Next steps…

The Trade Union Left Forum is developing a set of common political principles for trade union activists to campaign on and mobilise around. The next step in this is on Thursday 17 November where Conor McCabe will present what he believe are 5 key policy objectives for an Irish Progressive Government. Please note change of venue from normal TEEU location to the Mandate offices. Hope to see you all there.

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Unlocking the potential of trade unions for working people

Overcoming common misunderstandings about trade unions

There are some common misunderstandings about unions that fall wide of the mark and lead to a lot of confusion; and some of this comes from within the movement itself and is given life by some unions’ language and actions. For example, a union is an insurance policy for workers when something goes wrong at work; it’s a professional representative body; it’s an interest group . . . These are all common answers to the question “What are trade unions?” but none are right.

Trade unions are the collective and pooled effort and resources of working people coming together to improve the quality and standard of their lives. Unions are working people coming together in their own organisation, which they democratically control and run in their own interests. By coming together in an organisation, workers combine to give themselves extraordinary power. Their combined effort and their ability to withdraw labour (strike or industrial action) or merely act in unison (voting in a particular way, or a solidarity campaign) challenge the unequal relationship between labour and capital (workers and bosses) where the legal and political system inherently favours employers and those with deep pockets.

The rise of unions

Unions in Ireland go back as far as the 1700s, when skilled workers, such as butchers, printers, and bricklayers, came together to form their own organisations to win better pay and hours. They were at first illegal, and many of these early union activists faced prison or forced emigration for standing together for a better life. Over time, legislation was won, demonstrating that when workers are collectively organised they hold power not only in their own work-place or trade but also in the political arena. This legalised unions but provided increasingly complex regulations and hoops for workers to go through to express their power through action. Legislation has had mixed results for workers trying to act together to improve their lot.

By the end of the nineteenth century, unions were growing and spreading to embrace many workers. In Ireland we had the growth of the ITGWU, a union for the mass of unskilled industrial workers. This exploded in numbers and influence as a result of the development of industrial capitalism and its victory over other previous forms of production. Connolly and Larkin led this organising drive, and this gave birth to the modern union movement in Ireland. As well as seeking to improve working conditions, the workers who organised themselves in the ITGWU had a political vision of socialism for Ireland, demonstrated in the Irish Citizen Army, the involvement of union members in both the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence, and encapsulated in the Democratic Programme of the first Dáil. The vision included national and public ownership of the fundamentals of the economy as well as the extension of social and economic human rights for all citizens. So far, this vision has never been fully achieved but there have been victories.

Much of what is taken for granted today was won by workers fighting for it: the length of the working day and week; paid public holidays and annual leave; minimum payments and overtime; paid maternity leave; and much more. Like the laundry workers, members of the Irish Women Workers’ Union, who went on strike in 1945 for a second week of paid annual leave, their victory led to other unions claiming the same, and the two weeks became the new minimum for all from the following year.

This combination of a radical political vision of society and militant work-place action saw the trade union movement grow from tens of thousands to close to 200,000 workers by the early 1920s. Growth in employment over the decades has moved the movement to about 700,000 members in the whole of Ireland; however, union density (our percentage of the entire work force) has been declining from its peak in the 1980s when it reached 62% (higher than both Britain and the EU average).

Today it stands at about 35 per cent, with the private sector at about 21 per cent. This decline is related to the second wave of foreign direct investment which has largely been US and anti-Union. The State has ceased promoting union recognition in early stages of start-ups of large multi nationals and now actually promotes the non-union environment as a positive. But this culture has also affected Irish business with the 3 high-profile union recognition strikes in the 90’s in Pat-the-Baker, Nolan Transport and Ryanair not ending well for the union movement and has also emboldened large Irish employers like Dunnes Stores to continually refuse to recognise the trade union of their staff. But these are external factors and the movement itself has a lot to answer in terms of this decline.

Trade union models and ideology

Trade unions do not develop or act in isolation from the political and economic realities they find themselves in. Unions are influenced by, and play a part in, the society around them. The last few decades have seen the development of a political, economic and ideological environment that is increasingly hostile to unions and to collective values. Governments, the media and international institutions have led this assault.

The economic and political establishment have correctly viewed unions as an obstacle or challenge to capitalism and the maximising of profits for shareholders and of salaries for senior executives and so have set out to weaken and discredit them. Margaret Thatcher famously declared, “There is no alternative,” and, as society generally has been fed this line, so too unions have, to a greater or lesser extent, accepted it, or lost their belief in an alternative.

Unlike a hundred years ago, when some strong unions had a radical and independent vision of society, many unions now have been relegated, and have relegated themselves, to being “managers” of change. Unfortunately, this puts the union into a position between member and management, as some kind of arbiter or mediator, rather than fulfilling its function as the worker-owned structure in which members can act collectively to win.

This has developed what is often called the “servicing” model of trade unionism. Returning to the first line of this article, the union is viewed as an insurance policy, a service to workers, not a workers’ collective. This means that the union official is usually the first port of call for sorting out issues in the work-place, rather than the workers themselves being organised to do so. Union officials lodge grievances and pursue issues through processes; the industrial relations process becomes the priority, not collectively organising workers together.

Now, however, more and more unions are at least talking about returning to the original approach, the “organising” model. This puts the emphasis on activism by members, both in the work-place and in the structures of the union: workers acting together, making the decisions on what is best for them, negotiating in the work-place, insisting on collective bargaining and union recognition, with the officials and other union resources there to advise, support, assist, co-ordinate, train and ultimately empower workers themselves. And that approach doesn’t end at 5 p.m. or finish in the work-place: workers have common issues outside work, such as water, housing and health, transport and taxation, and so the organising approach seeks to empower workers to fight, and on all their issues and concerns. Workers are people, not a cog in a machine, and so collective power enables workers to take on all the issues we face together.

This turn to empowering workers locally is more urgent than ever now, as we see a renewed assault on unions internationally, in both the British Trade Union Bill and in the United States in new legislation and a variety of legal outcomes there, through many high profile ECJ rulings and also through CETA/TTIP. And so if unions—and, more importantly, if workers who make up unions—are to survive and enhance their power in society, then workers must be encouraged, supported and resourced to do it themselves. The law, political parties or industrial relations institutions won’t deliver this unless forced, but workers can, just as they have in previous centuries.

The importance of winning union structures

To do this, union structures cannot be ignored. They might be boring; God knows they can be tiresome and draining. But they are important. All unions have structures, some more open and democratic than others, for members to be active in and to decide the direction of the union. Workers must win these structures to change the union. Class-conscious workers must win these structures to politicise the union and strengthen the demand for workers’ control and empowerment.

There are more than fifty different trade unions in Ireland, representing workers in practically every walk of life. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions is the umbrella organisation for our 32-county movement, the biggest social movement in the country.

Trade unions are, by and large, governed by their members. Members can go forward for election onto the various committees that represent the members on a geographical or sectoral basis. These are commonly known as branch or sector committees, or sometimes regional committees. The governing body of a union is its National Executive Council, Executive or General Council, depending on the Union.

These unions reflect the diversity of views of any large group of workers. There are no good or bad unions per se, it is just that they reflect the left and right-wing views/traditions of their members and of those groupings that are more organised and hold positions within the union. So, just as class struggle, ideological and material, is necessary to advance the cause of workers within society, so too it is necessary within unions themselves. There can be a misconception that struggle within unions isn’t a necessary part of the broader struggle. But actually it is possibly at the present moment the most important battleground for workers in order to win their movement, and unions, to progressive, class-based organising and away from the servicing culture, ideology and model of the last few decades.

Members influence the direction and policies of their union by putting themselves forward for election to branch or similar committees, then progress further as committee chair, secretary, officer or president or, ultimately, becoming a member of their NEC. Members should be supported in this and provided training and encouragement. Often, however, if a member is not of the dominant political leaning of the union they will have to struggle without this support and so will rely on their allies and comrades on the ground to win. The Trade Union Left Forum is a resource for left activists to use. We can help you with ideas and materials to win support. Winning elections and positions within the union, based on the membership strength, is a vital part of realising the potential of the union and the movement.

The public face of a union’s leadership is usually the general or national officers: president, vice-president, and general secretary. These will vary in title in different unions. They are usually employed officials of the union who have been elected/appointed by the members to hold these positions for a limited number of years. Furthermore, the officers are accountable to the NEC, the committee of volunteer members elected by the members, representing the different sections of the union. All policy-making decisions come through the members of the NEC.

Each union has its own rulebook or constitution, which governs procedure on such matters as elections, decision-making, handling disputes, the quorum for committee meetings, motions, policies, frequency of meetings, and so on. This democratic process is ensured through adherence to the rules. Understanding and using your union’s rulebook and constitution, although possibly boring, is crucial to winning your union.

In accordance with their rules, all unions must hold annual or biennial delegate conferences. Delegates are members who are active in their union as shop stewards or in other roles and are nominated by fellow-members of their branch to represent the views and wishes of the branch or employment area. Each branch can propose motions to the conference on issues they consider most important, such as privatisation, water provision, the health service, pensions, education, pay, international solidarity, political party affiliation and so on. These are debated and voted on, to be accepted or rejected by a majority of delegates. In this way the membership decide on the direction and policy of their union. But experience tells us that to give meaning to motions members must continue after the conference to put forward plans and ideas for action and initiatives in order to breathe life into what the conference decided on. Local union branches or committees should themselves take initiatives on specific motions they support. Often motions lie dormant and hidden because of both the conservative ideological leaning of the current union leadership but also, more importantly, the lack of an organised left bloc within the movement.

The politics of class trade unionism

As class-conscious trade unionists we see the purpose of trade unions as being to build working class industrial power through the collective organisation of workers and to act collectively to counterbalance the power of employers and their Governments. Acting on the principle of solidarity, people support each other on the grounds that if something hurts one of us, then it is likely to hurt all of us in time.

As James Larkin put it, “An injury to one is the concern of all.”

If you want to influence the biggest social movement in the country, find the relevant union for you and become actively involved. Build alliances with like-minded people around a progressive agenda, and make change happen through activity and ideas. Politics and ideology are not dirty words for us: they are the life of our class and must be reclaimed and reinvigorated if we are to win our movement and win a better, socialist future.

The TULF will shortly launch a political pledge campaign to better coordinate and organise left class-conscious trade unionists across Ireland.

There has been, and still remains, a tension within all trade unions between those who represent a relatively narrow “trade” or “craft” consciousness and those who represent a broader political class-consciousness. There is also conflict and tension within unions between socialist (organising mentality) and social democratic (servicing views) ideologies. We need workers not only to join but to get involved to win our unions and to deliver the full potential of this collective movement and resource for working people to bring about socialism in Ireland. The TULF aims to help and be part of this.

Together we are strong; divided we fall.

TULF Mtg Thursday September 22, 6pm

There was agreement at the last TULF meeting that a common political programme for left trade union activists is a necessary step forward. We hope this meeting, open to trade union activists, can help develop a common political programme. This forum meeting has no set speakers and is open to all to bring ideas and programme points for consideration.

FB event page at https://www.facebook.com/events/305400799828607/

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Does the trade union movement need a new political strategy?

tulf new politicsBelow is the the final contribution to our recent debate on a new politics for the trade union movement by Dave Gibney. A follow up meeting will be held in September to further the discussion on what should be in a class based political programme for the trade union movement. If you have thoughts on this please post on our FB page

The very first question asked by an Irish Independent journalist at the founding press conference of Right2Water in August 2014 was: “why are trade unions getting involved in politics, shouldn’t you just be focusing on workplace issues?”

To trade union activists the question may seem stupid, but it does illustrate how far from a political force trade unions have become. That question would never be asked of IBEC. The answer to the question is quite simple really: Mandate Trade Union members have won €36 million in pay increases over the last four years, but then the government comes along and with the stroke of a pen takes €27m from their pockets through water charges. To protect workers’ incomes, Unions have to be active on the political and industrial field.

In addressing the question posed by the Trade Union Left Forum, Does the trade union movement need a new political strategy? One must ask whether the trade union movement actually has a political strategy, and whether that strategy is working.

Let’s look at Irish society right now to help establish that answer:

  • Ireland has the second highest prevalence of low pay in the entire OECD – only lagging behind the USA.
  • Ireland has the second highest prevelence of involuntary part-time workers (low hours and zero hour contracts) in the EU15 – behind Spain – with more than 100,000 workers seeking more hours at work but being denied them.
  • 2,121 children are homeless across the State with more than 70 families losing their homes every single month.
  • Irish class sizes are the second highest in the EU with 25 pupils per teacher compared to an average in the EU of 20.
  • 10 percent of people living in Ireland experience food poverty.
  • Ireland has the highest level of fuel poverty in the EU.
  • Ireland has the highest excess winter mortality rates in the EU with the most recent number seeing 2,800 deaths mostly among poorer communities.
  • 12% of those at work are living in poverty.
  • 36% of Irish children experience multiple deprivation.

We can look beyond statistics at some of the most fundamental trade union principles to further this point:

  1. Ireland still does not have collective bargaining rights.
  2. There is no trade union education on the school curriculum despite 95% of students moving on to become workers rather than entrepreneurs and almost all teachers in the State being members of a union.
  3. Trade Union density in Ireland is edging towards its lowest point in 100 years.

So if there is a trade union political strategy, it doesn’t seem to be working.

The problem is not that trade unions don’t have a vision; it’s that they have no way of having their vision implemented. Unions are politically weak, relatively speaking. The mainstream political parties do not fear the trade union movement as they should. If they did, why do we have among the weakest workplace rights in the EU, and why can’t we have our policies implemented?

Just look at pre-Budget submissions for an example. Since the economic crisis began in 2008, Unions have been more-or-less right. We argued for wealth taxes; more investment; no cuts; and all adjustments to be made at the top end of the income ladder. ICTU said austerity would cost jobs, increase poverty levels, destroy communities, increase emigration, etc, etc. But all pre-Budget submissions were glanced at, and then swiftly thrown in the bin.

Instead the groups that had their policies implemented were the American Chamber of Commerce, IBEC, Irish Bankers’ Federation, and the Small Firms Association.

The media has a role to play in this too. They give much more airtime to business lobby groups than they do to workers’ representatives. When the Low Pay Commission recently recommended a measly 10c increase in the minimum wage, RTE’s online coverage gave space to three business groups for quotations (Chambers Ireland, IBEC and the Small Firms Association), one civil society group (MRCI) and the Fine Gael Minister. Not one trade union was referenced despite Mandate, Unite, SIPTU, ICTU and others all issuing press releases.

In October 2014, the month of the first Right2Water National Demonstration which was hosted by a number of trade unions and was one of the largest protests in Irish history, Pat Kenny had 104 guests on his show. During the whole month, only one guest (less than 1%) came from the Trade Union movement. However, there were 20 journalists, 16 business people or public relations professionals, 12 classified as miscellaneous, 8 politicans, 8 cultural, 7 writers, 6 campaigners, 5 doctors, 2 sportspeople and 1 priest.

So one of the major challenges is getting the trade union message out into the public domain. But what is that message and what is the strategic objective of that message?

100 years ago trade unions had a political strategy. At the Congress Conference  in 1930, reflecting on the political policy of the past, Conference reported:

“The policy to which James Connolly subscribed in 1914, viz: – ‘That in any parliament to be elected in Ireland Labour must be represented as a separate and independent entity, having no connection with any other Party or Parties in the Legislative Chamber’ is as sound now as it was 16 years ago.

“The success of the industrial wing of our movement must, therefore, continue to depend largely on the strength and efficiency of the political wing. On the other hand, the political side cannot ever hope to become an effective force in this country unless it has behind it the driving power of the Trade Unions.

“A few moments’ thought must show any one who has in the interests of the Labour movement at heart that both sides of the Movement are largely inter-dependent and must continue to be so, even though each has now a separate existance…

“…Complaint has, from time to time, been made, with what justification I shall not venture to discuss, that the interests of the industrial side of the movement are liable to be forgotten or overlooked by the National Executive, whose members, it was alleged, devoted most of their attention to the more spectacular field of politics.”

That attraction to the “more spectacular field of politics” is still a major issue now where many within the movement appear to be political party members first and and foremost, and trade unionists second.

25 years after the above was written, the frustrations of a failing trade union political strategy were illustrated in the Irish Union of Distributive Workers and Clerks’ (Mandate Trade Unions’ predecessor union) Annual Report (1955).

“When the necessity of pensions, sickness benefits or home purchase becomes a personal issue, we are inclined to wonder why the State, or even our employers, do not provide us with worthwhile amenities. No doubt they have a duty in this respect, but the passage of the years has not marked any significant advancement in their favour. While we are hopefully waiting, it might be a sensible thing for us to exercise a little self help.”

The argument they were making in this article was for trade unions to engage in the concept of worker cooperatives. More importantly, they were talking and debating about a political strategy to vindicate their objectives on behalf of their members, something that appears to have been absent from the trade union movement for quite some time.

Over the past 20 years, due to much demonisation by the mainstream media, the business community, by members of the public, and in some cases, due to the actions/inactions of trade unions themselves, the trade union movement has lost much of its support in working class communities, its traditional home. Instead, trade unions – partly as a result of social partnership – are now seem as professional associations rather than community organisations.

Hypothetically, though, what would Ireland look like if it had been ruled by trade unions for the last 100 years?

Let’s start back in 1920’s. Here is a motion debated and passed by one of Mandate’s predecessor unions:

Minimum Wage

Mr Duffy (Galway) Proposed and Mr. Gillespie (Kilkenny) seconded a motion on the minimum wage:

“That owing to the miserably low wage paid to the bulk of those who work in shops, we feel that the time is long since ripe for the establishment of a minimum wage, and as a first essential towards this, we urge those concerned to become thoroughly organised; at the same time we are of the opinion that the Trades Boards Act should be utilized or amended so that those who work in shops be brought within its scope.”

That motion took 80 years to come to fruition in 2000.

Around the same time the following resolution was moved by Mr. O’Gorman (Cork), seconded by Mr. Byrne (Dublin) and unanimously agreed:

Collective Agreements.

“Being of opinion that many disputes could be avoided, and greater security in employment assured if collective agreements entered into between trade unions and employers were given the force of law, this Congress calls for the introduction of legislation to secure that object.”

That motion has never been adopted by any Irish Government and has led to thousands of trade union disputes as employers continue to cut terms and conditions of employment without agreement.

In the 1950’s we would have achieved 4 weeks annual leave had trade unions been legislators, rather than having to wait until 1997:

“That this Annual Delegate Meeting calls on the incoming National Executive Committee to make representations to the Government to introduce legislation for 4 weeks annual leave for all employees in the public and private sector.”

Finally, in the 1970’s, a motion was debated and amended through a democratic discussion at the IDATU Conference:

“Dental Treatment for Children

That this Annual Delegate Meeting instructs the incoming National Executive Committee to make representations to the Minister for Health to provide dental treatment for children from the time they leave primary school until their 16th birthday.” – Dublin Distributive Branch

The motion was amended by the Irish Manufacturers Agents and Commercial Travellers’ Branch to insert the words “and optical” between ‘dental’ and ‘treatment’.

In an addendum by the Tralee Branch, after the words ‘16th birthday’, the words ‘and also for non-working wives of insured persons’ was added.

So now you have a resolution, following a democratic debate among retail workers from different parts of the country, that gives children and partners of workers free dental and optical treatment.

Many will look to trade unions today and say they were different in the past. However, if you look at recent policies adopted and positions taken by the Irish Congress of Trade Union’s (ICTU) in recent years, if they were in government, Ireland would not be supporting TTIP or CETA. Zero hour contracts and exploitative low hour contracts would be banned. Water charges would be abolished and increased funding would be made to upgrade the water infrastructure from general taxation. Lone parent’s cuts would not have taken place. We would have a higher minimum wage with an introduction of refundable tax credits which would benefit 240,000 of the lowest paid in the country. Generally, Ireland would be a more equal and fairer place to live.

So it isn’t that the Irish Trade Union movement hasn’t identified a programme, it’s that it doesn’t have the capacity to have that programme implemented. Why is that?

Well, there are broadly three ways unions can have their policies implemented through interactions in the political scene:

  1. Affiliation
  2. Unofficial Support
  3. A Policy Based Independent Strategy

Affiliation

There are different models of affiliation around the world. In Ireland, only SIPTU and the TSSA are affiliated to a political party, the Labour Party.

For their affiliation they do not receive automatic seats on the National Executive of the Labour Party, but “affiliated Unions are entitled to send delegates to Party conferences.” The number of delegates varies according to the size of the Union but their allocation is approximately 50% smaller than that of a regular branch. At the last Labour Party conference, there were reportedly between 900-1,000 delegates, of which approximately 11% came from affiliated Trade Unions.

Contrast this with the UK. Over there the affiliated Trade Unions have a guaranteed 12 seats on the National Executive out of 33, and they are by far the largest group. They also elect 50 percent of all delegates to the Labour Party Conference, which is where Labour Party policy is developed making the Trade Unions heavily influential.

Unofficial Support

Some Unions who are not affiliated to any political party send positive communications to members about a party/parties which their leadership or NEC supports. They sometimes do likewise in reverese, where they are critical of particular parties.

A Policy Based Independent Political Strategy

An example of this is the Right2Change Union strategy where policies were developed – like Right2Water, Right2Health, Right2Housing, Right2Education – and political candidates were asked whether they supported those policies. The Unions then asked all political candidates whether they would work together in government to have those policies implemented, if the numbers allowed. They then published the supporters of the Right2Change platform in order to educate members and the public on who supported this egalitarian platform.

Which of these strategies is best should be up for debate within every trade union in the country. However, while that discussion around political representation takes place, trade unions need to build a movement that functions cohesively and addresses the industrial and political challenges that face our members. That movement should have strong research and education functions focusing on political economy as well as tradition trade union courses – something NERI and Trademark both provide. It should build alliances in communities and among civil society groups. It should have a communications strategy that acknowledges and addresses the hostility of elements within the mainstream media. It should also consider the political, economic and industrial leverage it currently has in order to achieve its goals. It should then decide on what type of political representation it wants, if any.

The good news is, there has seldom been a better time than now to have this debate.

Civil War politics appears to be coming to an end with Fianna Fail and Fine Gael at their lowest combined electoral outcome in their history (49% of first preferences, down from a high of 87.4% in 1982), and with shared resources, new media opportunities – including social media, improvements in outreach (email, sms, etc), increased levels of community activism – if courageous action was taken by the trade union leadership, it could affect real change.

We’ve seen something stirring with the Right2Water campaign in Ireland, and with the movements for progressive change behind Corbyn in the UK, Sanders in the USA, in Greece, Portugal and also in Spain. People are crying out for a new politics.

There has never been a more opportune time, the question is, how do we get there – or will we let the momentum slip?

Maybe the next TULF meeting might help to answer that question.

Irish trade unionism and the end of Civil War politics?

By Sean Byers, delivered at the TULF meeting a political strategy for the trade union movement.

In December 2015, as the Right2Water campaign continued to confound its opponents with mass demonstrations attracting upwards of 100,000 people, former Taoiseach John Bruton made this revealing statement to the Irish media:

FG and FF have complemented each other through Irish history. In Ireland we have had consensus about major long-term policies largely because we haven’t had a sharp left/right or ideological divide. We have had differences, but they are differences about other things, not economics, and that has served the country very well…

It would not be good for the long term development of the country if we were to go towards the unproductive left/right politics that they have in countries like France and Britain. It has not served those countries well.

Conceding openly what has been apparent for some decades, that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are two cheeks of the same arse, Bruton’s statement can be read as a call for the Civil War parties to close ranks in the face of parliamentary and extra-parliamentary challenges to the established social order.

And close ranks they did. Where the establishment parties could once rely on the unquestioning support of the majority, winning 97 percent of the vote as recently as 1982 and as much as 81.7 percent in 2007, they now struggle to muster 50 percent between them. Having lost the election, Fine Gael made a sweetheart deal with Fianna Fáil that enabled Ireland’s austerity bloc to assume control of government and the opposition, extending its ninety-five year period of unbroken rule. The political establishment has been wounded, therefore, but not fatally so.

There are historical as well as more obvious contemporary reasons why the Irish Labour Party is regarded as part of the establishment. When the ITUC National Executive decided to establish a political arm over one hundred years ago, it stated that: ‘In any parliament to be elected in Ireland Labour must be represented as a separate and independent entity, having no connection with any other party.’ This directive could not be clearer, and yet the reverse has been the case for the greater part of the Party’s existence.

The Easter Rising created a political vacuum, ushering in the War of Independence and its attendant social struggles. The revolutionary period demonstrated most clearly that labour would not wait for the rebirth of Ireland to assert its demands. This was a period which witnessed an escalation in the number and intensity of industrial disputes, hundreds of soviets declared across the island and three general strikes in as many years. Famously in Limerick in 1919, a workers’ committee took over the running of the city in protest against martial law, coordinating everything from food distribution to the printing of money.  In Belfast the same year, shipyard and engineering workers led a general strike for the forty-hour week, assuming control of the city’s power supply, transport and trade. For three weeks, the city had taken on many of the characteristics of a soviet, and the sight of 100,000 people marching on May Day demonstrated that the north-east of the island was not immune to the revolutionary wave sweeping across Europe.

Nor were these forms of agitation limited to urban centres. Cattle drives and land seizures spread across the country, inspired by the desire of small farmers, tenants and workers for land distribution. In turn, the ranks of the trade union movement were swollen with an influx of agricultural labourers.

This rich history of radicalism and the possibilities is denied to lay trade union members and working-class communities by an economic and political elite whose power resides on the myth that there is no such thing as class or class struggle Ireland. Awareness and understanding of this history is essential to the education of our current generation of trade union and community activists, so that it is imprinted in our collective consciousness going forward.

If the 1919 Democratic Programme of the First Dáil was significant in formalising some of labour’s demands and seeing a party with 73 seats adopt the programme of a party with none, there is little doubt that organised labour failed to assert itself politically when Irish workers were most susceptible to radical ideas. Absent Connolly and Larkin’s influence, the Labour Party under the conservative leadership of Tom Johnson and William O’Brien missed the opportunity to encourage the class and political development of its members. This lack of ambition, coupled with the fear and reality of a state clampdown on trade unionists and sectarian conflict in Belfast, occasioned a retreat of the Labour Party to the extent that by 1922 it had given legitimacy to the Treaty settlement by becoming the official opposition.

When the bloody counter-revolution came, Labour lacked the necessary political strength to defend, never mind advance, its interests. Consequently, the counter-revolution gave birth to two reactionary states that underwrote the power of the propertied classes whilst restricting the political space available to the working-class movement. In the partitioned six counties, we saw the creation of a sectarian statelet where political elites continued to safeguard their economic interests by fostering sectarian division among the working class. The twenty-six counties, meanwhile, developed into gombeen theocracy dominated by a Fianna Fáil party that mastered the art of buying the working-class with republican rhetoric and populist concessions. Having failed to carve out a distinct political path, Labour was left with little option but to support this project at the expense of diluting its founding principles, its independent identity.

Of course, the success of the counter-revolution depended largely on the power and influence of the Catholic Church, which had been left untouched by successive national revolutions in Ireland. Parish pump concerns, combined with successive red scares orchestrated by the Church-state nexus and popularised by the conservative press, ensured that this power would go unchecked by Labour throughout the 1930s and into the McCarthyite era. Irish Labour’s refusal to stand with Republican Spain, its strong anti-communist tendencies, and staunch defence of private property, are testament to Emmet Larkin’s claim that ‘it is the most opportunistically conservative Labour party anywhere in the known world’.

By 1948, when British Labour was establishing the NHS and welfare state, and nationalising its key industries, thereby laying the foundations for social democracy, Irish Labour had become firmly part of the establishment; junior partner in a Fine Gael led government that gave the Church unrivalled access to the policymaking instruments of the state. Dr Noel Browne’s Mother and Child Scheme presented Ireland with its own ‘social democratic moment’, in Ronan Burtenshaw’s words. Its death at the hands of a government comprising Labour ministers ensured that Catholic social teaching, with its rejection of universalism and emphasis on family, Church and charity as the basis of social welfare, would continue to provide ‘the ideological basis of Irish capitalism’.

In hindsight, this can be identified as the point of no return for political labour. Lacking a distinct ideological position, a strong Marxist or social democratic tradition to keep it honest, the Irish Labour Party has spent the best part of sixty years propping up right wing governments in exchange for the odd policy concession and the semblance of political power. Eight times Labour has entered into coalition with either of the right-wing parties. At each turn, it has compromised on its founding principles and suffered electorally, rendering itself increasingly unattractive to radicals and large sections of the working class. This has culminated in the party of Larkin and Connolly volunteering to implement a ruthless austerity programme, with devastating consequences for working-class communities and the Party’s chances of survival.

To a lesser extent, industrial labour has also been co-opted into the establishment and, as such, failed to offer a vision for a better society. The culture of ‘partnership’ and professionalisation in the trade union movement can be traced back to Seán Lemass’ project to remake the Irish economy, with a reunified Congress (ICTU) becoming part of the fabric of the state through participation in national wage agreements and tripartite bodies. Indeed, Irish trade union’s co-option into the corporatist state was so successful that by 1964 Lemass could confidently declare that ‘Class war is over’ (h/t Conor McCabe).

Social partnership can therefore be understood as an extension or renewal of previous efforts, as a traditional response to challenges of a different nature and time. Class struggle and labour rights, insofar as they existed in Ireland, once again gave way to a system based on central bargaining by union leaders. In return for wage restraint and strike moderation, unions were to be rewarded with employment growth, low levels of income tax and a role in macro-economic planning and policy formulation. Developed in the wake of the miners’ defeat in Britain, it is possible to view social partnership as a legitimate strategy for staving off the threat of Thatcherism to Ireland.

But it is precisely on these terms that it can be judged to have failed. It is through social partnership that the trade union movement facilitated the neoliberal project, opening the door to delayed Thatcherism and the increasing precariousness of work in Ireland. Empirically, the period of social partnership witnessed a decline in real wages and national income, and a drastic decline in union density, along with the defunding of vital public services. Policy gains and legislative gains, too, failed to materialise, with the Industrial Relations Act (1990) curbing labour’s ability to take industrial action. Finally, it depoliticised a generation of trade unionists and diluted the concept of political education, ultimately leaving the movement poorly positioned to resist the onslaught when it came in 2008. As a result, trade unions are discredited in communities where anti-establishment sentiments have grown to new proportions since the crisis.

It is 100 years since the Easter Rising and the working-class communities of Ireland are again without political representation, certainly in the form of a party linked organically to the trade union movement. It is therefore incumbent upon the progressive trade unions to step into the vacuum that has emerged, to carry the fight to the establishment on the industrial and political fronts, and prevent the huge anger and discontent we have seen on the streets from giving way to apathy and further gains for the counter-revolution underway.

Arguably, the progressive trade union movement is the only force with the resources, collective strength and international networks to bring together a broad front of natural allies – our members, the unemployed, minority ethnic communities and migrant workers, and unpaid carers, to name but a few – with a view to building a progressive social movement that occupies the spaces through which our vision of society can be created, diffused and reproduced. Just as neoliberalism and the narrative of TINA (There Is No Alternative) asserted their dominance over the course of a generation, becoming the new common sense, so we must embrace the task of building an alternative programme and political consciousness over a period of ten, fifteen, even twenty years if necessary. Right2Water, with its numerical strength, broad appeal, fledgling networks, proven ability to mobilise communities in extra-parliamentary struggle, and commitment to the democratisation of knowledge through political education, seems like the obvious starting point for such a process.

 

United Action is Key to Way Forward

By Eoin Ó Murchú

When the Labour Party was established in 1912, it was in order to give political effect to the trade union movement, and it was in that context that James Connolly, Jim Larkin and William O’Brien presented their proposal in Clonmel that year.

It is obvious that that is no longer the party’s view of itself. At the recent Magill summer school, party leader Brendan Howlin argued that “the Labour Party must dare to imagine a better form of capitalism – one that serves the many, and not just the few.”

And the key former adviser to ex-tánaiste Joan Burton, Ed Brophy, has argued that Labour’s future lies in being the voice of social liberalism.

This is in keeping with former Éamon Gilmore adviser, Mark Garrett, who suggested that the party should break any connection with the trade union movement.

That connection was not formally broken, but Labour’s participation in the Fine Gael government of 2011-2016, and the vehemence with which it promoted the austerity agenda, shows that trade union political views were of little if any account.

SIPTU’s Jack O’Connor may argue that things would have been worse under a single-party Fine Gael government, but Labour – and Brendan Howlin as Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform – enthusiastically implemented all of Fine Gael’s agenda, and never even looked for a price that would even guarantee employment rights for Irish workers.

Now, of course, as it seeks to claw back the electoral support it has lost, Howlin argues that “our people have endured too long a sacrifice for the last eight years”.  He calls for the Irish economy “ to meet the needs and aspirations of our people” and declares that it is work, and the rights of those in work, which has been our raison d’etre since our foundation”.

It is hard to read this nauseating and dishonest hypocrisy without throwing up, but just in case anyone gets taken in by it, Howlin also adds the boast that “any fair-minded observer will have to admit that we left the country in a better state than we found it”.

That’s a clear message that if Labour had it to do again, it would do the same as before.

Yet massive numbers of workers are seriously angry at what has happened, at the austerity unjustly imposed upon them and the continual subordination of the rights and needs of the majority of our people to the country of the bankers, speculators and business interests.

Trade unionists cannot realistically look to a Labour Party that refuses to acknowledge it was wrong to implement austerity, and that cannot produce even a single voice to denounce this wrong, to advance trade union interests in the future.

A new party could be an answer, but there are other parties of the Left already with a Dáil presence – Sinn Féin, the two Trotskyist parties, perhaps even the Social Democrats, and, of course, the seven or so independents grouped in Independents for Change.

We don’t really need more squabbling between parties claiming to speak for the workers, we need the actual organisations of workers to be brought directly into political activity.

Political committees within trade unions can present their demands of all political parties, and link them with demands coming from community organisations (residents and tenants), and single purpose campaigns.

These could ultimately come together if necessary in a new party, but more productive at this point would be to enable all these forces to combine together.

The template for that, which needs of course, to be expanded, exists already in the Right to Change idea.  But that needs to have greater cohesion, and commitment from its constituent parts, to enable its potential to be reached.

And what politics should determine this work?  Anti-austerity, the defence of workers’ rights and the shifting of the burden of economic crisis onto the better off – these are absolutes.

But we cannot either ignore the elephant in the room: so long as we remain members of the European Union we are bound by its constitutional imperatives which insist on neo-liberal free market rules.

We cannot have state-led economic development – an essential in the fight to give full and proper employment to our people – without refuting these rules.

We must face the fact that the EU cannot be “reformed from within” because any proposals to rewrite the existing treaties would require unanimous consent of all continuing member states.  In other words, it would require the simultaneous victory of progressive forces in every member state. In the light of the uneven development of capitalism, such a wish is totally illusory.

Equally, we cannot ignore the fact that imperialism has partitioned our country, leading as Connolly predicted to a carnival of reaction North and South.

But partition will not be overcome by urging Protestant workers in the North to fight to stay subject to EU neo-liberal rules!

There will be differences of emphasis at least on these issues, so some flexibility in the co-ordination of all elements is essential.

But in the absence of a popular front of the kind argued for here, workers will be left dependent on business parties that will continue to squeeze us.

All the revolutionary rhetoric in the world will not change that, unless we unite together to fight for a common cause.

Contribution to a debate organised by trade union activists in Dublin on July 28, 2016, on the theme: Does the Trade Union Movement Need a New political Arm and What Should it Look Like. Other contributions from the meeting are currently being written up and will be posted here.

A Trade Union Strategy to Win for Working People

Speech at the Mother Jones Festival, Cork by SIPTU General President, Jack O’Connor, on Thursday, 28th July, 2016

Comrades and friends,

This year’s Mother Jones Festival takes place against the background of the continuing trauma of the most serious crisis in global capitalism since the 1930s. It is important to say from the outset that this is a demand side crisis largely attributable to exponentially growing inequality in what we know as the “developed world”.

The phenomenon manifests itself in the world of work or the “labour market” in the form of mass unemployment, increasing precariousness and social insecurity on an unprecedented scale. This is increasingly evident in Ireland, Europe and the West. Precarious work, of course, is not new in the developing world where it has been the order of the day for a long time.

It falls to the trade union movement to step up to the task of reasserting human priorities in the workplace and ultimately in the wider economic and social paradigm. It is important to stress this because in the culture of “business unionism” this tends to be taken for granted or even lost sight of altogether. It is also important to say that trade union organisation is the only way to address the task. More important, it is crucial to assert that the trade union movement in Ireland still has the capacity to meet the challenge and to win for working people. Indeed, this is the fundamental premise of this short paper here this evening.

However, to do so, our movement must transform itself, ideologically, culturally and structurally.

In practical terms, it is a challenge which must be met at an industrial, pedagogical and political level.

In order to approach it, we must disabuse ourselves of a number of deeply held myths and misconceptions. One of these, for example, is that the dramatic growth in the, post- Lockout, Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union between Easter Week 1916 and the end of 1918 was primarily attributable to the resistance offered during the Lockout itself and the subsequent events which occurred throughout the decade of rebellion. The fact of the matter is that what happened had more to do with the Munitions Act. This was because, in 1917, the legislation which had been put in place by the government in the United Kingdom to maintain industrial peace for the duration of the war was extended to Ireland. Agricultural Wages Boards which had been set up across the UK to determine wages and conditions to guarantee the food supply were then put in place in Ireland as well. Virtually immediately, agricultural labourers found that the most effective way to secure improvements was by joining a trade union and they flocked to the ranks of the ITGWU in their thousands. It quickly established itself as the dominant union in the sector, absorbing smaller land and labour unions along the way. Membership, which had fallen to somewhere between 3,500 and 5,000 by the time of the Easter Rising, increased to 68,000 by the end of 1918 and 120,000 in 1920. Obviously, the sentiment engendered by the Lockout, the Rising and the War of Independence influenced developments but they were not the primary reason for the growth in union membership. The institutional arrangements put in place for conciliation and arbitration over a whole range of industries also resulted in a very dramatic rise in trade union membership and density across every single region of the UK.

That phenomenon has replicated itself repeatedly in all circumstances in which conditions favourable to the growth of union membership have presented – e.g. during the post war period across Europe, the period following the economically regenerative 1960s and the period following entry into the EEC in Ireland. The purpose of this reference is to debunk the myth that declining union density in the Ireland or indeed throughout the developed world is in some way attributable to some kind of inter-generational or cultural disconnect. It could be argued that such exists but it is consequence rather than the cause of the phenomenon.

The simple fact of the matter is that working people and indeed people generally for that matter will organise in one of two circumstances or better still when a combination of both exist. These are:

When they believe they can win and

When they have no other alternative.

That rule applies throughout the history of industrial societies and in all circumstances irrespective of generational dynamics. It therefore follows that the challenge we must overcome is to instill a belief in people that they can actually win by organising.

Of course, the reality is that the balance has shifted quite dramatically against organised workers and in favour of capital over the past quarter of a century or more. This is attributable to the complex interaction of an array of global factors, each of which merits an entirely separate paper on their own. However, for this evening’s purpose I will simply cite the most significant of them:

 

The fall of the Soviet Union more than a quarter of a century ago. This immediately virtually quadrupled the global supply of labour available for exploitation by capital (from about 750,000 to two billion when China is included).

The extension of the process of globalisation. This imposed the exploitative employment standards of the developing world in the marketplaces of the West.

The decline of manufacturing in the developed economies.

The expansion of household credit and indebtedness in response to the collapse of real incomes.

The ultimate global collapse of 2008.

The decline of social democracy and the shift to the centre right in the political arena.

Lenin wasn’t wrong when he said “the crisis of social democracy is the crisis of capitalism”.

In Europe, in particular, the response which has been employed since 2010 (and earlier in our case) has been one of retrenchment – austerity combined with a “race to the bottom” in the workplace to maximise “competitiveness”. This, as we know, has resulted in the generation of mass unemployment particularly among the young in several European countries which has not been seen since the immediate post war years, accompanied by precariousness and hopelessness which is increasingly evolving into desperation.

We are now entering a new and more dangerous phase in the evolution of the crisis of capitalism and of European and global history. What has happened is that the politics has now caught up with the economics as we always said it inevitably would and it is manifesting itself in a sharp swing in most cases to xenophobic nationalism and the radical right. It is no overstatement to say that we are on the road to catastrophe. This leads through the disorderly collapse of the euro which would inevitably result in levels of deprivation and societal break down beyond anything that can be visualised in our everyday imagination. It would end in a regime of competing nation states and ultimately in regional wars.

I should say at this point that unless the policies of one-sided austerity or even fiscal neutrality as they now call it, combined with the race to the bottom in the world of work, are abandoned immediately the scenario I describe above is not some vague possibility – but is actually inevitable.

I turn then to the question as to “What is to be done?”. After all we are not the EU Commission, the Council of Ministers or the governing board of the ECB. We are not even the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). What can the trade union movement under pressure in a small country in the western periphery of Europe actually do? Well, it remains to be seen – but our obligation is to do everything that we can in our own space.

 

First and most importantly, we must address the ideological question. Our movement is comprised of an array of organisations founded on the basis of different but not incompatible premises. A number of our unions are vocational organisations formed to promote the interests of those employed in a particular profession, vocation, trade or craft. Others are more general in character formed to promote the interests of members but in the context of a wider historical mission towards an egalitarian society. As long as we function on the basis that, irrespective of the prevailing conditions in the economy and more particularly in society, the cause of a particular vocation or trade or craft can be furthered independently, we cannot make real progress. We have to face up to the challenge of influencing the conditions within which we organise and operate as distinct from simply promoting the cause of a particular group in a context which is determined by others.

The other concept that must be debunked is the notion that it is in some way our role to provide an antagonistic voice against management in those businesses and institutions which recognise their employee’s right to organise and be represented by trade unions. This thinking is fundamentally flawed. Our task is to optimise the quality and the security of our members’ employment in these businesses and institutions. It therefore follows that we must be at the forefront of the thrust to enhance productivity and innovation instead of getting in the way of it as we sometimes do. The fact of the matter is that the security and quality of our members’ employment is entirely dependant on the prosperity of the enterprises in which they work. Moreover, the key to good working conditions and indeed standards of living generally is exponentially increasing productivity. I emphasise, because it will undoubtedly be misrepresented, that this is not about increasing the drudgery or onerousness of work. Actually, it is precisely the opposite.

There is another complementary reason for this approach and that is to minimise employer hostility. We have to reverse the current equation in which we can sometimes find ourselves impeding the prospects for an enterprise that engages in collective bargaining instead of actually enhancing them. Meanwhile, we fail to confront those who do not respect their employee’s right to organise or be represented by trade unions. This equation is graphically evident in any analysis of the deployment of trade union resources as between ‘servicing’ members where we are recognised and organising to confront those who do not afford recognition. It is a fundamentally flawed strategy and it is doomed to failure. The reality of it is that, apart from workers, we should be able to demonstrate that employers who recognise trade unions also enjoy an advantage over those who don’t.

The second criterion I mentioned at the outset arises in the pedagogical arena. This is at least two-dimensional.

In the first instance, we have a responsibility to equip workers to assert their own interests by knowing their rights and understanding how to vindicate them. At a collective level, that extends to developing a greater understanding among our members and workers generally of the nature and character of the forces and influences at work in capitalist society. This applies both in terms of the economics of the companies in which people may work and the wider political arena as well.

In parallel with this, we equally have a responsibility as has been the case with the craft unions of the past to facilitate the education, training and development of our members and workers in the enhancement of their skills. This is particularly applicable in the rapidly changing dynamics of the modern labour market where skills and competencies are becoming redundant almost as rapidly as they are appearing.

The third criterion I mentioned at the outset relates to the political arena.  As long ago as the new unionism of the 1880s, our leaders recognised the necessity to compete for political influence and power in order to overcome the limitations of what could be achieved through workplace collective bargaining. This saw the development of political funds and political affiliations to the labour and social democratic parties. Today, in the light of the crisis of social democracy and the increasing diffusion of political representation on the left, there is a need for a more nuanced approach. However, this is not an argument for the depoliticisation of trade unionism. Indeed, quite the opposite is the case. However, our political activity should focus on shifting the entire fulcrum of the debate in society in a manner which prioritises human considerations and egalitarian objectives as distinct from promoting one political party. The aim must be to frame the architecture of the political ‘centre ground’.

On the face of it, this seems an awesome challenge. Yet it is still entirely within the capacity of the trade union movement in Ireland as things stand at present but it cannot be undertaken successfully by any single trade union. Thus, we must have the courage and vision to make the changes that will enable us to accomplish it. The roadmap was outlined in the recommendations of the report of the Commission on Trade Union Organisation to the biennial delegate conferences of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, in Killarney in July 2011 and then in Belfast in July 2013 – the centenary of the Lockout.

These envisaged developing a stronger, more united, more coherent movement, organised in a federal rather than a confederal congress. This, while respecting the autonomy of each individual trade union, would facilitate co-ordination of collective bargaining and organising across each of the individual sectors of the economy in both jurisdictions on the island. Such co-ordination would optimise the prospects for the negotiation of the best possible agreements with employers who respect their employees’ right to organise.  Simultaneously, it would enable the deployment of irresistible force in support of workers seeking to organise where unions are not recognised.

This capacity would be reinforced by the development of a fully resourced research capacity, a new workers college, an independent workers controlled media platform and the opening of trade union centres in every major town on the island.

The elements are actually reflected in the ‘One Cork’ project which is underway on a small scale here in this city.

As we stand today, we have the capacity to ensure that workers can organise to win but that will not remain the case indefinitely. The sands of time are ebbing away. It is time to wake up and smell the roses!

Jack

Important outcome from Labour Court

The Labour Court has issued an important outcome for Freshway workers in a case taken by SIPTU under the new legislation.

On the question of evidencing union membership Joe O’Flynn, General Secretary of SIPTU, swore an affidavit in advance of the hearing to the effect that 63 of 170 workers were union members. The Court viewed this, 37%, as ‘not insignificant’ and passing the first barrier.

The Company argued that they collectively bargain with an internal staff consultation committee but the Court found that it wasn’t an excepted body and that the practice was not collective bargaining as defined by 2 existing acts and was merely consultation. This is an important outcome as there are legitimate fears that some internal non-union bodies may be used to nullify this legislation.

The Company submitted its financials in advance and this was given to the Union’s financial advisors who analysed these. Then both the Company and the Union agreed on a joint analysis of the financials and submitted it to the Court.

The Union presented detailed and comprehensive overview of comparator terms and conditions of employment in the relevant sector and the Court accepted that the ‘totality remuneration and conditions of employment’ were less for these workers compared to their equivalents in the sector.

And so, the Court recommended:

  • 70c increase in Sept ‘16, 70c increase June’17 and 72c January ’18;
  • This is a 22.6% increase over 18 months
  • 46%, 6.94% and 6.68%
    • No change to pension provision;
    • Introduction of 10 days sick leave on full pay less social welfare;
    • An extra days annual leave after 5 years’ service; and
    • Grievance and Disciplinary policies consistent with the Code of Practice allowing for individual union representation.

All in all this looks like a very good outcome for the workers affected and for the trade union movement. The bar set on numbers of members is important and the view of this particular internal staff body.

However, unfortunately, the employer (supported by the usual suspects) is likely to appeal this all the way and we would not hold out too much hope of a Courts view of these things given their class bias.

TULF May Day Statement – Solidarity is alive in our class

The Trade Union Left Forum encourages union members and workers to join the Dublin Council of Trade Unions May Day rally. The annual May Day parade will take place on Sunday May 1st, assembling at 2.30 pm at the Garden of Remembrance and from there going to Liberty Hall/Beresford Place.

Working class consciousness and militancy is growing in Ireland. Our class is on the verge of a win on resisting the commodification of water through water charges and the maintenance of public ownership of this important resource and utility. We have got to this point through communities, unions and workers fighting together. This is an example we should develop and use in other struggles like housing and healthcare.

On this day we also have to highlight the union members and their unions fighting in Luas, Tesco and the 999 call centre services. SIPTU, Mandate and CWU members are engaged in difficult but important struggles. Workers expectations are raised, rightly, and so our demands are greater. Unions must support and back their members in these demands and continue to advance the basic working conditions of members.

However, all Unions must learn from the right2water Unions and the example they have set in taking on, and investing significant resources in, a major social issue of the day, water. Trade Unions should not be limited to pay and terms and conditions but must actively fight for a different social-economic and political vision for Ireland. That vision, in the context of environment devastation and the reality of what the EU is (as opposed to what people might want it to be) is the vision of an Irish Socialist Republic independent from the EU and with sovereign power to take decisions contrary to needs of US and corporate capitalist interests here, or it is of no value to our class.

This pending, but coming, win on water gives us strength and hope. We have achieved something significant. Hundreds of thousands of workers achieved it. Not a party, not a union, not a leader. We did, together. And this is what gives meaning to the word solidarity and gives us the strength to achieve more.

WFTU May Day Statement

The World Federation of Trade Unions on the occasion of the International Workers’ Day on 1st May 2016 conveys a militant salute to all men and women of the working class and to the 92 million members of WFTU in 126 countries.

Men and women, younger or older, employed or unemployed, migrants and refugees, the World Federation of Trade Unions wishes you strength, determination and courage in your small-scale or large-scale struggles.

The multinationals, the reactionary governments, neo-fascist and racist forces, the imperialist mechanisms dread this day. Because it is a symbol of internationalism, a symbol of struggle, a symbol of class unity. These are our most powerful tools with which we need to arm ourselves in our struggles for better lives, in our struggles against poverty and wars generated by the capitalist barbarity.

Building strong class-oriented base trade unions that are massive, democratic, militant we strengthen the WFTU.

And by strengthening the WFTU as a rooted class-oriented Organization of the base, internationalist and uniting, we strengthen our trade unions.

In all countries of the world, with all forms of action we demand our contemporary needs, our labor, social and trade union rights.

Our reality of misery, unemployment, poverty and wars in contrast to the technological and scientific progress and the wealth we produce, prove how unrealistic and rotten the capitalist mode of production is.

We rally our forces and build our social alliance with the popular strata against exploitation and capitalist barbarity.

On the occasion of May Day we once more want to send our internationalist solidarity to the peoples of Palestine, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq Afghanistan, Yemen and all peoples who are suffering imperialist attacks and fight for their right to decide for themselves over their present and future.

This year 2016, the 17th World Trade Union Congress will summon the representatives of the class-oriented trade union movement in the heroic land of South Africa. On 5-8 October 2016, thousands of delegates, real militant unionists, from all continents will gather in Durban, analyze the global and regional developments, exchange experience and proposals and resolute on the strategy and action plan of the WFTU for the next five years.

With this Congress we make a vital step forward for the international class-oriented trade union movement. “Forward! For the contemporary needs of the working class against poverty and wars generated by the capitalist barbarism”.