communities in which we exist, to every part of the nation? How does a deeper vision of democracy clash with the powers that be in Ireland the EU, and a stringent anti-democratic global order?

Many more questions exist, many more points need to be debated, discussed and teased out. Hopefully we can engage with the proposals critically and constructively and seeing them within the context of a wider deepening of democracy and the class struggle necessary for more substantive change.

The TULF will be making a submission to r2w and will publish this shortly.

The role of Human Resources

Some people are under the illusion that the role of Human Resources (HR) is to ensure fairness in work or to speak up for staff members when business decisions are being made. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The role of HR—in many ways explained in the title itself—is to manage the human resources that are applied in the production process to reproduce capital. It is to support the business in maximising the efficiency of labour in the production process.

Modern HR techniques, including the application of new technologies to the management of staff, are developing apace. On-line tools decide on annual leave and create rotas. In big companies, updates from HR come via intranet links. The language of “open doors,” “direct engagement” and “transparency” is repeatedly used to hide the lack of transparency and lack of engagement.

Scientific management of the division of labour is nothing new; indeed many of the most ground-breaking developments occurred a century ago. But new technology is now bringing this process, once again, to new levels. Every aspect of work, and the working day, is now recorded, tracked, measured, and used to rate workers and to pit them against each other. Tasks completed, length of time for each task, toilet breaks and starting and finishing times are all routinely recorded and used to rate workers and drive efficiencies: how many phone calls you’ve answered, hamburgers you’ve made, cheques you’ve processed, sales you’ve made, etc. Championed in call centres, these are now being introduced in a wide variety of industries.

Smartphones with GPS add a new opportunity: location-tracking. Under the guise of maximising service to customers, the GPS tracking of workers is on the up, bringing with it a host of privacy issues. But, as we know, people’s right to privacy will be trumped with ease by work-place efficiency and management. The real reason for the increasing use of GPS tracking is control. Knowing the location of workers facilitates further control of those workers by the business; and HR facilitate this technology and reports on it.

All these productivity and tracking measurements are used to control and rate. Rating workers—not just in the jobs they’ve done but directly against each other—is now standard. And this system is then used to “manage out” (as HR practitioners call it) the worst-performing workers (usually fixed at 10% each year). They are managed out not on the grounds of the job they’ve done, good or bad, but how they have compared against their employees and, more often than not, how they “fit in.”

Firstly through some kind of performance improvement plan (PIP), and then disciplinary action, they can legally sack people on the grounds of poor performance; and that is a central function of HR these days. This culture creates submission and fear in the work force, which increase the management’s control and its ability to reproduce capital.

This is the role HR plays and this is why workers need to organise their power collectively to challenge this.

WFTU condemns the recent acts of violence against foreign nationals in South Africa

The World Federation of Trade Unions representing 90 million workers in 126 countries around the world condemns the recent acts of violence against foreign nationals in South Africa.

Suffering under the chronic results of colonialism, imperialism, the plundering of natural resources by the monopolies and capitalist exploitation, local and foreign workers, no matter which country they end up living in, are powerful only in joint fraternal struggles in social alliance with self-employed and poor farmers against their common enemies. Racism, xenophobia and all other acts of discrimination are an instrument of division and tactics to scapegoat the vulnerable sections of the working class in order to hide the real culprits for the people’s suffering.

The WFTU at the same time distinguishes itself from the cosmopolitanism promoted by various Organizations towards migration using phrases such as “global village”, “migration must be seen as economic growth factor” and “cultural mixing” which put workers in the shoes and mindset of their exploiters. This perception aims to justify the inhumane consequence of imperialism which is economic and labour migration. This is a phenomenon which greatly assists the capitalists to double exploit the desperate migrant workers while pushing further down the rights of all working class in each country. Many times, when foreign workers are not needed any more in the specific profit-making endeavors of the monopolies, they are dealt with as a problematic factor for the economy. The WFTU and the class-oriented trade union movement struggle so that no worker is forced to abandon their homes and families for survival or employment.

Local and migrant workers in each country have no other way but to fraternally come together inside the trade unions and in the same struggles demanding equal rights, better working and living conditions, increased wages, social and labour rights and ultimately the abolition of capitalist exploitation and imperialism which are to blame for their suffering.

The WFTU, noting the experiences, the traditions and the values of the South African people and especially the black population who have suffered greatly under the colonialism and apartheid, feels optimistic that the South African working class will confront such acts and those who instigate them, will utilize its internationalist and proletarian solidarity to further infuse unity amongst workers inside and outside of the country and will find the causes of the problems in the political level and capitalist mode of production which is to blame for the continuing existence of poverty, unemployment and inequality.

James Connolly Festival 2015


In May of this year the Socialist Voice, in association with The New Theatre, will host its very first week long political/cultural festival in the heart of Dublin City. This festival is an extension of the ‘James Connolly Memorial Weekend’, where esteemed national and international guest speakers such as James Petras have given the James Connolly Memorial lecture. This is followed by a wreath laying ceremony at Arbour Hill on the Sunday, to mark the occasion of Connolly’s execution and to pay tribute to him and to the other leaders of the 1916 rising.
In May 2015 the Socialist Voice and The New Theatre will launch the first annual ‘James Connolly Festival’ which will host a broad list of cultural and political acts and events – with music, theatre, poetry, films, art, debates and lectures intended for a new risen people. Acts confirmed so far include: Sister Teresa Forcades (Euorpe’s most radical nun/political activist), Attila the Stockbroker (political poet/musician/activist), Mark Geary (singer/songwriter), Fiach Moriarty (singer/songwriter), Stephen Murphy (poet), Donal O’Kelly (actor/director), Evelyn Campbell (singer), Ronan Wilmot (actor/director), Andrew Kerns (singer), Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington (Academic) and many more.

The Festival held a fundraiser night, which was dedicated to the Dunnes Stores workers who went out on strike this month. The play Counter Culture was written and performed by Katie O’Kelly and Theo Dorgan read extracts from Pablo Neruda and from his own work, which were  mesmerising. A video of the night can be found on the facebook page and website.

The aim of the festival is to promote progressive culture and politics and to facilitate debate around current and contemporary politics. James Connolly remains Ireland’s foremost Marxist and working class hero. He of course was one of the founders of the Irish trade union movement, so one of the main goals of the festival will be to highlight the ideas of Connolly and the importance of trade unions for workers, especially amongst the youth. The festival is aimed at those who seek alternatives, who are engaged in today’s struggles against the many powers that dominate our lives, but also to celebrate the very rich working class culture that exists in Ireland.

For full details see the festival programme in this months Socialist Voice or online at One of the central political events will be this year’s James Connolly Memorial Lecture, on Saturday 9 May at 2pm in the New Theatre, East Essex Street, to be given by the radical Catalan nun and activist SisterTeresa Forcades. The lecture will be followed by the formal launch of the CPI’s “Democratic Programme for the 21st Century.” On Sunday 10 May the CPI’s annual Connolly Commemoration will take place in Arbour Hill Cemetery, with an oration by the CPI and the Connolly Youth Movement, together with this year’s guest speaker, Clare Daly TD. This event starts at 3pm and all are welcome.



Twitter: @ConnollyFest and to create a trend #CONNOLLYFEST




Low paid struggle goes global – Take Action

5:30pm at Liberty Hall on Wednesday 15th of April


‘Fight for 15’ has become the rallying cry of fast food workers across the United States. The movement began with 200 workers walking off their jobs in New York City in November 2012, in protest at employers who make billions of dollars in profits while paying poverty wages.

Over the last two years the protests have spread. The last major day of action on 4th December, 2014, saw thousands of fast food workers in some 190 US cities walk off their jobs, seeking the same demand they have been making for the past two years – $15 an hour in pay. On that day solidarity actions and protests were also witnessed from Japan to Brazil, while in Ireland 3 protests organised by the Young Workers Network (in Dublin, Cork and Belfast)  marked the global protest with lively actions outside of McDonalds.

Social media has been central to organising the campaign and on 4th December the #fastfoodglobal hashtag trended in nearly 20 US cities from New York to Phoenix, and around the world it trended in 50 cities from London to Lagos.

Activists in the ‘Fight for 15’ campaign made a three day visit to Dublin in early March to discuss the struggle in the US and Ireland against low pay and zero hour contracts.

The workers spoke at a public meeting in Wynn’s Hotel, Dublin, organised by the Young Workers Network (YWN). The meeting was followed by a protest at the Jim Larkin Statue on Dublin’s O’ Connell Street.

The YWN will be holding another protest outside McDonalds on O’ Connell Street, Dublin, against low pay and zero hour contracts on 15th April as part of an international day of action against low pay and are encouraging supporters to meet them at Liberty Hall at 5:30pm on the day for this event.

At the event, the YWN will launch the result of their Working Hours and Pay Survey which found that 89.13% of young workers under 35 regularly find it difficult to make ends meet.

For updates on the event, please visit:

Dunnes Strike a seminal moment for the Irish trade union movement

I support Decency for Dunnes

100 years ago workers would wait by the docks of Dublin in the hope that some captain of industry would pick them for a days work. In many instances their selection was the only thing keeping them and their families from going hungry, which in turn ensured a compliant workforce. Join the union, make a complaint about health and safety, or look at the boss in the wrong way and the employer could remove your ability to feed or clothe your family or heat your home.

This Thursday, Dunnes Stores workers will strike against the very same constraints and mechanisms of control. Dunnes workers are kept on 15 hour contracts. Some workers report working for more than ten years on 35-39 hours and suddenly, at the whim of a manager, they’re cut down to the bare minimum of 15 and the employer can then spread those hours over five days. Spreading the hours over five days means the worker cannot access social welfare or Family Income Supplement (FIS) which requires a worker to have a guaranteed 19 hours for three months. It makes it impossible to survive, and the employer knows that and uses it. They can reduce a workers earnings from €384 to €144 with the stroke of a pen on a roster.

Dunnes also abuse the use of temporary contracts of employment. They regularly hire temporary workers for six or nine months and then let them go at the end of the contract and hire new workers. Often they’ll keep issuing temporary contracts of employment up to the maximum time limit and then let the workers go because they’ll have moved up the pay-scales and it’d be cheaper to hire new staff on the minimum employment costs. Permanent members of staff say they lose hours whenever new staff are hired, again, to reduce the employment costs for the company. There’s also an anti-union element to this as temporary workers have contacted Mandate Trade Union to say they want to join the union and the want to support Thursday’s strike but they’re afraid their 6 month contracts may not be extended.

Core to this dispute is the refusal of Dunnes Stores management to engage with the workers’ trade union, Mandate.  Mandate has an agreement with Dunnes dating back to their previous national dispute in 1996 where the workers were forced to strike for 3 weeks in order to win trade union recognition. At the time Dunnes was attempting to bring in zero hour contracts but the strike prevented them from being implemented and the workers won the 15 hour contract now in place. Incidentally, the 1996 strike by Dunnes workers led to the existing legislative protections against zero hour contracts as part of the Organisation of Working Time Act of 1997. Anyway, now the company is reneging on theagreement and are refusing to meet with the Union. Dunnes have also ignored the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) and the Labour Court, all part of the voluntarist industrial relations model that the establishment praises so dearly.

The types of contracts Dunnes workers have are becoming increasingly common. We now have an estimated 147,000 workers in “underemployment” or involuntary part time positions, meaning workers want more hours but cannot access them. Successive Irish governments bear responsibility for that fact. In 2008 only 0.4 percent of the entire workforce was classified as underemployed. That figure is now 7.8 percent and we’re the second worst country in the EU15. Why is that? Well, there are two primary reasons.

  1. Ireland does not have any statutory protections for part-time workers seeking more hours because our governments never fully implemented the EU’s Part-Time Worker Directive. If it had been implemented, Irish workers would have a legal entitlement to avail of more hours as they become available.
  2. Workers in Ireland have no right to collectively bargain. Mandate Trade Union has won secure hour contracts through bargaining in Tesco, Penneys, Superquinn (now Supervalu), Marks & Spencer and elsewhere. But because Dunnes refuses to engage with Mandate, workers are forced to take the only action left available to them, strike.

In all other countries in the EU, workers have one or two of the above protections. In Ireland, we have none.

We’re four years into a Fine Gael/Labour Government which had a commitment to legislate for collective bargaining  in its Programme of Government. David Begg, the former General Secretary of the ICTU has publicly welcomed the drafted legislation at least twice, but still there’s no sign of it on the statute books. We’re approaching the one year anniversary of the last announcement which came weeks ahead of last years local and European elections.

Now 10,000 workers in Dunnes Stores (6,000 of whom are Mandate members) will be affected by industrial action as the workers struggle for their right to earn a decent living and avail of their human right to be represented by a trade union of their choice. A similar battle to the one fought back in 1913.

The behaviour of Dunnes – a highly profitable multi-national company with estimated profits in the Republic of Ireland of up to €350m annually – is despicable. The owners of Dunnes, Margaret Heffernan, Frank Dunne and the McMahon family have a combined wealth of €758m.. Reports of intimidation, spreading of lies and misinformation, targeting of vulnerable people and threats of job losses and hours being cut appear to be commonplace across  stores as we approach the strike date. That’s why every trade unionist and trade union needs to support this struggle. This is much bigger than Dunnes Stores. This is about the type of society we want and are entitled to.

This really is a David versus Goliath battle. On the one hand we have an enormously wealthy family with a hugely profitable corporation and deep pockets, spending hundreds of thousands per year on advertising in the mainstream media – which no doubt influences editorial decisions, gaining advantage from a political establishment that proudly prioritises corporations over workers and refuses to legislate to protect vulnerable employees, and on the other hand we have a collective of low-paid workers on flexi-time contracts in extraordinarily precarious employment who are left with no other option but to sacrifice a days pay in a battle for basic entitlements that every worker should have. It is our obligation as trade unionists to stand with these workers and it is our responsibility to make sure nobody passes the Dunnes Stores picket lines this Thursday. Solidarity to the Dunnes Stores workers.

Union Action on Increase

The Total Days Lost due to Industrial Stoppages, a CSO record, significantly increased last year.


The total days out last year was 44,015 compared to just 14,965 in 2013. The teachers strike at the end of last year having the most significant impact but also the Greyhound dispute and action in the manufacturing sector.

There is no doubt that union members, workers and communities are becoming more class conscious. Solidarity across communities and struggles is also on the up. Both the right2water campaign and opposition to water charges/meters as well as the upcoming Dunnes dispute have shown the increasing militancy of many on this island. The willingness of public sector workers in Northern Ireland to take on both their own establishment and the British establishment also provides inspiration and evidence of what clearly is a growing resistance to low pay, to privatisation, to austerity and to inequality more generally.

The TULF will continue to provide a space for radical trade unionists and community activists to mobilise and analyse for progress.


RIP Anne Casey

It is with deep sadness that we communicate the death of Anne Casey.

Anne was a lifelong trade unionist, founding activist in the TULF and its first secretary. Anne was a member of Siptu up to her passing. Anne was particularly committed to trade union and worker education. She understood and saw education as liberating and empowering and a key element of building a militant and fighting trade union movement. She is missed by many in her family, by friends, by union activists and by those involved in the fight for socialism. Anne was a truly honest and brave comrade and a friend to many of us.

We particularly send our condolences to her family and partner Colin who spoke at and attended many TULF meetings and wrote the TULF pamphlet on privatisation.

Solidarity and our thoughts are with Anne’s family and friends.

Politics, Policy and Organising in the Windy City: Lessons from 2015 Chicago for Irish Trade Unionism

Two important events happened in Chicago in February 2015, which hold lessons for the Irish trade union movement. Firstly, a major report was released by the Chicago Teachers Union, the highly politicised and organised 2012 strike winners and enemies of the Chicago establishment. It was entitled A Just Chicago: Fighting for the City Our Students Deserve (full report available at ). It proposed wide ranging solutions to a crisis in city education, which went far beyond base union issues such as pay and conditions. Situating school as the heart of communities, it also proposed substantive solutions to a range of community problems like housing, justice, employment and health.

In the same month, and more significantly in many ways, alderman (equivalent of council with less power) and the mayoral elections took place. Chicago driven by big business ‘machine’ politics was severely challenged for the first time in 30 years by the victories of a range of outsider and left candidates in various wards across the city and the forcing of Major Rahm Emmanuel into a run off with the Chicago Teachers Union backed candidate Jesus ‘Chey’ Garcia.

For the city the victory of the Chicago Teachers Union in the 2012 Teachers Strike and their challenge in terms of policy platform and elections in 2015 is based on core underlying principles and practices which hold huge transformative potential for trade unionism, workers and society more generally.

Firstly, the Chicago Teachers Union puts considerable time and resources into effective research. This takes a number of important forms. Research is geared towards tangible existing needs and longer term visions for education. This provides a counter narrative as well as readily translating into election platforms. More important than that though, is that research in the Chicago Teachers Union facilitates organising, and in particular a breaking down of the division between union and community through the merging of ‘union’ issues and ‘community’ issues. Consequently, more broadly building support for left-wing and grassroots activism.

Secondly, the Chicago Teachers Union research does not occur in isolation. It is part of a wider organising prospective, which emphasises high participation and confrontation backed by democratised union structures. Following insurrectionist election victory from the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE), in 2012 and built on over a decade of grassroots education campaigning, the CTU embarked on a major campaign of industrial action and won. A 9 day strike was famously extended by a day to give the entire membership time to read and thus reached an informed decision on proposals to end the strike action. High participation in bargaining, as opposed to closed teams, expanded school by school councils and reduced emphasis on full time staffers, changed the dynamics of the teachers union.

Research itself was seen not as an elite media narrative alone but an integral tool in organising within the union. Breaking down the division between community and union was also seen not as a loose alliance of representative bodies but a recognition that union members themselves are members of a community, which needed to be built with the union.

Research breaking down the divide between the union and community perspective, organising emphasising high participation and deep democracy merge in political terms in the form of emphasis on challenging politics from the left but also from below. It becomes, in a city dominated by big business influence over politics and a centre of capitals onslaught, a new way of doing politics as well as a different vision. The fact that a relatively unknown Mayor candidate out resourced 16-1 can push the former White House Chief of Staff to a run off shows the political strength of such a vision. The run off will lead to a second round of voting in April, with a major win for the left possible.

For Ireland, the first message, in particular for teachers unions, is that members want solutions to the problems of their profession and communities as a whole and not just the bread and butter of pay and conditions. This may be particularly relevant for jobs defined by their ‘social benefit’. They also want to deal with a range of issues as a member of a community, from housing to healthcare. Secondly this breaking down of the barrier between community and union, or whole worker organising, as referred to by Jane McAlevey is backed by and driven by the membership themselves. There is nothing new in seeing a union member as a worker, a person with a whole range of class interests who’s life does not end at the end of a shift. But this has been lost in recent decades as the servicing of immediate workplace issues through professional staff has taken over.

Research can support members and communities to fight. Organisers do the same. For a left of the trade union movement increasingly breaking from the Labour Party, years of partnership and conservative policy, these lessons in terms of organising, engagement with communities and electoral ambitions seem all the more apt. And important for the ASTI and TUI as they tackle the issue of Junior Certificate reform and as early childcare educators seek to organise.

The strike is the key to union renewal and working class power


Reviving the strike – How working people can regain power and transform America By Joe Burns

Available on pdf at and for purchase at

Striking to stop production

This is a must-read book for trade unionists and left activists. Though it deals mainly with the American labour movement and conditions there, its main points and recommendations easily apply in Ireland.

The author, Joe Burns, is a union lawyer, negotiator and activist for many decades, most recently involved in the airline industry and health services. He is adamant that the movement needs to return to the strike as the essential part of union revival, to pull the movement out of the crisis of declining membership and power and pull our class out of poverty and desperation.

In this book he describes what he means by strike and explains the traditional form of strike prevalent within the movement in the 1920s and 30s and immediately after the Second World War, at a time of massive union growth and increased power for working people.

The traditional strike, and the workers who undertook it, aimed at stopping production, stopping the business from functioning. This was done with pickets, which blocked scabs from replacing the workers on strike or crossing the picket line, or with factory occupations or the sit-down strike. Whichever way it was done, the workers knew they were stopping the factory producing or the shop from opening, whether they were ceasing to handle goods in solidarity or refusing to co-operate with businesses where there was a strike, with the aim of hurting the employer economically.

Not only did the traditional strike strengthen the demands being made but it showed workers the power they possess within society. In addition to this it gave practical meaning and expression to solidarity. Workers would engage in solidarity strikes and actions to support their fellow-workers elsewhere. This traditional form of strike gave meaning and power to collective bargaining; without it, the author argues, unions are powerless.

The book describes the host of legal and legislative attacks on the strike that have since been introduced—some even welcomed by the movement. The contradiction that Joe’s book identifies is that, as the movement has sought legislation to establish and formalise collective bargaining, this moved the unions away from work-place power and into a dependence on process and on union officials.

The state—as this crisis has reminded us all—is a class state. It exists to secure the interests of capital and to maintain its system of production. Therefore, legislation by the state, even that won by unions, is fundamentally conservative. It established a regulatory relationship of control over workers, designed to pull the movement away from struggle and into formal processes that have made many aspects of the traditional strike illegal.

While concentrating on the history of the strike and its importance to the movement, the book also provides a general critique of other renewal strategies that are in vogue but that ignore the fundamental importance of the strike. Joe suggests that, despite two decades of activity and billions in workers’ money being pumped into organising, corporate campaigning, political leveraging, and other non-confrontational strategies, this has failed to build power or even numbers for the labour movement in the United States.

Reviving the strike in Ireland

What about Ireland today? Will we repeat mistakes made in the United States, or will we commit ourselves to a renewal strategy, with the strike as an essential weapon and the means by which we grow and strengthen the movement and our class?

In Ireland, both the strike and other forms of action are primarily controlled by the Industrial Relations Act (1990), which limits the definition of a trade dispute to disputes over employment or terms and condition of employment, making political or solidarity strikes impossible. It also limits picketing to peaceful acts, making the blockading of scabs illegal, and greatly restricts secondary picketing (aimed at employments not directly involved in the dispute but that may provide leverage for winning the fight).

The strike has also come under more recent attack from the EU Court of Justice, which has introduced “proportionality,” and its definition of a proportionate response, into the equation.

Just as in the United States, the legislation here is really designed to prevent workers taking militant action, providing for a safe withdrawal of labour as a form of protest but making actions to stop production, or to economically hurt the employer, illegal.

So, how can we revive the strike today? Firstly, there is no point—indeed it is damaging—to make irresponsible and hopeless calls for national strikes over political issues when no strategy exists for doing this. This is opportunistic and used only for short-term political gains, and it damages workers’ morale and organisation.

But reviving the traditional strike, which aims to stop production, increase solidarity, and build class-consciousness, has to be seriously considered. The movement must accept that the law is not our law, and therefore operating outside the law can be the right thing to do. Indeed we would not exist as a movement if millions of workers around the world had always acted over the years within the law.

Reviving the kind of militancy and awareness needed will not be done overnight, and provisions have to be made for protecting the assets of the movement, the pooled collective resources of workers, from being lost in litigation. But if the movement is to survive, a strategy must be agreed for moving in this direction.

Lobbying and soft campaigning, while necessary, won’t save the movement. Workers taking action, like the Greyhound workers last year during their lockout, at least provides us with hope that we can revive the strike as an essential component of organising and union renewal.