PAME Union Activists in Greece

The TULF send our solidarity and best wishes to the 35 PAME union activists in Greece who were found innocent on December 20th having been arrested and tried for disturbing the peace and public services during a union strike last January 2013.

Their lawyer summed up the reason for their arrest “it was very clear that the trial had political characteristics and features in order to strike against the workers who are really resisting.”

And as one of the 35, and executive committee members of PAME, said:

“We have serious fronts of struggle ahead of us. The fronts of health, collective bargaining agreements, the unemployed. We must struggle for these demands, intervene against the government, so that the people can live. We must support the unemployed. Our right to work concerns everyone. And, chiefly all these things we are struggling for concern the younger generation, our children. We have a major obligation towards them. Forwards with strength, with militancy so that we can struggle in the battles to come. And as the song says, which we repeat: “don’t expect us to bend even for one moment.”

Do we want a co-ordinated market economy?

David Begg recently published a paper called “Trade Unions and the Common Good,” which forms the opening of the second report of the Commission on the Irish Trade Union Movement. This was established to reform the trade union movement, with the ultimate goal of reducing the number of unions to fewer than ten and centralising the movement in a federal structure under the ICTU.

This is a hugely important process and one that should have the active attention of all trade unionists. Yet despite its far-reaching aims and goals, there has been virtually no discussion of it among elected representatives or rank-and-file activists. The Trade Union Left Forum encourages all union members to read both reports (available on this site and also on the ICTU website) and to engage your own unions on this question.

Most striking about Begg’s paper is his presentation of what a progressive economy might look like, as a “co-ordinated market economy”, fully accepting that Ireland remains an “open” economy, as if there is a common desire for this within the movement, despite there having been no democratic discussion or debate on the subject.

Begg sees this “co-ordinated market economy” as flowing from deeper integration within the European Union, and suggests a closer relationship of the trade union movement to the Labour Party. This completely ignores the reality that the EU is in fact a principal cause of the economic crisis in Ireland, and has unjustly imposed the burden of the crisis on working people, with the active support of the Labour Party, as well as of social-democratic parties throughout Europe. Has socialised corporate debt been repudiated or has austerity ended in any European country where a social-democratic party was in government?

Begg also fails to acknowledge that much of his lauded Norwegian model is based on the country’s control of its natural resources, a demand that is missing from his presentation. In fact national control or ownership of any part of the economy is almost entirely missing from his vision. The closest he comes to this is calling for “national champions” and state intervention in the form of a state holding company in which the public and the private sector would collaborate to invest presumably in more of the failed and costly public-private partnerships.

Begg’s analysis fails to describe or to understand the actual reality of monopoly capitalism today. It is not about what capitalism should be but what it actually is. Capitalism is responsible for this crisis, and for poverty and for unemployment: these are not “unjust effects,” as he calls them.

Production and jobs are moving to low-wage countries. Technological improvements in production replace jobs and produce more, creating a massive imbalance in supply and consumption. Debt is being used to fuel consumption in increasingly wasteful products. Profits and growth in the real economy have been stagnant for decades. Capitalist growth is in direct contradiction to our planetary and environmental needs. Financial products, tax evasion and massive illegal trafficking have been used to absorb surplus capital and find profits. Wages in real terms have consistently declined in the west.

These are features of the system and cannot be undone by a policy tweak here or there.
If Begg’s “co-ordinated market economy” is allowed to be the vision of the trade union movement, our decline will continue and our irrelevance grow with it.

Socialists—those who believe in a planned and socially owned and controlled economy—should be warned of the direction in which this commission is driving the trade union movement and need to argue for a political economy for the working class, one that recognises class struggle and recognises the critical question of the generation of wealth and the ownership of wealth as being central to our needs for a democratic economy and a democratic Ireland.

The Fairy Tales of Kildare Street

The fanfares for the minister’s budget speech in the Dáil are now over. It was a cleverly written speech, with lots of spin, incomplete figures, and a drip-feed of cuts in the days following it.

The orchestrated sound-bites are designed to cover what is yet another savage attack on the ill, the old, youth, women, and workers in general. It gives priority to private health over public health, so driving people to private insurers and monopoly health-providers. Cuts to the subvention to public transport will only benefit private transport operators.

The budget is a further consolidation of the drive to make Irish workers a reservoir of cheap labour and to make Ireland a zone of precarious employment and retain it as a tax haven. In particular, young people have been the main targets of this strategy. The attack on young people and the cuts they will be forced to endure, including “workfare,” have now effectually reduced the minimum wage for those under twenty-five to €3.50 per hour.

But this budget is not merely a set of cuts: it is also a further consolidation of the strategy of making austerity permanent and irreversible that is being imposed by both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, which are loyal lieutenants and handmaidens of the ruling economic elite and the interests of the EU.

The Labour Party is now beyond repair and is paying the price for propping up the establishment. Opportunist forces will, predictably, attack the Labour Party and its representatives in the trade union movement, solely for their own electoral advantage. For what is clear is that, for all their detailed criticism of the nuts and bolts and the percentages, their critiques are firmly within the framework of the system itself and do not pose any real challenge.

The EU, ECB and IMF will be happy enough with this continued approach of making working people pay the price for the crisis. There is a total commitment to paying the odious debt and, more importantly, servicing that debt to the tune of €8 or 9 billion per year. They are guaranteeing a permanent return to the holders of debt bonds and monopoly finance capital and a massive transfer of capital out of the country into their coffers, an outflow of the people’s money so necessary for proper economic and social development.

The majority of organisations in the so-called “social pillar” are hopelessly caught up in the food chain, silenced or muted by their dependence on dwindling government money.

The Trade Union Left Forum believes that only a politically and organisationally rejuvenated trade union movement will have the strength to mount any challenge to the present course. The basic question regarding this budget and the establishment’s strategy, when you strip away the spin, is, Who stands to win and who loses? The movement needs to realise which side it is on.

16 October 2013: The day CWU postal members invaded the beaches of global capitalism

Today is a momentous day in the history of industrial relations between the 500-year-old (and now privatised) Royal Mail group, which is the British postal operator, and its postal workers, who are represented by the Communications Workers’ Union.

The result of a ballot by the CWU on industrial action was returned today, with a Yes vote of 78 per cent and a No vote of 22 per cent, the turn-out being 64 per cent.

The privatisation of the 500-year-old institution has been one of the most unpopular in recent times, both among employees of the business, reflected in a consultative ballot (96 per cent voting against it), and in the public outcry as expressed in various opinion polls. Even the Iron Lady, Thatcher, when she was privatising the whole of Britain in the 1980s wouldn’t privatise the “Queen’s head”; so it fell to a Liberal Democrat MP, Vince Cable, to hammer in the Tory neo-liberal nail.

The planning that has gone into the privatisation has been a disaster from the beginning. Since its flotation on the stock exchange, shares have soared, revealing that the business was massively undersold by about £1 billion. This means that the taxpayer has already lost that £1 billion in what can only be described as a bundled fire-sale. A tenth of the shares have been allocated to the Royal Mail staff as a “sweetener”; but given the result of the ballot, the employees are more concerned about their job security than about any bribe.

The chief executive of Royal Mail, Moya Green, claims that privatisation was necessary for outside investment; but it’s fast becoming obvious that the fire-sale was purely ideological, to line the pockets of faceless investors and the ruling class, with their bloodthirsty obsession with maximising profit.

To quote Dave Ward, deputy general secretary of the CWU, “We will not accept people maximising individual profit on the back of minimising the value, terms and conditions of postal workers.”

The privatisation of the business has, however, taken place, and that battle has been lost for now. However, the fight of postal workers to protect their terms and conditions in the face of that privatisation continues. There was an offer from the business of a legally binding agreement with a duration of three years. This, however, has been rejected and the CWU is demanding a longer duration, with better job security for its members. Any such deal will be unprecedented; and, given the result of the ballot, Royal Mail would be well advised to get involved in meaningful negotiations with the CWU or face the determination of its postal workers.

The TULF extends its solidarity and support to these workers and their families.

What would be a fitting tribute?

There could not be a greater opportunity to revitalise an ailing trade union movement than the commemoration and celebration of the 1913 Lock-out. We have seen, and commented on, how the state, in conjunction with parts of the movement, has initiated its commemoration; and we are unfortunately expecting a let-down in collective bargaining legislation, as Richard Bruton has been clear in his intention to reform the previous failed legislation and keep it within Ireland’s commitment to attracting foreign investment.

But how could the movement do justice to the men and women of the Lock-out?

Firstly, there would have to be a common understanding of what exactly the Lock-out was and where it came from. This is lacking at present within the movement.

The Lock-out was not just an industrial-relations struggle over union recognition. It was class struggle over a vision of how and for whom society should be organised, pitting against each other the two most prominent political fronts of the opposing classes in Ireland, William Martin Murphy and his employers’ groups on the one hand and Larkin, Connolly and the ITGWU on the other. It was also intrinsically of, and itself influenced, the rebirth of the national struggle that had been developing and that Connolly brilliantly saw in conjunction with the class struggle as two sides of the same coin.

The Lock-out placed class at the centre of Irish politics but also saw the formation of the Irish Citizen Army, which would play a central role in the Rising three years later, and would see the ITGWU, and many union members, play an important role in the popular revolutionary struggle for independence and sovereignty.

Simply put, the Lock-out was class struggle out in the open, related to the global changes occurring in capitalism and, in particular, in Ireland’s position within British imperialism. In that sense, the Lock-out was not only a national event.

This is the deeper understanding of the Lock-out that is required first for the union movement to appropriately recognise and pay tribute to this historic and hugely relevant event.

Secondly—and only if the point above is recognised—the formal movement can lead a national class awakening on a par with those times. The class nature of the struggle in 1913 should be recognised and celebrated as working-class pride and confidence in itself. This is a long way from the collaborationist and corporatist ideology of “partnership” but something that is necessary for revitalising the movement and shifting the balance of power in Ireland towards labour and working people.

To avoid the accusation of naïveté, we acknowledge that this will not happen overnight, and no-one should expect this; but resources and efforts need to be directed now towards class-conscious political education and organising. This centenary is the perfect opportunity for a willing trade union movement to do this. It can be done through shop-stewards’ courses, lunchtime seminars and weekend schools but also through union papers, web sites, annual events and social media and by linking with the many groups, parties and campaigns that push class-consciousness.

While talks of mergers, shared services and assets abound, this will do nothing to strengthen the movement, as Connolly pointed out, if it is not accompanied by a revolutionary ideology.

And finally, the movement should draw attention to the obvious and striking similarities that exist today and use the resonance that the Lock-out still has in working-class communities to build genuine campaigns to challenge imperialism in its modern guise and to fight on the street and in the work-place for democracy in all aspects of our lives—political, industrial, economic, cultural, and social. This should include marches and demonstrations but needs to move far beyond the usual “Grand Old Duke of York” demos and build a united class-conscious movement with a vision of socialism.

Reply to Trade Union Left Forum News Item of September 27th, 2013

The state commemoration on Saturday, August 31st, 2013, was the first official acknowledgement of the role of organised labour in the creation and development of the Irish state. It was secured in spite of intense opposition from business interests and it was important from our point of view both for its symbolic value and as part of the campaign to have legislation on collective bargaining passed during the life of the current Government.

This is the first time such a commitment has been secured in a Programme for Government, due to the Labour Party’s participation in that Government. This is not a statement of support for the Labour Party, simply a statement of fact.

The 1913 Committee has been involved in a wide range of initiatives to celebrate and commemorate the Dublin Lockout. It has done so in a spirit of co-operation and on the basis of finding issues of common ground with a wide range of civic society bodies and interested individuals.

While there are relevant points made in the Trade Union Left Forum blog it also contains statements that are inaccurate and damaging to its own credibility, as well as the objectives of the wider movement.

For instance:
1. It attacks the use of G4S Security in terms I will not repeat as they are potentially defamatory. Suffice to say that G4S Security received the contract to steward the event because it recognises unions, engages in collective bargaining in Ireland, and has a global union agreement. The people attacked in your blog are fellow workers and trade unionists.
2. The blog states that ‘400,000 Dubliners do not bring themselves to the point of starvation for trade union recognition or for any pay claim or terms and conditions of employments. They go to such extremes for a political vision of society – socialism’. The total population of Dublin in 1913 was only 300,000 and only one out of ten ‘Larkinite’ candidates was elected to the City Council during the Lockout. Wishful thinking is no substitute for serious historical analysis.

How the Trade Union Left Forum decides to commemorate Bloody Sunday and other events connected with the Lockout is a matter for itself, but it owes it to fellow trade unionists to base its critique on facts if it wishes to be taken seriously.

Padraig Yeates
On Behalf of the 1913 Committee

Larkin laid to rest in state funeral

Saturday 31 August saw the state do its best to bury the soul and spirit of Larkinism through its official commemoration of the 1913 Lockout. While this was the official state event, there is no doubt it also had the support and the involvement of elements of the trade union leadership, although their level of involvement or control over the event is not clear.

Certainly this year has seen an array of excellent and worthwhile commemorations, in the form of new research, essays and books, new web sites, series of podcasts, radio debates, community television broadcasts, public meetings, events in local libraries, local history events and many more that reflect the resonance this heroic event has with working people today.

The state-led service (as this is what it felt like) failed to capture this mood. It deliberately had no connection with contemporary workers or struggles. It was deliberately apolitical. It did not celebrate Larkinism, because that would be to celebrate political, class-conscious, militant solidarity and trade unionism; that would be to celebrate a threat to the state itself.

The Lockout is less important as an industrial relations event than as the first time the working class in Ireland placed its demands at the centre and the heart of Irish politics and made itself the central actor. To celebrate that is to celebrate class struggle, something neither the state nor parts of the trade union movement are keen on, which could not avoid the political demands and challenges faced by working people today and the failure of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party to address these in any meaningful way. So they chose the safe and neutral option of wreath-laying, songs, readings, and re-enactments.

Even more disappointing, however, was the fact that G4S Security, a firm notorious for its use of precarious work and its horrendous prison conditions, is reported to have pulled from the crowd those daring to express a political view counter to those of Fine Gael or the Labour Party, having searched everyone on the way in—leaving the event with no need for people to dress as the DMP. Topped off with a VIP zone for the President, Fine Gael and Labour TDs, it left a feeling rather as if this was William Martin Murphy’s final victory over Larkin.

The state clearly sees the potential danger posed both by this commemoration and by those to come over the next decade. It sees the potential they have to mobilise and focus the anger and frustration of working people and to link the demands for better living and working conditions with the demands for sovereignty and control. This has set the tone for future state events: dull, disconnected, and unimaginative.

Crucially important for union activists to appreciate is that 20,000 workers do not bring themselves to the point of starvation for trade union recognition or for any pay claim or terms and conditions of employment. They go to such extremes for a political vision of society—socialism—that Larkin, Connolly and the unions involved represented. The Lockout was an intensely political event, pitting one vision of society against another, exposing the class contradictions within the national movement and radicalising what would later become the republican and socialist wing of it.

It is up to us, politically class-conscious trade unionists, to capture this mood and organise within our unions to reclaim the politics of Connolly and Larkin from those who seek to bury them.

Solidarity with the members of the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland

The Trade Union Left Forum expresses its solidarity with the members of the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland in rejecting the Haddington Road Agreement despite the threats and bullyboy tactics of the government.

The threats to cuts allowances and enforce compulsory redundancies by the Labour Party Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn and by Labour Party Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin by using the draconian Financial Emergency Legislation (Fempi) against trade union members is a challenge not just to ASTI members but to all public sector workers.

All workers need to stand together and resist this governments bullying and intimidation and to build solidarity with the members of the ASTI and those teachers from other unions who may take solidarity actions in support of the position taken by the ASTI members.

“An injury to one is the concern of all” – This is still the bedrock of our movement.

Will this Government guarantee the right to union representation for workers?

The Labour Party, in this centenary year of the heroic struggle of 1913, claims to be committed to providing the legal right to trade union representation and collective bargaining for workers with their employers. They claim it is part of the Programme for Government that they negotiated with their coalition partners, Fine Gael—though in reality all this commits them to is reforming existing legislation to be in line with recent rulings by the European Court of Human Rights.

The relevant minister, Richard Bruton (Fine Gael), requested submissions on this subject earlier in the year and has made a commitment to bringing forward legislation to reform the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act (2001) later this year that will “reconcile Ireland’s constitutional, social and economic traditions, and international obligations, whilst at the same time ensuring continued success in building Ireland’s domestic jobs-base and in attracting overseas investment into the economy.” (Richard Bruton in a letter to the Youth Committee of the ICTU.)

Already, however, it is clear that this Government will not legislate for collective bargaining for workers and for the legal right to be collectively represented by an independent trade union chosen by the workers themselves. What is likely to be introduced is a reform of the discredited 2001 act that will allow transnational corporations, Ryanair included, to continue to consult their own dependent staff associations and to avoid any efforts by workers to achieve recognition for their trade union.

So, while there may be great fanfare from the Labour Party and its representatives in various trade unions, the devil will be in the lack of detailed mechanisms for legal trade union recognition and collective bargaining.

But what would we want if we could achieve legislative recognition collective bargaining?

First of all, it’s important to state that legal union recognition would not be the panacea for the declining strength of the movement. Many countries have a variety of mechanisms for this, yet in virtually every country in the western world unions are declining numerically and in strength. Why? Because the unions have failed to adapt to new forms of control and domination of workers by employers and have dropped the broader social and economic demands of the class in favour of sectoral professional imagery. Where unions are growing they are allied to community demands and struggles and are challenging the political system—such as nurses in California and teachers in Chicago.

But nonetheless the right to union recognition and collective bargaining is a recognised human right and has the potential to strengthen both our movement and our class, and so it is well worth pushing for. So what demands should we make? What would constitute progressive legislation on this issue?

For this right to be meaningful and possible for workers to achieve, more than just a right to be represented is needed. Legislation should include the following:

  • Recognition of union membership and collective bargaining as a basic human right
  • A legal right and a mechanism for compulsory recognition of a trade union for employees by employers
  • Broad outlines of what constitutes collective bargaining and negotiating mechanisms and an avoidance of minimal consultation-style frameworks
  • A clear understanding of a trade union as an independent registered trade union and not a staff association established by the management
  • The right of trade unions to have access to workers in their work-place, to ensure that all workers are given the right to organise a union free from intimidation
  • The right to have access to existing members where collective bargaining already exists
  • Protection for union members from penalisation, discrimination or disciplinary action for carrying out legitimate trade union activity
  • Legal protection for the collection of union subscriptions at source
  • Economically harsh fines and penalties for companies found to be in breach of the legislation, so that it is not economic to illegally avoid unions

These are not unrealistic demands—indeed many of these kinds of rights exist in Australia, New Zealand, parts of the United States, Britain, and other countries in Europe. However, we may be certain that anything this Government proposes, so as to keep their friends in big monopolies happy, will fall far short of them.

Legal campaigns will not win us this result either: it will require unions themselves getting serious about this issue and making it an industrial and, consequently, a political issue.

Trade Union Left Forum Pamphlet

To mark the one hundredth anniversary of the 1913 lockout the Trade Union Left Forum has chosen to reprint a number of James Connolly’s important articles on the politics of trade union organisation and struggle.

Connolly is without doubt Ireland’s great working class intellectual and organiser. His politics were unceremoniously class politics. To his understanding of history and his choice of strategy and tactics for his day he brought class analysis rooted in the works of Marx. He unapologetically represented his class in all aspects of life and struggle including union organisation, national freedom and cultural expression. Everything he did was with the aim of furthering the cause of freedom for working people, in which he understood the need to overthrow imperialism and build socialism – a society based in the ownership of the means of production by working people.

Trade Union Left Forum Pamphlet
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