South Dublin County Council staff vote in favour of industrial action

IMPACT members working at South Dublin County Council have balloted in favour of industrial action following a decision by South Dublin County Council management to abolish ‘acting’ positions. The management decision effectively ordered staff to continue to perform senior duties, but on a lower pay rate. Staff at the local authority have voted in favour of industrial action by a margin of 86%.

The form of industrial action to be taken is expected to be announced next week.

IMPACT official Angela Kirk explained “In an act of calculated bad faith, council management announced its intention to cut the pay of staff in acting positions just days before a Labour Relations Commission hearing, which was to arbitrate on the matter. Local talks had broken down after management told the union it intended to change the pay rates rather than regularising the acting positions as agreed in the talks that led to the Haddington Road agreement.”

Ms Kirk said management was in breach of Haddington Road and was effectively extending pay cuts to staff below the €65,000 earnings threshold set out in the deal. The union also condemned management for refusing to discuss its proposals, saying that they were non-negotiable.

Many of the affected staff have been working at the more senior levels for years. They have already seen their pay cut by an average 14% since 2009 and have seen their working time increased under the Haddington Road agreement.

During the talks that produced the Haddington Road agreement, IMPACT won agreement on a process to regularise long-term acting positions following the completion of a workforce plan in each local authority.

Alt-labor: a new union movement or the same old song?

Unions are evolving to survive, as protests against Walmart – without employees of the company – increasingly show.

On a crisp and sunny morning on the day after Thanksgiving, a group of protesters gathered in front of a large Walmart in Michigan’s Sterling Heights, calling for wage increases and better working conditions for the superstore’s employees. Mary Johnson, a retiree and member of international activist group the Raging Grannies, stood next to Dan Lombardo, a plumber wearing old-fashioned overalls, who was carrying a sign stating “Walmart equals poverty.” Mothering Justice founder Danielle Atkinson, in a vibrant purple coat, turned up with her entire family. Even Mary Kay Henry, the International President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), who was back in the Detroit area for the holiday, was there.

But as police cars drew up, scattering the protesters, it seemed there was one cohort of people missing: the protest had not included a single Walmart worker.

Over the last couple of years, in a bid to survive, unions have been fighting back against crumbling membership rates, testing out new strategies and pouring logistical and financial resources into non-union, alternative forms of organizing, at the heart of which are campaigns to raise the minimum wage. In the interest of reaching a new cohort of younger and more diverse workers, immediate ambitions to increase membership levels have fallen by the wayside.

So the pragmatism sets in: to command the numbers they need to create a presence at protests, unions are helping organize workers who are not paying members and have little prospect of becoming so in the near future.

There’s a name for it that harkens more to the music industry than the labor movement: alternative labor, or ” alt-labor”.

Leading the “alt-labor” initiatives have been two organizing clusters: Our Walmart, created by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), and the Fight for 15 movement. The former group’s demands include a $25,000 a year minimum salary for all Walmart workers but have given up on hopes for unionization. Then there’s the Fight For 15 movement, created by the SEIU. That targets the fast-food industry, with demands for a $15 an hour minimum wage and the right to form a union-and an appeal to millennials.

Alt-labor as a phenomenon – filling in gaps where unions have failed to organize – is not new. In the last two decades, workers in the restaurant, retail, agriculture and domestic work industries have been fighting for their rights through non-union foundation funded worker centers, grassroots, community organizations, including the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and the Coalition for Immokalee Workers, who have had a number of landmark victories.

What is new is the extent of big labor unions’ involvement and investment into alt-labor, and the creation of their own alt-labor spinoffs.

The labor movement is trying to reinvent itself, by necessity. The United States labor movement is in crisis. Unions today represent just 11.3% of American workers, down from 28.3% in 1954. Worse for the old bosses of labor, 93% of the private sector is currently non-union – a reflection of a number of trends, including the gradual spreading of anti-worker, pro-employer legislation and policies, an idea that unions are bad for business, the outsourcing of jobs and labor’s failure to adapt to an increasingly service-based economy.

“The labor movement is on a learning curve,” says Bob Bruno, a professor at the University of Illinois, who directs its Chicago-based labor education program.

Unions have remained vastly absent from the retail and restaurant industries, Walmart and fast food chains included. Walmart currently employs 1.3 million people in America, while the 10 largest fast food chains employ 2.2 million Americans.

“As income inequality grows greater and greater, it becomes more and more obvious that you’ve got larger sectors of the workforce that are now huddling round the minimum wage,” Bruno says. “The labor movement is coming to a realization that these are workers that they need to be attentive to and think about finding ways of supporting.”

In many ways, Our Walmart and the Fight For 15 movements are not new forms of labor, but labor from scratch – organizing members who have never been members of unions before – one worker at a time, one work place at a time.

When Nancy Salgado, 27, who has been a McDonald’s employee in Chicago since the age of 16, received a phone call from her sister last summer, urging her to join the Fight For 15 movement, she says she didn’t believe any of what her sister was telling her was true.

“I wasn’t aware that I had rights, I wasn’t aware that anybody cared about fast-food workers or anybody cared about how much I was making.”

Now Salgado, who makes $8.25 an hour and has two young children she is the sole provider for, says she won’t stop protesting, striking and mobilizing more of her colleagues until she earns the right to organize without retaliation, form a union and negotiate a raise.

Damon Silvers, director for policy and special counsel at the AFL-CIO, a national trade union center representing 11 million workers, says the future of the labor movements is not so much tied to whether or not unions will survive, but whether the rights of working people will.

“The critical thing right now in the American economy and the American workforce is for working people to rediscover that they have power collectively to shape their own economic future,” Silvers says.

But with only a minority of workers taking part in protests (and in the case of Sterling Heights, none at all) there is no doubt this is a public awareness campaign too. Less kind commentators have called Walmart and fast-food industry-geared protests a march on the media.

Striking hardly threatens the daily functioning of businesses in highly volatile, low-skill industries where employees can be fired or have their hours cut from one day to the next with little protection. It does however serve to draw attention to broader economic issues, including stark income inequality, and the reality of living on the minimum wage.

“Often, fast-food workers are out of sight, out of mind,” says Amy Traub, a senior policy analyst at Demos.

Jessica Davis, 25, also a McDonald’s employee, says she first learned about unions and workers’ rights just four months ago, when she was approached by an organizer on a work break. Before then, she says she assumed she was at the mercy of her manager.

Today, Davis, who has had her hours cut in half since she joined Fight For 15, dedicates time at work convincing colleagues to join the fight with her.

“I tell them they can cut your days for anything they want, why not have them cut your days for something you believe in, for something where you can stand up and say ‘They cut my days for this, this is not right.’”

While similar stories of worker empowerment are happening across the country through on the ground organizers at least partially financed by UFCW for Walmart and SEIU for fast-food outlets, it should come as no surprise that Salgado and Davis’ originally lacked any knowledge of their rights as workers. That kind of lack of awareness is what motivates alt-labor organizers.

Last September, economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty found that 95% of the wealth generated since the 2008 financial crash went to the top 1% of American earners, with economic recovery holding a very different meaning for those at the top of the American economic ladder than it did for those at the bottom.

In a report released last October, the National Employment Law Project estimated McDonald’s 707,850 employees were forced to rely on $1.2bn in public assistance despite the company making $5.46bn in profits, and paying its CEO $13.7m.

Traub argues the fast food and Walmart strikes and the personal stories that accompany them have brought increased visibility to theoretical arguments, propping up major campaigns to raise the minimum wage in more official settings, such as the recent Democrat-sponsored congressional bill to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 by 2016.

But opponents abound, selling their skepticism: are these campaigns a succession of media-stunts set up by big labor as a last resort to advance their interests, or is the effort to build a new movement actually taking place on the ground?

Among the most vocal denouncing alt-labor practices is the Center for Union Facts, run by renowned conservative public relations expert Richard Berman.

Berman’s websites, and, among others, seek to expose alt-labor organizations’ ties to unions, with the implication that the old labor movement is pulling the puppet strings.

“No campaigns supported by unions – either implicitly or explicitly – to raise the minimum wage are worker-led battles,” Berman says. “They are coordinated attacks led by national labor unions against long-time industry foes.”

Berman’s point about worker involvement is a sensitive topic within labor and alt-labor.

When asked, Our Walmart and the Fight For 15 movement did not hide their union affiliations – though the ties are definitely downplayed. Presumably in an effort to appear as grassroots-led as possible, SEIU’s Fight For 15 movement has a different name in each city, and has no central website. Neither organization’s budget has been made accessible, which keeps opposition scrutiny at bay.

More concretely, one question remains: if the larger unions continue to dissolve, the sources of financial support for alt-labor are likely to go with them. The financial future of alt-labor is thus up in the air. Could fast-food workers feasibly become the dues-paying GM workers of the future?

If convincing workers to take part in protests still represents an uphill battle, the central, core ambitions of the protests – raising the minimum wage and tangibly addressing inequality – are bringing a variety of sympathetic community members and organizations together. With a new cause to rally around, the question arises: could a new kind of American, far from the factory floor, represent the future and survival of the labor movement?

Back at the Walmart gathering in Sterling Heights, with police officers growing increasingly impatient from their cars, the remaining, diverse set of protesters had gathered for a group photo. They exchanged jokes and, later, phone numbers. Current Walmart store employees may have been absent from the protest, but the cause of raising the minimum wage and tackling inequality was clearly forming new friendships, connections and alliances.

Organize and fight for dignified work and life!

The World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) conveys a class, internationalist, and militant greetings to its almost 90 million affiliates in more than 120 countries of the world, to the class oriented trade union movement, to every worker all over the globe and calls them to honour this day with strikes, militant events, demonstrations. This year’s May Day finds the global working class under hazardous conditions. The recipe of all capitalist governments and imperialist mechanisms (IMF, World Bank, EU, etc.) for an “exit from the crisis” is the same in every country: pay – cuts, pension – cuts, authoritarianism, austerity, elimination of social rights, unemployment.

At the same time, the contradictions within the imperialist system, like those we witness these days in Ukraine make the situation for the working class even more dangerous and lead to even more hazardous situations. Alarm bells should be set ringing! These days, at the ILO, employers and capitalist governments want to eliminate the right to strike. That’s why they want to eliminate the recognition of the “right to strike” in Convention 87 of the ILO.

The right to strike was not donated by any government or international organization. It was won through hard workers’ struggles and it will continue to exist only by the workers struggles! The WFTU demands: Hands off the right to strike and calls the international class oriented trade union movement to organize massive and militant mobilizations to defend it. Unemployment, on international level, strikes mercilessly the working class and their children; it becomes a lever to increase exploitation, especially among women and young people of the working class and the popular strata.

This May Day, the WFTU calls the international class oriented trade union movement to fight against the phenomenon of unemployment as a whole: to struggle for the survival of the unemployed, organize the unemployed in the trade unions, fight for social benefits for the unemployed and struggle for the right to stable and permanent job for everybody and fight against unemployment and the factors that generate this phenomenon. Let’s make this May Day a starting point for the preparation of the WFTU International Action Day October 3rd 2014, which has as its central topic the fight against unemployment. Because, unemployment is a phenomenon inherent in the capitalist system. Workers all over the world, there’s no reason why our working class should live in poverty, unemployment, face hunger, imperialist wars or lack public and free healthcare and education. The WFTU calls all workers to unite under its banners, to strike, march militantly, defend the right to strike, fight for stable and steady work for all, for trade union freedoms and social rights. The future of the working class cannot be exploitation and capitalist barbarism.

The WFTU for this May Day and for everyday makes a call to all workers, based on the main slogan of the “Athens Pact”, our main political and trade union document, voted at the 16 World Trade Union Congress in 2011:

Workers rise up! against capitalist barbarism, for social justice, for a world without exploitation!

Raising Our Expectations

Jane McAlevey challenges the Left to stop lamenting its disappointments in the working class and address our own failures.

Taken from Portside Labor

Sam Gindin

Looking back to the defeat of the labor movement since the early 1980s, three lessons seem especially important. First, any gains made under capitalism are temporary; they can be reversed. Second, the kind of unionism we developed in that earlier period of gains was inherently limited; it left us in a poor position to respond to the subsequent attacks. Third, absent new forms of working class organization and practices, fatalism takes over and worker expectations fall.

Raising Expectations (And Raising Hell), newly out in paperback from Verso, is part memoir, part organizing manual, and part rejoinder to that fatalism. Jane McAlevey is a long-time organizer in the student, environmental and, over the past two decades, labor movements. She is currently a PhD candidate at City University of New York, which she has integrated into her continuing life as a labor organizer. Her message, based on her experiences and achievements, is that as much as capitalism has diminished workers and undermined their confidence in affecting their lives, workers can overcome — but only if they themselves become organizers inside both the workplace and community.

While any such organizing begins with workers’ needs, it is workers’ expectations of their own ability to intervene — and of the support from their unions in doing so — that must especially be raised. McAlevey refuses to romanticize workers or glorify spontaneity. But she deeply respects working people and genuinely appreciates their creative potential, a respect reflected in her refusal to be shy about challenging workers to reach their potential.

Organizing strategy is McAlevey’s forte, and two examples highlight her approach. In 1998, following the moment in the mid-nineties when the AFL-CIO had become desperate enough to allow some real experimentation to take place, McAlevey was sent to Stamford, Conn., to direct an organizing drive, the Stamford Organizing Project. Stamford had one of the lowest union densities in all of New England.

A number of aspects of that drive stand out. First, as obvious as it might seem to cooperate across unions, it is in fact extremely rare to see unions getting together to “pool resources, share lists, and adhere to collectively made decisions.” To the credit of the four locals involved (most of whose leadership came from an oppositional and left tradition), they saw beyond a parochial concern to gain new dues-paying members and grasped the need to build the class across sectors and across racial and gendered divisions.

Second, when a main concern of the workers turned out to revolve around access to housing, McAlevey shifted the unionization drive to make housing a primary focus — class was not just a workplace relationship. The confidence, skills, and alliances developed in that campaign, and the corresponding credibility gained for the labor movement, were key to organizing unions and winning strong contracts.

Breaking down the distinction between the workplace and the community and putting an emphasis on community allies is itself not unusual in such struggles; what was distinct was that rather than seeing the community as an “other,” McAlevey emphasized the extent to which workers were themselves part of the community; success depended on workers becoming the key organizers in bringing the community around. “When union staff try to do it in place of workers,” McAlevey writes, “they blow it.”

Some six years later, just before the split in the AFL-CIO in 2005, McAlevey was sent by SEIU to organize public and private hospitals in Nevada. Because Nevada became a right-to-work state, with workers having the right to opt out of paying dues, the thin organizing that unions commonly practice couldn’t work. McAlevey’s team identified and supported organic worker-leaders. The intensive, face-face organizing that followed, with increasingly confident workers now “in constant conversation with one another about everything going on” raised the share of dues-paying union members from 25% to 80% and higher — enough of a difference to distinguish between collective begging and collective bargaining.

This was accomplished by honing a rigorous system of mapping the workplace thoroughly and continuously, and then building and deliberately testing the workers’ capacities throughout the campaign. Alongside this, McAlevey insisted that to build the kind of power necessary to win in the particularly hostile context of Nevada demanded an inclusive bargaining unit — one that brought nurses and lab technicians together with janitors, laundry workers, and food preparation staff.

To a degree virtually unheard of in labor negotiations, McAlevey pressed to open up the bargaining sessions to the members. The bargaining team included “one worker to the team for every twenty-five workers in the larger units and for every fifteen workers in the smaller units,” and this was done “by unit and shift so that we had every kind of worker input.” All members were welcome and “encouraged to attend negotiations, whether for a day, an hour, or a coffee break.”

This had, as McAlevey acknowledges, its risks and demanded a great deal of preparation and internal discipline if it wasn’t to become a free for all. But in the end, such “big bargaining” greatly contributed to winning over members disillusioned about the union and their role within it.

In both examples, and central to all of McAlevey’s organizing, is the priority given to carrying out the most in-depth power analysis of what workers are up against and where they can exercise leverage in their struggle. This involves mapping and charting the power not only of the companies being unionized or bargained with, but in the communities in which the struggle is taking place.

And it includes both the conventional metrics of identifying power brokers, community leaders, state-corporate links, and others, and qualitative assessments by the workers themselves of both the power arrayed against them and the power they can bring to bear. The information gathered and the process of gathering it then become integral to developing workers’ strategic understandings and capacities.

Some critics of the book have accused McAlevey of self-promotion for the book’s emphasis on her own role in these events. This seems rather churlish. Both the device of making her points through a memoir based on her personal experience and the informal style were clearly intended to make it more accessible to lay readers and rank-and-file unionists. (The publishers apparently asked for the personalized subtitle of “My Decade Fighting for the Labor Movement.”) Moreover, McAlevey is very generous in pointing to her mentors and giving them and earlier organizers credit for the model she applies.

Judgments of McAlevey’s personality are beside the point. The real question is whether she has written a book that contributes to addressing labor’s current impasse. And on this score, it is difficult to imagine even such critics denying that she has something important to say.

McAlevey has also been attacked — most notably by respected labor journalist Steve Early — for her criticism of Sal Rosselli, the SEIU leader of a key local in California who broke away, after the SEIU’s imposition of a trusteeship, to form the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

Early’s attack is doubly unfortunate. First, McAlevey’s book only mentions Rosselli in passing. Challenging her brief comments is one thing; focusing on those few passages to essentially dismiss the book is another. Second, whatever disagreements there may be between Early and McAlevey on this specific issue, they are on the same side in their antipathy to the role of the SEIU leadership. As McAlevey says in her new afterward, “While the Birthers and Tea Party were effectively mobilizing town halls all across the nation to destroy health care–reforms, SEIU’s health-care organizers were busy blowing up one of their best local unions.”

Most important, however, in terms of discussions of organizing models, have been suggestions that as a staff representative herself, McAlevey presents a model that is staff-driven. We should, of course, be wary of organizing models that substitute staff for the participation of workers. But the very point of McAlevey’s work is to combat that kind of relationship between staff and rank-and-file and replace it with an orientation to remaking the working class into a social force with the capacity to make its own decisions.

As she said of the Stamford process, “I was proposing that the bulk of this work not be done directly by union organizers but by the workers themselves.” It was, in fact, McAlevey’s refusal to toe SEIU’s deal-making model, which she has referred to elsewhere as “organizing the company,” and to repeatedly insist on organizing the workers, that got her in trouble with the SEIU top leadership.

Yet the issue here isn’t just to reject the role of staff.  In the building of militant, democratic, community-centered unions, full-time staff have an essential role to play as catalysts and support systems for bringing in and bringing out the best in the members. To ignore this is to obscure all the difficult but necessary issues of how to establish the proper context for staffers to play this kind of role.

The larger issue here revolves around the nature of organizing. An essentialist view of workers as being inherently militant, solidaristic and strategy-wise doesn’t grasp the actual state of the working class. If workers already had the needed capacities fully formed, they would have organized themselves long ago.

Organizing is about moving people from where they currently are to someplace that brings out their potential as social agents. It involves developing the individual and collective capacities — alongside the structures, tactics and strategies — that can match what workers are up against. Most labor leaders today, McAlevey asserts, think that in the “self-centered, plugged-in, globalized country this nation has become,” deep workplace and community organizing is impossible. Her experiences prove otherwise.

The organizing model McAlevey proposes, based on her experience and with roots in early CIO practices, demands a heavy commitment of union resources (McAlevey hasn’t shied away from supporting large dues increases) and depends on experienced organizers (who may or may not be staff) playing a catalyst role. The identification of informal leaders is given much greater attention than most unions’ traditional organizing models since the de facto leaders, as McAlevey repeatedly emphasizes, are not generally the formal, elected leaders.

Organizing is a continuous process, beginning with power mapping, testing to hone mobilization capacities, then acting. It connects individual and collective action and passes on analytical and strategic skills to workers. It develops workers’ self-confidence through demonstrating that employers and politicians can be taken on and demands won. It is suspicious of the legalisms of grievance handling, instead focusing on workers addressing grievances through direct action. It keeps the union members fully informed, opens the bargaining process to much broader direct participation, doesn’t shy away from strikes, and it looks to the workers themselves to organize their communities.

And yet for all the concrete demonstrations that this model of organizing works, it did not spread across the labor movement. The exciting example in Connecticut of unions cooperating with each other and moving into the community — and subsequently gaining members and first contracts, successfully intervening to save and improve public housing projects and gaining representation in local politics — did not spread. In Nevada, an impressive number of workers overcame the state’s anti-labor legislation and joined the SEIU, and the contracts won were quite remarkable, including the breakthrough in Nevada’s health care sector for fully employer-paid family health care. Yet this too faded, undone by both legitimate disagreements and petty turf wars. What are we to make of this?

The dilemma is that this organizing model rests on unions being open to real organizing, committing the resources, standing ready to accept some turmoil within their organizations, and trusting the members rather than looking to broker deals with corporations. But unions that would agree to such a program are distressingly rare. Creating them essentially requires revolutions inside unions — something that is unlikely to happen through any spontaneous dynamic strictly internal to unions.

Without the existence of a left committed to class struggle and with its feet inside and outside workplaces, unions that have transformed into the kinds of organizing machines McAlevey helped create will remain the exception. But such a left, with links to workers and a capacity to develop organizers where workers are looking for help and workers that might transform their unions, is itself at an impasse. Much as many of us might think of the Left as the most self-conscious part of the class struggle, their impasse is as difficult to overcome as unions’.

In this context, McAlevey’s book is timely and desperately needed because it convincingly demonstrates that the problem is not in the stars, but in ourselves. If we as the Left can get our shit together, it is possible to build groups of workers into a social force in spite of the times.

Where unions are ready to try, McAlevey presents a method for how to do this. And where unions are not yet prepared to take this on, it lays out a range of specific demands we should be fighting for within our unions. (The book is full of concrete examples of tools, tactics, and strategies that can win; it is practically begging for a follow-up detailed manual).

Every serious labor activist needs to engage this book, drawing out what is useful and experimenting with variations as appropriate. But we also need to go further. Indirectly, McAlevey’s book challenges the Left to stop lamenting its disappointments in the working class and address, with humility, its own failures. The Left must raise its expectations of itself.

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 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, covering issues of class, labor, inequality and climate change.

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.