Mandate President Denise Curran’s Speech to 1916 Commemoration in Sligo

Thursday 28 April 2022


I’m honoured and delighted to address this important gathering today, as we not only commemorate those great Irish women and men who fought so gallantly against the odds and for so long in delivering to some extent our country’s independence from a cruel colonial power, but equally importantly to reaffirm our ongoing struggle for a true republic in which the focus is firmly on its citizens, families and communities.

I’m also very humbled that as Mandate President we remember in our commemoration two true Irish men in that struggle for independence- Patrick Moran from Roscommon and our own Martin Savage from Ballysodare. Both these men like myself worked in the retail industry and were active trade unionists in a union that eventually became Mandate. Their struggle wasn’t confined to their military escapades for independence, but equally in their union activities to better their terms and conditions and rates of pay. That struggle more than ever remains a constant today.

As Irish politics hurtles towards potential watershed and historic moments, Irish workers across the island of Ireland whether Catholic, Protestant or Dissenter, are facing into the economic unknowns. Our employer and landlord class aided by its political equivalent and supporters, will use these so-called economic unknowns to attack workers employment rights, their hard won terms and conditions and pay rates. Their relentless drive for more and more profit, for delivering increasing shareholder dividend, for protecting their business case models over workers’ interests, the ongoing marketisation of anything that is of vital importance to Irelands citizens and communities makes a lie of any mealy mouthed words by the same class that they have social conscience and responsibility policy positions.

We have seen this in Mandate with Arnotts, Clerys and only recently Debenhams where so-called reputable employers used the prevailing legal systems to exercise their rights to siphon away and out of the country valuable assets and money from those businesses, without any legal recourse to honouring negotiated commitments to their workers and under the watchful eye of our political rulers who have promised legal change on this behaviour but delivered so far nothing.

Spare a thought for the Debenhams workers who had to picket their empty workplaces through the ravages if a Covid pandemic, the harshest of Irish weather and suffer physical attention by state forces for 406 days.

They like the Dunnes anti-apartheid strikers in the 80s are like Savage and Moran part of our struggle in delivering an Ireland for the people run by the people…not in the interests of a few of the wealthy and their political cronies. That struggle continues today.

And it’s a struggle that takes place in a climate of people challenges, both local and global. We’ve yet to deal with the full threat of Brexit, the Ukrainian and other war situations, the ongoing narrative of our country’s invaluable neutrality position, the economic and sovereign restrictions of our EU membership, the serious threat of climate change and so on and on. The challenges are varied and endless, but in each and every one of them there’s an obvious constant threaded through them. And it’s not us …the workers who are at fault despite what some in the media will tell you.

It’s the pursuit of resources in the interests of capital, the protection of capital interests ahead of the ordinary people and the very obvious and accepted universal inequalities of wealth distribution. All of these have and will continue to threaten our very existence.

As we commemorate our heroic dead today – such as the Patrick Morans and Martin Savages and so many more, their struggle and fight against their imperialist oppressors now becomes ours. Like those I’ve mentioned we must commit and affirm our responsibility as workers to struggle and fight our deserved rewards from the capitalist classes, many of which are imperialist in nature and outlook.

There’s a clear local, national and international dimension in this struggle and fight. Those that believe it cannot be achieved here should look at what was managed and done through the recent Right2Water and Right2Change campaigns of which Mandate Trade Union had no small part in. The Mandate Dunnes strike of 2015 delivered employment legislation that provided better protection for flexible contracted workers not only in bar and retail but across all Irish employment. This was the Banded Hours legislation which is the envy of workers and their unions across the globe.

The Dunnes anti-apartheid strike of the 80s which I’ve already referenced and was by a small group of 9 women and one man strikers from only one store, Henry Street, contributed to an Irish government position change on importing goods from the apartheid South African state.

Simple worker and community led campaigns and actions can have meaningful effect for those that we represent and fight for. As American Margaret Mead said when describing those Dunnes anti-apartheid strikers ‘never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’

Irish workers should not be reticent in asking for more, nor apologise for demanding their fair share on everything. And I mean everything. Workers across the world shouldn’t shy away from exercising their collective will and, if necessary, their muscle for the same. It’s our world and as I said during my Mandate President election campaign, we have the means…all we need is the will. Those that we commemorate had less means but clearly had more will.

To finish sisters and brothers, as the song goes if we continue to ‘tolerate this, then our kids will be next’.

Thank you.


Dublin Council Of Trade Unions Invites ALL Workers and others to their May Day Rally this coming Sunday 1st May. The slogan will be A Decent Public Health Service! End the Housing Crisis now! Assemble: Garden of Remembrance. Parnell Square. Dublin at 1.30 PM.  Followed by march to Liberty Hall for Public meeting outside. Support your Trade Union. Come along and bring family and friends.

The Amazon Labor Union Victory Lessons for All Workers

In one of the most remarkable labor organizing victories in decades, the Amazon workers in Staten Island voted to unionize with the independent Amazon Labor Union (ALU). This is the first organizing victory for any union at any of Amazon’s 110 warehouses across the USA, the nation’s second largest employer with over a million employees.

This was a real bottom-up organizing effort potentially highlighting an effective way forward for the rest of labor – a victory that gives momentum to workers not only in the other Amazon warehouses but in all industries. It demonstrates how and why rank and file workers are the essential elements of not only a successful organizing drive but critical to a revitalized labor movement based on struggle.

In a remarkable moment of candor, the Financial Times, which always speaks for big business, admits Amazon workers took great inspiration from none other than legendary communist William Z. Foster.

Amazon’s warehouse in Staten Island is a thoroughly 21st-century workplace where human “pickers” select items from shelves brought to them by a fleet of robots. Yet when the leaders of the newly formed Amazon Labor Union wanted to unionize the place, they turned to a manual called ‘Organizing Methods in the Steel Industry’ from 1936. The pamphlet recommends among other things a “chain system” whereby workers recruit other workers.

That Amazon workers should look back to the history of the steel industry is not as strange as it might sound. Steel was a vital sector of the American economy a century ago, as is ecommerce today.

Justine Medina, Amazon organizer, described Foster’s Organizing Methods in the Steel Industry in Labor Notes as a “must-read”.

Why Follow William Z Foster? And Why Now?

While written in the 1930s, the short but informative pamphlet illustrated and combined the necessary ideological foundation, strategic outlook and practical tasks needed to take on the biggest Steel corporations and win. And it remains relevant today.

Unfortunately the strategy and victory for the ALU is an exception to the norm in today’s labor movement. A combination of red baiting, de-industrialization, and lack of desire to actually fight has seen the broader labor movement completely abandon any semblance of class struggle for class collaboration since Foster’s time.

Not only have traditional unions been largely unable to organize large militant units like the ALU just did in Staten Island, but the same losing class-collaborationist approach was most apparent when unions were unable to protect workers who were already organized. In the late 1970’s and onward, the de-industrialization of the USA was in full swing. Steel, coal, auto, rubber, transportation were just a few of the basic industries that were offshored, downsized or dis-invested by capital. Hundreds of thousands lost their jobs, communities were devastated, as infrastructure and public services took a major blow.

The causes of this man-made disaster were pictured and portrayed by politicians, business, the media, and labor as inevitable results of living under the magic of the capitalist market. The mayor of Pittsburgh, Richard Caliguiri remarked that workers should leave the city for greener pastures, essentially defending the bosses’ shut down of the steel mills in western Pennsylvania. Rather than use their existing political and organizational muscle to mobilize the tens of thousands into a grand coalition to put up a fight, unions simply folded into a charity-based approach, reducing their credibility and giving credence to the bosses’ arguments that the unions caused the offshoring because they “asked for too much”. Given that all these industries were unionized yet collapsed without a mass struggle is crucial for workers today.

Labor’s efforts today, with the exception of a few unions in particular sectors, largely mirror this defeatist approach.Tied to the bosses and the twin corrupt mainstream political parties, labor’s efforts are reduced to lobbying, email campaigns, media releases, and excessive legalistic strategies. For years, rather than attempt to unionize many low-wage sectors, labor lobbied for a federal minimum wage bill, something still yet to come to fruition.

This is what makes the Amazon victory so exciting, and one can see the incredible relevance today that is exhibited by the Foster pamphlet used to organize the Steel Industry decades ago. The parallels for the labor movement today and in the late 1920s and early 1930s are remarkable:

The organization campaign must be a fighting movement. It must realize that if the steel workers are to be organized they can only rely upon themselves and the support they get from other workers. While every advantage should be taken of all political institutions and individuals to defend the steel workers’ civil rights and to advance their interests generally, it would be the worst folly to rely upon Roosevelt, Earle or other capitalist politicians to adopt measures to organize the steel workers. There is every probability that only through a great strike can the steel workers establish their union and secure their demands, and this perspective must be constantly borne in mind.

Although the steel workers must not place their faith in capitalist politicians, they should utilize every means to develop working class political activity and organization in the steel areas. Especially there should be organized local Labor parties in the steel towns and thus foundations laid for an eventual Farmer-Labor Party.

Christian Smalls, leader of the ALU, in an interview on Fox News commented on being ignored by politicians in the runup to the NLRB election, “Whether they showed up or not, they didn’t make or break our election. We just had to continue to organize.” Like Foster, Smalls is setting an example in which unions chart an independent course, focusing on confidence and mass support of the rank and file over tacit support from politicians – worrying about whether AOC or Bernie Sanders attends a photo op rally is not a priority.

Democracy Defined as Rank and File Control and Involvement

For both Foster and now the ALU, mass participation among the rank and file and a captivating positive attitude among the organizing committee were crucial.

The necessary discipline cannot be attained by issuing drastic orders, but must be based upon wide education work among the rank and file and the development of confidence among them in the cause and ultimate victory of the movement.

A central aim must always be to draw the largest possible masses into direct participation in all the vital activities of the union; membership recruitment, formulation of demands, union elections, petitions, pledge votes, strike votes, strike organization, etc. This gives them a feeling that the union is actually their movement.

This critical strategy to draw in the workers to participate in the drive was necessary to destroy management’s attempt to picture the union organizers as “outsiders” that can confuse employees and reduce the union‘s credibility. Unfortunately, Amazon was successful in defeating the first Alabama organizing drive by the RWDSU by constantly highlighting the out-of-town supporters who would pass flyers or visit workers instead of rank-and-file workers at the sites. Solidarity support and professional staff are critical but only work when following a worker-led movement.

What Kind of Union Do Workers Need Today?

Can we learn from our past mistakes? Unions are essential for protecting the workers on the job and that’s why the capitalist class is relentless in opposition to workers organizing. But the Amazon Labor Union model can not exist in a vacuum. Its approach is a guide and for the working class to move to the offensive its principles must be extended far and wide.

The ALU and other new leaders in labor must shift the broader labor movement away from the strategy of class collaboration in order to be strong enough to withstand the ongoing attacks by capital. Workers can only actually go on the offensive once campaigns are moved beyond individual bargaining units to a class-level fight.

The ALU has shown the working class in simple and practical terms that it’s more important to build bottom-up solidarity among all workers than building an identity with your boss. This is something we should understand and help to nurture and grow.


Unions dismayed at Department of Social Protection handling of employment services

SIPTU and Fórsa members employed in local employment services (LES) and Job Clubs are losing confidence in the ability of the Department of Social Protection to manage these vital social services following a further change in the contracts for their provision.

SIPTU Public Administration and Community Division Organiser, Adrian Kane, said: “The Department of Social Protection has, without consultation, extended the contract of the current providers of LES and Job Clubs until August. This is yet another example of times for the deadlines concerning the operation of these services being unilaterally changed by the Department.
“This reactive and last minute approach shown by the Department is incredibly unfair to our members, many of whom will lose their jobs as a result of the planned tendering process for the provision of these services.”
He added: “Our members need to plan for their futures. They need definitive timelines. At the very least there should be an extension of these contracts until the end of the year. This would allow time for a proper stakeholder process to be established and to agree a way forward for the provision of these vital social services.”
Fórsa Assistant General Secretary, Lynn Coffey, said: “SIPTU and Fórsa have been steadfast in their opposition to the marketisation of the current services. We have called for a minimum extension of the current contracts until the end of the year in light of the Ukrainian refugee crisis. To continue with the marketisation of these critical services as we enter into a very unpredictable economic period goes against all logic.
“The approach of privatising these services, adopted by Minister for Social Protection, Heather Humphreys, has no political support apart from among a handful of hard-line ideologues within Fine Geal. It is clearly not in the interest of the most vulnerable within our society to have these services cease at this time.”
She added: “What the Minister should be doing is seeking to implement the nine recommendations from the Report on the Examination of Employment Services in November 2021 published by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Social Protection, Community and Rural Development and the Islands.”

The WFTU International Campaign in Solidarity and Relief of the Palestinian People ended with success.

On April 10th, 2022 a solidarity event with massive participation was organized by NAKLIYAT-IS in Istanbul Turkey to mark the successful end of the WFTU – GUPW Palestine campaign.

The materials were collected by 45 countries of the world. The huge participation in the campaign proves once more the solidarity of WFTU and its members with the Palestinian people.

In the event participated the WFTU General Secretary George Mavrikos, Ali Riza Küçükosmanoğlu, member of WFTU Presidential Council and General Secretary of TUI Transport and the ambassador of Palestine in Turkey.

Our next step is the arrival and distribution of the material to Palestine.


SIPTU to seek greater pay increases across private sector to offset inflation

SIPTU members across the private sector will seek pay increases to match the rising costs of living and will re-negotiate existing pay deals which fall short of inflation.

Following a meeting of the union’s sector organisers, SIPTU Deputy General Secretary, Gerry McCormack, said that its members in more than 2,500 companies across Ireland will urgently seek minimum rises in line with the rate of inflation which is expected to reach 8 per cent over the coming weeks and months.

“In negotiations with employers across the economy, our members will seek increases that will offset the sharp rise in the costs of living in Ireland. We will also re-renegotiate earlier deals that are no longer sufficient to recompense workers for the increase in inflation,” he said.

“We are aware that some businesses may not be able to afford the increases required to meet inflation and do not intend to place them in further financial difficulty with unsustainable pay claims.

“However, we have also witnessed gouging over recent months which is unjustified and suggests there are business people who are raising prices above the inflation rate solely to increase profits at the expense of their customers.

“The sharp rise in living costs, including energy prices, is largely driven by external factors and is not caused by working people and their families, many of whom are now struggling to pay for their rent, mortgage, fuel and other basic needs. The 14% increase in house prices is creating real hardship and deepening the housing and homeless crisis.”  

Gerry McCormack added: We have pressed the Government to increase the €500 limit that employers can give in tax-free vouchers to €1000 and can be paid in lieu of wage increases.

“The Government should also raise the minimum wage to the living wage and protect vulnerable citizens on fixed incomes by increasing social welfare and State pension rates.”


Trade Union Left Forum sends our support to PAME in Greece- National General Strike 6th April

The class unions are in the workplaces and the streets transferring till the last moment the call for the success of the General Strike of April 6.

The class unions demand

No involvement-no participation of our country in the imperialist war!

All in the fight against inflation and taxation

For the defense of the working-class income

For collective agreements with substantial increases in salaries

The resumption of the collective bargaining of the National collective Contract as a starting point for the increase of the minimum wage, claiming 825 € minimum gross salary

The restoration of conquests and rights such as the beginning of a more favorable contract, the Sunday holiday, the payment of overtime, the 13th and 14th salary in the public sector, etc.

The general reduction of working time, with 7 hours – 5 days – 35 hours per week and stable work with rights.

Abolition of VAT on consumer goods.

Abolition of ENFIA-House tax and big reduction of municipal fees for workers’ households.

Reduction of the price of electricity and gas by 50% and abolition of taxes on fuel and energy in general.

Debt relief, not in foreclosures and auctions for workers and poor households.

Recruitment of staff with stable jobs and rights in health, welfare, education, local government and civil protection.

Strike rallies are to take place in more than 60 cities all over Greece. 

Amazon workers in New York make history by voting to form union

Amazon workers in New York have voted to form a union in what labor leaders are calling a “historic victory” against the US’s second largest employer.

In Staten Island, New York, 2,654 warehouse workers voted yes to forming a union, while 2,131 voted no, according to a tally by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).


Meanwhile, in another union vote, Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama, appear to have rejected a union bid – but outstanding challenged ballots could change the outcome. The votes were 993 to 875 against the union. A hearing to review 416 challenged ballots is expected to begin in the next few days.

The Staten Island victory marks the first successful US organizing effort in the company’s history. Organizers have faced an uphill battle against Amazon, which now employs over one million people in the US and is making every effort to keep unions out.

Seth Goldstein, a pro bono attorney who has represented the Amazon Labor Union in Staten Island through their election proceedings, said: “Worker engagement has been the key to this historic victory and can be attributed to increased nationwide union organizing in digital, tech, non-profit and Starbucks. Gen Z and millennial workers are leading the charge in union organizing.”

A Starbucks barista in Buffalo, New York, helps out the local Starbucks Workers United in Mesa, Arizona, in February.
US unions see unusually promising moment amid wave of victories
Read more

John Logan, director of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University, said the early vote counts in New York had been “shocking”. The nascent Amazon Labor Union (ALU), which led the charge on Staten Island, has no backing from an established union and is powered by former and current warehouse workers.

“I don’t think that many people thought that the Amazon Labor Union had much of a chance of winning at all,” Logan said. “And I think we’re likely to see more of those [approaches] going forward.”

After a crushing defeat last year in Bessemer, when a majority of workers voted against forming a union, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) got a second chance to organize another campaign when the NLRB ordered a do-over after determining that Amazon tainted the first election.

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the RWDSU, said on Thursday that the union would be filing objections to how Amazon handled the election in Bessemer but declined to specify. He also took the opportunity to lash out at current labor laws, which he believes are rigged against unions and favor corporations.

“It should not be so difficult to organize a union in the United States,” he said.

Chris Smalls, a fired Amazon employee who has been leading the ALU in its fight on Staten Island, remains hopeful of victory.

“To be leading in day one and be up a couple hundred against a trillion-dollar company, this is the best feeling in the world,” Smalls said after the conclusion of Thursday’s counting.

While Smalls’s attention has been focused on securing victory in New York, the efforts in Alabama also weighed heavily.

“I’m not too sure what’s going on in Alabama right now, but I know that the sky’s the limit if you can organize any warehouse,” he said, noting that the vote in Alabama could well end up differently. “I hope that they’re successful. I don’t know what’s going on yet, but we know we show our support and solidarity with them.”

Amazon has pushed back hard in the lead-up to both elections.

In a filing released on Thursday, Amazon disclosed it spent about $4.2m last year on labor consultants, who organizers say the retailer routinely solicits to persuade workers not to unionize. It’s unclear how much it spent on such services in 2022.

The mostly Black workforce at the Amazon facility, which opened in 2020, mirrors the Bessemer population of more than 70% Black residents, according to the latest US census data.

Pro-union workers say they want better working conditions, longer breaks and higher wages. Regular full-time employees at the Bessemer facility earn at least $15.80 an hour, higher than the estimated $14.55 per hour on average in the city. That figure is based on an analysis of the US Census Bureau’s annual median household income for Bessemer of $30,284, which could include more than one worker.

The ALU said they don’t have a demographic breakdown of the warehouse workers on Staten Island and Amazon declined to provide the information to the Associated Press, citing the union vote. Internal records leaked to the New York Times from 2019 showed more than 60% of the hourly associates at the facility were Black or Latino, while most of managers were white or Asian.

Amazon workers there are seeking longer breaks, paid time off for injured employees and an hourly wage of $30, up from a minimum of just over $18 per hour offered by the company. The estimated average wage for the borough is $41 per hour, according to a similar US Census Bureau analysis of Staten Island’s $85,381 median household income.

A spokesperson for Amazon said the company invests in wages and benefits, such as health care, 401(k) plans and a prepaid college tuition program to help grow workers’ careers.

“As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “Our focus remains on working directly with our team to continue making Amazon a great place to work.”

Associated Press contributed to this story



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President Higgins delivers keynote address, SIPTU Biannual Conference

“On the Post-Covid World of Work: The Centrality of the Trade Union Response”

SIPTU Conference, Sligo, 29th March 2022

A chairde,

May I say how delighted I was to receive an invitation to be here with you in Sligo as you gather for the SIPTU Biennial National Delegate Conference. May I begin by thanking Secretary-General Joe Cunningham for the invitation to address you all at what is an important event that is discussing the future form of economy and, within it, work. The world of work is on the cusp of great changes. Work represents the expression of our human essence – the way we work, what it means to us, and how we balance our lives together, define the society of which we are a part.

As we emerge from two brutal years of pandemic which have had such devastating consequences at so many levels – personal, societal, cultural and economic – we owe it to the victims of the pandemic, as well as those who risked their own health working in the provision of frontline and essential services, not to shirk the opportunity that now presents itself to reflect, take stock and learn the lessons that the pandemic provoked for us. We have an opportunity to return to neglected questions that pertain to the world of work, how we valued it, ranked its different forms, appreciated it, acknowledged it in payment terms.

Experiencing the pandemic has informed a heightened recognition which, I believe, now exists across society regarding issues that are inextricable related, such as work-life balance, employer flexibility, remote working and, most importantly, the need to value our essential and frontline workers who have been undervalued, and, in so many instances, underpaid, sometimes egregiously, for so long.

The pandemic has eroded the often artificial and divisive distinction between the public and private sectors. Regardless of their sector, employer, or occupational activity, SIPTU members were engaged in maintaining the essentials of the economy. Day after day, they took on risks to personal health to ensure the continued production and delivery of goods and services without which a modern society cannot function, and on which so many depended.

In doing so, SIPTU members secured the public good, kept society and economy operating at an essential, basic level while we attempted to suppress the virus’s spread. How appropriate it is then that your first motion today relates to frontline workers, whom I once again wish to acknowledge, and to whom I express gratitude on behalf of all citizens of this country.

In some respects, the world of work and labour markets around the world had already commenced a process that was yielding significant transformations when Covid-19 first emerged in early 2020. Now it is clear that the pandemic has accelerated such changes in the labour market that had already begun to take effect. The pandemic has prompted a profound reassessment of how we work, where we work, even why we work, all of which has to come out of negotiation and in the design of which there must be a lead role for trade unions and their membership.

As the pandemic recedes, we must not fall for the fallacy that there will no longer be challenges and disruptions that face society and workers in particular. These challenges had already been recognised by trade unions and the consultative bodies of which they are a part, such as the National Economic and Social Council who had outlined these quite brilliantly in NESC Report No. 149: Addressing Employment Vulnerability as Part of a Just Transition in Ireland.

There will be other disruptions, and regrettably possibly other pandemics or crises that undoubtedly will have profound consequences for our societies, our economies and the world of work. Yes, this means adapting, adjusting, prioritising, and creating resilience to manage the changes already recognised, but also we must anticipate externally sourced instability. This means embracing some new insights and capabilities that experiencing Covid-19 has revealed. Those insights, however, have to be expanded, reimagined to create the connectedness between economy, society and ecological sustainability that we now need.

Now is the time to define a new period of leadership to achieve these outcomes, not just for the trade union movement, but for all of us. It is the trade union movement that can be credibly looked to for both ambition and realism, to focus on what might be termed ‘the art of the possible’ that is embedded in the international vision that unions have historically exemplified.

By the art of the possible, I suggest this can be envisioned in terms of what we can achieve together, tapping humans’ endless capabilities within a framework of protective, inclusive labour rights that safeguard workers, particularly the most vulnerable, from the recent, often regressive, trends in the world of work – so-called innovations that merely represent advances insofar as they maximise productivity, efficiency, profitability, often at the expense of workers’ hard-won rights.

Now is the time to challenge how we think about the world of work, and technology, so that we can identify and unleash human potential and flourishing, make work and employment as satisfying and rewarding as it should be for everyone in every sector of the labour market, and protect those who, for whatever reason, are outside the basic protections and possibilities of the labour market, from falling into poverty and exclusion.

I have so often been struck by the reluctance of those who claim to be fervent, enthusiastic democrats to acknowledge the contribution of trade unions. What they have secured, what they have protected us from, how they are our bond to democracy.

Members will know that I am preparing reflections on how we experienced our lives in desperate conditions a century ago. I have been struck by how the noble – and I call it that – contribution of the trade union is not given proper place in the historiography.


Now is a good time to reflect on the unique role that the trade union movement has played in quelling sectarianism, violence and intimidation on this island. As the only mass organisation that unites workers from all communities to fight for their common interests, the trade union movement must redouble its efforts, undertake that vital role of reaching out to all workers and overcoming sectarianism. It is trade unionists who can best do this. For example, there are writers who, with credibility, have suggested that if the trade unions had held out in the period 1965-68, civil rights would have been the prevailing emphasis, that trade unions were better at managing extremists than any narrow version of Nationalism or Orangeism.

At key points during the course of the ‘Troubles’, the trade union movement was able to mobilise workers in united action – with demonstrations, walk-outs and strikes – in response to sectarian threats or attacks. This is a tradition of which trade unions can always be proud, and to which I know they will always return. It must not be confined to the floors of conference halls.

Of course when one looks at what would have saved lives, be it in the War of Independence, the Clune Proposals for instance, the lives lost in the Civil War, the calls for peace, it is the trade unions, and the Labour Party led by Tom Johnson, who are most active in making that case. They too are the ones who spearheaded the visits to prisons and were the first in the field for every piece of legislation dealing with rights as to one’s sexuality or identity. It is easy to list where they gave way to conservative forces. It is, however, only fair surely to acknowledge where and when they and trade unions stood alone.

The most effective way that we can challenge sectarianism is to bring workers from both communities together in the struggle for our common interests. I know that union activists do this, are doing so in their branch and their workplace, and can respond to a rise in sectarianism which is devastating working class communities and which has been fuelled, in part, by those anti-EU sentiments that have been galvanised as a result of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.

Preparations that must anticipate any false divisions in the workplace must go hand in hand with a renewed discussion on how unions can, in the same way that they challenged the austerity agenda in Dublin, Stormont and Westminster, contribute now to the delivery of a new paradigm of an ethical, sustainable and inclusive society – an eco-social model that I and others have been advocating which has emerged ever stronger from the scholarly work of some of the best heterodox economists. It is now finding its way into the discussions and reports of the OECD, European Commission and other international organisations not known for espousing radical or left-wing ideas. The eco-social model represents our best hope, too, of recovering lost social cohesion.

Trade union members, I feel, are best positioned to give leadership. They are not single-issue activists and can best see how forms of consciousness must combine to achieve change. 

Humanitarian Crisis

The unfolding disaster in Ukraine brought about by the completely unjustified, unprovoked, immoral military invasion by Russia, presents great challenges to our international institutions, to the various protections in international humanitarian law. It is leading to great economic and societal upheaval, and mass migration on a scale not seen since the Second World War. These developments are already impacting on the Irish economy and society. They will have impacts on the world of work, and will fundamentally challenge us all. The leadership that the trade union movement will be called on to give will not be confined to the workplace. Theirs is a perspective that can define the society of justice and ecological responsibility.

Facing these challenges, we can draw on the type of solidarity demonstrated during the pandemic, but also on so much of the trade union history and tradition, including opening our borders, offering refuge and a safe haven for people on a scale never witnessed before. The values of solidarity, so amply demonstrated during the pandemic, will need to be re-invoked, given new expression and meaning.

In the immediate days and weeks since the invasion on Ukraine and the assault on its citizens, it is heartening to witness how so many Irish citizens, and indeed those across the globe, have united in their support for the Ukrainian people, offering food, aid and other forms of assistance to those fleeing the war.

May I suggest, as has often happened in history, be it in Ireland, Chile or Columbia, that the trade union movement has always played an important initiating role in response to humanitarian crises. It already is happening: Ukrainian trade unions have been providing food and shelter amid invasion, organised labour is helping to welcome refugees across Eastern Europe countries, and unions across Europe have been calling for greater humanitarian and emergency support from Governments.

When those who have come to join us have settled in Ireland, I suggest that Irish trade unions will be among the already incredibly welcoming people who will play a vital role in ensuring that Ukrainian refugees will enjoy all of our rights, including full access to the labour market, and other economic and social rights, such as financial supports, as provided for in the Temporary Protection Directive. This important Directive gives those seeking refuge an immediate right of access to the labour market, housing, social welfare, healthcare, education, training and other supports.

New Ways of Working

As to the new ways of working – remote working, working near home, and hybrid or blended working, are set to become one of the biggest global trends that remain with us as lockdowns ease and the normal patterns of life return across societies. Covid-19 has demonstrated the effectiveness of remote working in appropriate circumstances and provision of means of, for example, technology access, and survey after survey indicates that a blended form of remote and office-based working is the preference for the majority of workers as we emerge from the pandemic.

During the pandemic, remote working undoubtedly saved countless lives and prevented the closure of many businesses. One-in-three workers across the labour market started working from home in the last two years. Many companies – from small to multinational giants – have publicly announced a long-term shift to permanent remote working, claiming that office centricity is a thing of the past, and surveys demonstrate that 80 percent of European employers require or are considering more employees to work remotely once the pandemic is over[1].

This cultural shift places demands on employers across the private and public sectors to endeavour to accommodate these new preferences that have emerged in the expanded work environment—which includes the ecosystem of physical and virtual workplaces. This shift to home working requires, too, the management of expectations around how we collaborate, engage, and relate to each other in virtual settings.

What is at stake here is not a concession of options, but a negotiated practical agreement in how work and workers’ rights are best protected. There is a real challenge as to how the concept of collective action – central to trade union organisation – can be crafted so that the unity that has been trade unions’ strength can be maintained.

Importantly, we need to be aware of the real possibilities of a downside –isolation, burnout, low morale, workers feeling disconnected and excluded, as well as the risks of intensified work and extended working hours.

Such detrimental effects are with us already and can be seen, if neglected, as a serious erosion of workers’ fundamental rights, fair working conditions, fair remuneration, working time and work-life balance, health and safety at work, and gender equality.

We thus need better, newer, innovative and realisable protection for workers in our new digital reality to ensure the wellbeing of all workers, both when they are not working—at home with their family in the evening, on leave, or on holidays—and when they work from home. It is possible that these new paradigms of working can be turned, indeed used as an asset that benefits everyone, both workers and employers, but the trade union movement has a crucial role to play, not just in a protective sense, for example in mitigating their adverse effects on workers’ rights, but in their design and implementation. We have examples available to us.

The European Parliament’s ‘Right to Disconnect’ Resolution, and proper legal frameworks for telework, including the Code of Practice signed by the Tánaiste on behalf of the Irish Government on 1st April 2021, should be seen as essential policy instruments that can be used to protect workers’ rights and ensuring decent working conditions in the future of work post-Covid. Unions’ role in ensuring that this Code is enforced across all sectors will be vital.

The benefits of these new ways of working are potentially many and significant, far beyond the workplace. The reduced congestion and environmental emissions reductions that will arise from forgone trips travelling to and from the office are just one very significant advantage.

Then, too, are the financial savings for many, who face reduced commuting costs. We can think also of the manner in which such a model, if implemented correctly, with safeguards to protect employees, can facilitate better work-life balance, improved quality of life and human happiness, with the potential to make our world a healthier place and foster a sense of community and support for local businesses and communities. It can address the two-sided problem of rural decay and urban congestion and help implement real regional planning.

What is essential is seeing the full picture of economy, society, environment as connected. Activists must combine, see and respect each other’s priorities.

In addition to how we work, the past two years have also seen workers rethink why we work, and what we most want to do with our careers and our lives. Globally, data from the World Economic Forum demonstrates that employees are voting with their feet. In October 2021, the share of members changing roles was up a quarter compared to the pre-pandemic period in October 2019, as employees are taking their experience and skills to new roles at an accelerated pace[2].

Such survey data also reveal how workers are more likely to transition into new industries, reporting a desire for many, not just for better compensation, but for better alignment with their values. It is a fallacy to suggest, however, that it is an evolutionary inevitability for all, and age matters. Work, income, life and community are connected to the stages of the life cycle for many workers, and they have established and earned rights.

Such a move, as the World Economic Forum speaks of, can prompt positive change in the labour market, with employees more empowered to negotiate terms than in the past and to play their part in the transformation to a paradigm of a more ethical and sustainable society and economy.

Adverse Impacts

Not all of the trends that we have experienced resulting from the pandemic can be seen as positive from a labour and trade union perspective. The economic uncertainty of the pandemic has caused many workers to lose their jobs and has exposed others for the first time to non-standard, precarious work models.

While some organisations have recognised the humanitarian crisis of the pandemic and prioritised the wellbeing of employees, others have pushed employees to work in conditions that are high-risk, with precarious or little support.

A survey by the Dublin-based European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions suggests that women and young people have borne the greatest burden of the crisis. Shockingly, it found that two-thirds of 18-34-year-olds are now at risk of depression.

For women, work-life balance has suffered disproportionately throughout the pandemic, especially for women with young children[3], and the appalling statistics regarding increased domestic violence have been a shocking trend during the pandemic. Trade unions, I know, are anxious to play an important part in ensuring that wellbeing will become a central element in human resource policies so that workers’ mental and physical health is safeguarded.

We are far from being likely to see in the short term that which we seek, knowing, as we do, what is best for our shared, peaceful future. Oxfam’s latest report, Inequality Kills, indicates that the world’s richest 10 men have doubled their wealth during the pandemic, and a new billionaire was created every 26 hours[4]. On the other hand, 160 million people globally have been pushed into poverty during the same timeframe, and, shockingly, the incomes of 99 percent of humanity are worse off because of Covid-19.

Widening economic, gender, and racial inequalities—as well as the inequality that exists between countries—are tearing our world apart, ripping apart the remaining shreds of social cohesion and solidarity.

Here in Ireland, the pandemic has deepened existing inequalities. That is a fact that has been empirically demonstrated[5] – and the welfare state now faces huge challenges in dealing with the pre-pandemic structural issues that Covid-19 has exacerbated, issues related to accessing appropriate and affordable housing, healthcare, childcare and education.

The distributive effects of the pandemic response were, overall, more favourable to the already privileged and well-off. What we now need is not surely a just recovery, but a release of energy for a decent society, equal in all of its aims. Campaigning for universal basic services seems very logical, and of course it is not at the cost of the movement for basic income

Rising consumer price inflation, driven primarily by rapidly increasing energy prices, which itself drives price increases in other goods, is resulting in the cost of living soaring while wages for many remain stagnant or declining in real terms. 

The increasing prevalence of in-work poverty has resulted in the growing phenomenon of the ‘working poor’, a consequence of unstable, precarious, low-paid and temporary jobs. Entering work does not, by definition, provide a sustainable route out of poverty owing to the widespread prevalence of low-paid jobs, flexible and zero-hours’ contracts and other innovations that are increasing the numbers who are now termed ‘precariats’.

Low-paid, temporary and insecure jobs have created a new poverty trap, one made all the more difficult to escape in the aftermath of the pandemic. There is a danger that an ‘any-job-will-do’ mantra may dictate welfare and enterprise policy as countries struggle to cope with the political, economic and societal pressures that the pandemic is likely to bring in its wake. 

Archaic assumptions persist on the part of some employers about the achievement of often crude metrics based on efficiency and productivity. This fixation is based on an unchallenged set of assumptions grounded in a neoliberal economic paradigm that dates from the early 1980s and had continued for four decades gaining momentum, which has not gone but run into hiding in the thickets of bad capital and destructive economics.

Chief among this paradigm’s assumptions is the notion that an organisation can only thrive if it strives to achieve the maximisation of productivity and efficiency at any cost, regardless of social or human welfare impacts. I believe there is now a recognition that we need to move away from this paradigm and embrace a transition from designing for efficiency to designing for resilience and ethical sustainability in a post-pandemic world.

Then, too, is the trend of rapidly increasing digitalisation of the global economy, galvanised by the pandemic, and the need for safeguards to protect those who will be left behind or exploited by such a trend.

We see the adverse impacts of digitalisation manifesting across society, perhaps most acutely in the banking and financial services sector where branches continue to close, staff are redeployed to back office services or made redundant, and the customer experience is ever-diminished, all of this rationalised in the name of efficiency, flexibility, productivity.

Digitalisation can yield positive, shared results. It need not be wholly negative if offered within a social-economic model, ensuring that workers are covered by employment law and collective agreements.

The pandemic has the potential to usher in a new era for workers’ rights. May I suggest that trade unions are presented now with an opportunity to ensure that a major change is brought to fruition with regard to workers’ rights in Ireland.

This could include advancing crucial policy agendas, such as a move to achieving support for universal basic services and an appropriate living wage, the need for access to an occupational pension, the right to disconnect from work, the right to seek remote working arrangements, new legislation for statutory sick pay arrangements, and, perhaps most importantly, a new approach to collective bargaining and industrial relations giving greater power to trade unions which is the subject of several motions of your conference

May I suggest, too, that now is a good time for an all-out effort to be made among unions, such as SIPTU, to drive up membership among those workers in sectors that are traditionally less well represented by union membership, such as the technology and pharmaceutical sectors, as well as those in the so-called ‘gig economy’ who have been effectively ignored.

Climate Change and Just Transition

Climate change remains the biggest existential crisis we face as a society. Yet, Covid-19, and now the Ukrainian defence against invasion, with all its consequences, has pushed climate change down the policy agenda. While there was some progress at COP26, and the green skills we need to transition our economy are growing, it is clear that the pace we need in order to achieve the low-carbon transition is far too slow. The latest IPCC reports make for grim reading and constitute a dire warning about the consequences of inadequate action.

The window of opportunity to act on climate change is closing worryingly fast: climate change is “widespread, rapid, and intensifying” and “major climate changes are now inevitable and irreversible”[6]. Over 40 percent of the world’s population is already being significantly impacted by climate change, with the poorest being impacted most adversely[7].

A mindset shift is thus needed across all of society, not only from governments to employers, but to citizens who are asked to set aside their indifference, and may I suggest that unions can be at the vanguard in helping to deliver this shift now urgently needed if we are to avoid runaway and catastrophic climate change.

Every worker and employer has a role to play in the transition to an eco-social paradigm of ecological sustainability and inclusive and ethical society. This does not mean the mere application of a green lens to specific aspects of our jobs and lifestyles.

Rather, it requires a new way of existence, in harmony with nature, resonating with the world, recognising the importance of resiliency, the limits of the world’s natural resources, as well as acknowledging the role that unrestrained greed has played in creating the climate crisis.

The suggested new paradigm envisages a more equal and moral society, one in which the State is seen as a provider of quality universal services for its citizens, services that are seen as an investment in society rather than a burden, services that provide decent jobs for workers. Such a model has gained traction, achieving a consensus in many parliaments.

An eco-social paradigm encompasses, too, the need for a just transition for those impacted by the closure of unsustainable carbon-intensive electricity production, for example, who must be offered re-skilling opportunities to enable them to find suitable jobs in other areas, such as the green economy, or upskilling opportunities that can achieve sustainable incomes in other parts of society.

At the European Union level, the European Green Deal is a crucial strategic intervention aiming to transform the EU into a resource-efficient economy, ensuring no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050, economic growth decoupled from resource use, and a just transition in which no person and no place is left behind. A model for such a just transition has been made available to us by Ireland’s National Economic and Social Council, whose 2020 Report, as I have already suggested, provides a framework within which the transition to a new political economy may be a just transition[8].

The importance of achieving a just transition – based on the principles of equality, participation, and protection of the marginalised – is ever more relevant because of the Covid-19 crisis, its aftermath and how we design our recovery, and is aligned with our obligations under the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda.

The trillion-euro European Green Deal has the potential to be a lifeline out of the pandemic, may assist in bringing to fruition a paradigm shift away from the Anthropocene to a new era that brings about an eco-social industrial revolution. However, such a strategic intervention requires that education, training and skills development be placed at its core, together with improved co-operation between member states.

We also need, it has been suggested by a diversity of scholarly and spiritual thinkers and writers, a new social contract between citizen and state. Minouche Shafik, in her recent book, What We Owe Each Other, presents a compelling case that a more generous and inclusive society would also share risks more collectively[9].

Acknowledging Amartya Sen’s Capabilities Approach, she suggests that such a society would broaden opportunities, and ask citizens to contribute for as long as they can and wish to, so that everyone can fulfil their potential. Shafik identifies the key elements of a more generous social contract, one founded on solidity, solidarity and harmony, one that recognises our interdependencies, supports and invests more in each other, to build a more inclusive, cohesive society together.


How we emerge from this pandemic will be vitally important to the future of workers’ rights. Let us all commit to play our part in the creation of a society that removes the obstacles standing between so many of our people and their full participation. Let us commit to valuing those heroic workers who have risked their lives and their security to support us. Let us keep defending their rights as the founders of the trade union movement did more than a century ago.

There never was a more appropriate, more exciting time to be a part of the trade union movement for a future of equality, justice and sustainability, one that will carry the imprint of the trade union’s emancipatory imprint.

I wish your conference every success.

Míle buíochas is beir beannacht.                                     


[1] See European Foundation (2021). ‘ Workers want to telework but long working hours, isolation and inadequate equipment must be tackled’ – available here:

[3] European Foundation (2021). Op. cit.

[4] Nabil Ahmed, Anna Marriott, Nafkote Dabi, Megan Lowthers, Max Lawson, Leah Mugehera (2022). ‘Inequality kills: The unparalleled action needed to combat unprecedented inequality in the wake of COVID-19’. Oxfam International.

[5] See, for example, ‘Pandemic exposes income inequalities in Irish society’ by Deirdre Curran, Lucy-Ann Buckley, Kate Kenny, Gary Goggins, and Áine Ní Léime (2021). Work Organisation & Society Cluster of the Whitaker Institute at NUI Galway – available here:

[6] IPCC (2021). ‘Sixth Assessment Report’, United Nations: Geneva.

[7] IPCC (2022). IPCC Working Group II Report, ‘Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability’, United Nations: Geneva

[8] NESC (2020). ‘Addressing Employment Vulnerability as Part of a Just Transition in Ireland’, March 2020, Report No. 149, NESC: Dublin.

[9] Shafik, Minouche (2021). What We Owe Each Other: A New Social Contract, Penguin: London.

SIPTU warns Fine Gael that pension age rise will be signing its ‘political death warrant’

SIPTU Deputy General Secretary, Ethel Buckley, has warned the Fine Geal party that it will be signing its “political death warrant” if it attempts to press ahead with raising the age of entitlement to the state pension to 67 years.

In her address on the opening day of the SIPTU Biennial Delegate Conference in the Clayton Hotel in Sligo, Buckley said: “Let us be crystal clear at this conference here today and say to Minister Heather Humphreys: ‘Minister, our Union is putting you and your party on notice. If you cast aside all the evidence, if you ignore all the opposition, if you scorn the public outcry and increase the pension age to 67, you will be signing your party’s political death warrant and SIPTU members will make sure of that.” 

Highlighting the role of SIPTU members in leading the Stop67 Campaign against the proposed raising of the state pension age to 67 in January 2021, she said, “They were forced to repeal the pension age increase because you told them they had to. We showed them that they would be wise not to ignore our union and our strength. Because our union has power, our union has votes, and our union can change the outcome of elections.”  

Buckley said that SIPTU members welcomed the announcement on International Women’s Day (8th March) that the Government will shortly publish regulations giving effect to legislation requiring companies to publish the gap in earnings between their male and female workers.   

She said: “If they do not specifically provide a role for worker representatives in agreeing action plans with employers that will shrink the gender pay gap, then we say that the legislation is toothless.

“Whatever about there being a glass ceiling, there’s certainly a concrete floor the keeps women trapped in low-paid and precarious jobs. Ireland’s women cannot continue to have an 11% gap in earnings when compared to men.”

More than 350 delegates are attending the SIPTU Biennial Delegate Conference in the Clayton Hotel in Sligo from Monday (28th March) until Thursday (31stMarch) to debate and discuss motions on improving the lives of workers in Ireland.