2015: resistance, struggles, and developments

Capital’s strategic offensive to open up new areas of profit, weaken the collective and reform education continued during the past year. However, there has been some increased resistance from workers on a number of fronts and pay increases won by union members, as well as a strengthening of the water movement in opposition to privatisation, double taxation, and Irish Water.

The following is a brief overview of some of the important moments of the year.

Water movement continues to grow

Without doubt the most important development for workers this year has been the leading role played by trade unions in the national water movement, providing finance, a national profile, and media attention.

While the success of the movement was and remains in each and every community around the country, the support of the large unions for the movement added something missing from previous resistance campaigns.

It has also helped to link workers’ work-place struggles with community campaigns and, if it can be built on, may just provide the necessary platform for rebuilding the union movement and workers’ confidence in struggle.

Housing and homeless action

2015 saw the steady growth of a housing fight back. Fragmented pockets of resistance from single mothers organising in working class communities, to anti-eviction groups, anti-capitalists, republicans, radical social workers, homeless activists and community activists formally joined forces in May as the housing crisis intensified. The Irish Housing Network was born.

Occupations of councils and departments were followed by the opening of the Bolt Hostel. The Bolt Hostel was a DCC homeless accommodation vacant since 2011. In the middle of an intense housing and homeless crisis, buildings like this lie vacant. After 2 months, a High Court ejection ended the occupation, exposing the true hand of the State.

The Network continued to grow, building a national network of housing and homeless groups and promoting deeper organising in communities and workplaces. Successes followed, a NAMA auction was stopped in Wexford in November and a 12 day occupation of emergency accommodation ended in a stalemate with DCC and property investors in December. Going into 2016, housing will be centre stage and capitals privatisation agenda gathers momentum. It is clear that the State will only seek ‘solutions’ that work for private enterprise and capital and where homeless people themselves organise the State will resist them.

Decency for Dunne’s

The Dunne’s campaign, led by Mandate, took a brave step in 2015 in the form of a one-day work stoppage on 2 April that saw six thousand workers in 109 branches withdraw their labour for a day. The action—probably the biggest private-sector strike for some time—also drew massive support and solidarity from other unions and from communities around Dunne’s branches. Pickets were vibrant and workers confident.

The management responded by victimising and intimidating members of the union; but so far members have stood strong with their union and have secured a pay increase of 3 per cent and some improvements to their terms and conditions. The one-day action was followed by a 5,000-strong protest outside Dunne’s head office in Dublin on 6 June; and just before Christmas some 1,300 Dunne’s workers participated in a survey that revealed their complaints on flexible-hour contracts and insecurity of earnings.

Justice for Clery’s workers

On 12 June, Clery’s landmark department store in Dublin was shut abruptly by the owners, Natrium, locking out staff and customers alike and leaving 130 workers without jobs. SIPTU, with its members, launched protests, and 30,000 people signed a petition that called on the management to meet the workers. A motion was also passed by Dublin City Council calling Clery’s an iconic and essential part of the Dublin retail experience.

Protests have continued as recently as 8 December, but still the owners refuse to meet the workers. These “entrepreneurs”—Deirdre Foley, John Skelly, and Ronan Daly—are the type celebrated by the Government and the media, although this is how they treat workers and the public. This campaign will continue into the new year as justice is sought for the Clery’s workers.

The struggle to hold Aer Lingus

May saw a renewed, and ultimately successful, attempt by the Government to sell its 25 per cent shareholding in Aer Lingus to IAG. This has long been an aim of Governments, although they hoped to do so in a way that avoided Ryanair being the purchaser.

SIPTU led a campaign seeking protection and commitments for jobs and routes, important for rural communities. This was successful in securing a legally enshrined registered employment agreement that will commit the company to not pursuing an agenda of outsourcing and compulsory redundancies. However, the campaign was not broad enough, nor political enough, with insufficient mass support to oppose the sale outright.

And so in August, Aer Lingus shareholders voted to accept the sale agreement; and for the first time in history the airline is without state involvement or part-ownership.

There are lessons in this, that while a strong union can achieve protection for workers in the short term, there is no doubt that the failure to prevent privatisation leaves workers in Aer Lingus far more vulnerable now than before, and where capital wishes it will in time find a way around any protections secured. The lack of a mass political campaign for public ownership was critical in the failure to oppose the sale, and the divide between unionised workers and the mass of non-members is critical in this failure.

Privatisation of Dublin Bus routes and Irish Rail disputes

1,500 workers committed themselves to a campaign of industrial action in midsummer in opposition to the privatisation of 10 per cent of Dublin bus routes and to secure protection for workers. Much like the Aer Lingus campaign by SIPTU, ultimately short-term assurance was secured that workers would not have to work the 10 per cent of routes for private operators; but it did not prevent the privatisation of routes, and so this protection will come under attack again—not to mention the fact that privatisation will lead to much waste, inefficiencies, and increased costs, just as with refuse collection. The remaining 90 per cent of routes will, potentially, be up for tender to private operators from 2019.

Without a broader political and social programme and the ability to mobilise the broader membership and class, campaigns against privatisation are unlikely to succeed, and so the best that the unions are achieving is short-term protection for the workers involved.

Following on-and-off discussions and a day of industrial action in November, members in Irish Rail accepted an outcome from the Labour Court on productivity initiatives and payments. In all these discussions the union members have given priority to citizens’ health and safety as well as to their own demands within the context of a relentless cost-cutting drive by the management. It is likely that there will be further action in 2016, as drivers in particular are well organised and clear in their opposition to cost-saving at their expense and the expense of safety.

Teachers and regressive reform

Over the last two years the teachers’ unions have opposed the Government’s proposed reform of the Junior Certificate, which would see new teacher-led methods of assessment. The unions have opposed these reforms, as they will potentially harm teaching and educational standards and follow some of the worst international practice.

At first all the teachers’ unions opposed the process, and there were two days of industrial action and a general non-cooperation boycott. Unfortunately, however, in September the TUI voted to accept the process, having secured what it described as its key objectives—the reinstatement of a fully externally assessed state-certified Junior Cert examination and professional time to be provided for teachers—while the ASTI members voted against it. This means that TUI members (approximately 9,000) will begin co-operation, where the position of ASTI members (approximately 18,000) is slightly less known.

The ASTI ballot was clearly not popular with the union’s leadership, who were forced to acknowledge that the vote was a vote of no confidence in the Government and that their members did not trust the Government’s commitments or its intentions in education reform—a wise position for members to take!

Pay for workers, public and private

May 2015 saw a pay restoration deal for the public sector agreed between unions and Government that will involve a phased return of about €2,000 over two years for most public servants, with priority for the lower paid. However, many members are still unhappy at concessions made over the three public-sector austerity agreements and the continuing privatisation of public-sector services.

In the private sector, pay increases were achieved during the year in manufacturing, retail, finance, and technology. The increases ranges from 2 to 4 per cent, and the ICTU Private Sector Committee has made a demand for increases of 5 per cent for the private sector in 2016.

It is at about this time of year that, if you are in a unionised company, negotiations will probably be starting. The biggest challenge for workers is to secure general increases for all and to resist or negate the worst aspects of performance-related pay and performance management structures, which unfairly discriminate against certain workers and divide workers to the benefit of the management, leading ultimately to pay stagnation, which is the general aim of capital.

New IR Institutions: a watching brief

The reform programme of the Employment Appeals Tribunal, National Employment Rights Association, Equality Tribunal, Labour Relations Commission and Labour Court progressed significantly in 2015. The reforms have now entered their final phases, which will see a two-tier structure in the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court, primarily as a court of appeal.

Concerns still remain. The Government tried to introduce a fee for taking a case, which the unions successfully opposed. But this attempt to monetise the process of rights vindication, which exists in Britain, will no doubt re-emerge in years to come. There are also serious concerns about the powers granted to the WRC to rule out cases before they even have a hearing, which is arguably unconstitutional. But by and large the unions have welcomed the reforms as making processes, structures and timelines easier for workers to follow and access.

New IR legislation yet to be tested

In addition to these changes to industrial relations and workers’ rights structures, new legislation was introduced that some unions—opportunistically and incorrectly—welcomed as collective bargaining legislation. It absolutely is not collective bargaining legislation. However, it may represent opportunities for workers without union recognition to organise and potentially improve their terms and conditions of employment, which is a positive development. But, as with previous attempts to legislate, it is stated Government policy that it must be in line with Ireland’s commitment to foreign direct investment, and so it will not deliver collective bargaining for workers. Time will tell what benefits, if any, are derived from this.

The Trade Union Left Forum reiterates its commitment to workers winning through collective power and action. Regardless of legislation—although it can be helpful or a hindrance—workers only win through organising and taking action, and this remains the surest way to improve your working life.

TTIP 2015 Updated Booklet

This updated booklet from John Hillary of War on Want is an excellent analysis and exposition of TTIP and the affect it will have on jobs, workers, the environment, regulations and much more.

TTIP booklet 2015 update

The booklet covers topics like:

  • transparency and lack of democracy
  • jobs and employment
  • deregulation
  • privatisation
  • investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms (ISDS)
  • food safety
  • environmental impact

Well worth reading in advance of #GE16 so you can challenge candidates on the door and at the supermarket as they canvas you for their vote.

But don’t just read it get involved:

1 – write to your Union and ask them have they taken a position on TTIP

2 – write to the Congress of Unions and ask them to resource an anti-TTIP campaign

3 – make TTIP an election issue at the door by asking candidates their position and clearly telling them you will only vote for those who are opposed to TTIP and will work to stop it

Q3 see’s a calming of industrial action

The CSO has published its figures for industrial in the third economic quarter of the year which shows zero days lost to industrial action (their choice of words).

ID2015Q3Fig1

There were no disputes and no days of industrial action in Q3. This followed 32,848 days, 7 disputes and 6 employers, in Q1 and Q2 of this year. 73% of these days lost were in the education sector involving the Governments proposed junior certificate reform. It is the first quarter since Q4 of 2012 to have zero days.

While the Q4 numbers are not out we can expect a significant increase given the industrial action that took place transport, Irish Rail.

WFTU Statement on the International Migrants Day

The WFTU expresses its solidarity to the migrants and refugees from Syria and all the other countries. We support their demands for dignified humane conditions and respect of their rights.

The World Federation of Trade Unions with its anti-imperialist and internationalist position and action denounces the murderous and hypocritical policy of the European Union and its Governments and struggles for the elimination of the aggressiveness against the people of North Africa and the Middle East, for the dissolution of NATO and for the utilization of the natural resources by the people for their own interests and for the popular development that will bring the reconstruction and the prosperity of the people.

We demand the immediate end of all imperialist interventions. We ask from the International Organizations to support the countries of origin of economic immigrants and of the political refugees.

The phenomena or racism, neofascism and xenophobia must be fully confronted.

Based on this the WFTU calls for:

  • The abolishment of the Dublin and the Schengen Treaty, the Frontex and all repressive mechanisms.
  • Stop the measures of the European Union for the repression in the borders.
  • End now the imperialist interventions of EU-USA-NATO.
  • Direct transfer of the refugees from the islands and the entry points to the countries of their final destination.-
  • Increase of the personnel and the infrastructure for the rescue, the record-identification, the housing, feeding, medical care and the safe transfer of the people.
  • Creation of dignified centers of welcoming and hospitality

The Bolt Hostel Story

Interview with Seamus Farrell of the Irish Housing Network and part of the radical regeneration of Bolt Hostel

Bolt Hostel

1 – Firstly, can you tell me who the Irish Housing Network are and why you got organised?

The Irish Housing Network are a collection of 8 grassroots community housing and homeless groups. The groups include North Dublin Bay Housing Crisis Committee, Help 4 the Homeless Ballyfermot, Housing Action Now, An Spreach-Housing Action Collective, A Lending Hand, Social Workers Action Network, The Hub and Help the Hidden Homeless. The groups come from various perspectives and responses to components of the housing and homeless crisis. Housing Action Now for example emerged out of the community activists, researchers and young left wing activists coming together with a broad analysis of the housing crisis and with an interest in action. Groups such as North Dublin Bay HCC grew as a collection of mothers on the social housing waiting list who started taking direct action to highlight the crisis and are now building out and organising in their community as well as in the network. A Lending Hand and Help 4 the Homeless Ballyfermot both emerged as emergency responses to homelessness, providing food and clothing for those in need.  Groups such as An Spreach provide an anti-capitalist narrative with an emphasis on direction action and reclaiming homes, the Hub emphasis legal supports, the Social Workers Action Network, a radical position on service providers and Help the Hidden Homeless focus on a specific aspect of the crisis in terms of those in temporary accommodation.

Many groups were already radical others became more so following engagement in direct action and through emerging radical analysis in the aftermath of government policy decisions and damning failures for example after the death of Jonathan Corrie in the Winter of 2014-2015. After much fan fair and press coverage for those on the ground the crisis was only getting worse not better.

With many different perspectives and approaches a common line was found to form a housing network in terms of a common set of principles, agreed structures and a starting set of demands. All are on the Facebook page of the network and emphases grassroots organising, democracy and mutual solidarity as the basis for action on this crisis.

2 – You have reclaimed the Bolt Hostel and Bolton Street? How and why did you do this?

With the network formed in May we were immediate throw into, what we saw as, necessary action. Cases were flooding forward through individual groups and the network as a whole which showed the depths of the crisis. 4 cases a mother 6 months pregnant with a young child handed only a sleeping bag the night before, a mother of 3 also handed a sleeping bag, a couple who had been asked to split up to get emergency accommodation and a mental health patient released with no supports were all wiling to come forward to take their case directly to DCC. We occupied their offices at Wood Quay, demanding negotiations and for these people to be provided for. After 4 hours of negotiation and a continued presence of 40-70 activists we won that battle.

In many ways this solidified our organising capacity and our ability to take action. From here we went on to occupy the Department of the Environment which lead to negotiations with senior department staff, but no concrete tangible win and fight for 2 straight weeks with Alan and Kellie in South Dublin County Council. They had been provided with only a sleeping bag, Alan seriously sick his partner Kellie also his carer. They wanted temporary accommodation and as Alan had custody of his son for 4 days a week, we want to make sure he could have his son visit. Alan and Kellie and activists in the network slept in DCC for 3 nights, outside DCC for another 3 nights and were injuncted for their actions.

All of these previous actions built up to the Bolt Hostel on Bolton Street. We have taken on the Council and the Department and now we felt we needed to take matters in our own hands and directly house those in need. It was ambitious but a logical next step in many ways and something which we emphasized as common sense (all be it a radical common sense). If there are vacant properties they should be put to use. Housing need before greed.

We cannot talk about the specifics of how we got in but once in we set up organising rotas for the space, teams to handle aspects such as maintenance, residence, defense, media and community/support building. The building, a formed homeless hostel had been vacant for 3 years but was in surprisingly good nick so we set to work. With everything ready to go and the building publicly launched on July 3rd we open negotiations with Dublin City Council also.

3 – What are you hoping to achieve and have you had any contact with the Council?

Initially we were more then happy to form some type of deal. Our position was modest. We wanted this building put to use. Who by, was not the most important, be it council, community, charity or network as long as in was put to use. We wanted a guarantee of this. If this space could not be used we wanted a swap agreement on another property, work on community facilitates and a broader range of points connected to our demands. DCC entertained these demands but in the end they send an ultimatum offering only a possible partnership in the future and requesting an immediate vacation from the property, with legal proceedings including an injunction to follow if necessary. We were prepared for this and had built huge media support, local community support and called a rally for the day that DCC’s final offer was due to come in. We rejected DCC (none) offer.

Following on from this was deafening silence from DCC untill later the next week. 3 letters were sent to the Hostel. One to Seamus Farrell and Aisling Hedderman and one to general ‘trespassers’. They threatened to sue us for full costs in terms of damage to the building and any legal costs. Targeting two specific members of the network was malicious, Aisling herself a single mother with 2 children. Vans and cars have been outside filming the building for days and on Monday the 20th an unmarked grey van and a DCC van pulled out scouting the back entrance and filming the back on the building. 

4 – What has been the local community support like?

Amazing. The local community sent a women up to meet up early on. Tenants and businesses wanted reasurance on our actions. She backed us 100 percent. We followed this up with stalls and door knocking where, again, support was overwhelming. Many stories came forward from former residence of the hostel, from locals who felt abandoned by the council and the state and from locals who were steadfast in their willingness to help us. We followed this work with a community fun day in the Dorset St Upper Flats. 50 children were out having their hair braided, faces painted and collectively made a banner with us to put up on the hostel. We had a barbeque and many children and parents said it was the best thing in the area to happen for a long time. That is what matters, providing for and building with the community in any of these struggles.

5 – The trade union movement recently passed a motion, put forward by IMPACT trade union, at the ICTU BDC recognising homelessness and lack of public housing as a major issue. Have you received any support from the movement?

Thus far we have had general support from more left leaning union members and activists. They see the crossover between the community and where they work and stand with us. Outside of that, we have limited support thus far but have also not reached out yet as we have put emphasis on building from the grassroots and the community first. In the coming months Trade Union support will be crucial for us and to tackle the wider homeless and housing crisis.

6 – What can class conscious trade unionists and community activists do to support this action?

Firstly, publicise what we are doing. Secondly, drop down and help out and donate. Thirdly, build support from with your union/s to help and work with us in the future. Finally, build the trade union movement itself into a fighting movement, a movement that sees an pushes class struggle. A strong radical, democratic trade union movement that fights, at the end of the day, is the best thing that can help all struggles in Ireland, from our housing battles, to wider community fights to more substantive change to make this a justice Ireland. 

TULF submission to right2water

The Trade Union Left Forum submitted our thoughts to right2water on the proposals for a policy document for a progressive Irish Government, as did many other groups. The number of submissions is a good indication of both the breadth of the right2water movement and the depth of the politics of those individuals and groups involved. Both are clear strengths of the movement and unity amongst all these people and groups should be maintained. There is strength in unity and weakness comes from division.

The full TULF submission is available on the website here http://www.tuleftforum.com/resources/discussion-papers/

“The reference to the Democratic Programme is important. This programme represented a brave and radical social, political and economic vision for Ireland that had the support of working people and the mostadvanced elements of both the republican and the trade union movement. However, we must keep in mind the fact the Free State and subsequent governments of Ireland have never sought to implement such a programme, because it is not in their class interests to do so. This state is a compromise with imperialism, and it will not help deliver any meaningful change for working people.

Today, the fact that five unions have been central to the biggest mass mobilisation and social movement in decades is in itself a progressive turn, constituting an important step forward for the trade union movement and for workers more generally. For too long, unions have been formally on the sidelines of important political and social struggles.

It is crucial to the future of the union movement, and to working people generally, that we in the movement develop a coherent and concrete programme, with workers and communities, that challenges the power of capital and big business in Ireland. If we are to secure lasting gains and increase our collective power, the movement must have a political agenda and a vision that empower working people and shift the balance of power in the country towards working people.

We have seen how easy it is in a crisis for companies and the government to do away with gains that took decades of struggle by working people to win. In a short number of years,  defined-benefit pension schemes have been virtually wiped out, the working week lengthened, pay cut, unemployment greatly increased, contracts made more flexible for capital, and much more. While unions are now beginning to win difficult pay increases again, these are wiped out through increased taxes and the monetisation or privatisation of social services. Unions need to push for a coherent programme that sees wins in the work-place, complemented and enhanced by legislation and the provision of quality public services.

Politicians and political institutions must be held to account; and unions, as a vital democratic institution with more than 650,000 members in Ireland as a whole, constituting the largest worker-led and worker-controlled structure in the country, can do that.”

What happened the opposition to sell-off?

The sale of the State’s remaining stake in Aer Lingus marks the low point, so far, in the labour movement’s capitulation to neo-liberalism and move away from even a semblance of social-democratic politics, never mind socialism.

Although only 25.1% of the once publically-owned national airline remained in State hands until yesterday’s Dáil vote to sell it to the international conglomerate IAG, it did still maintain a degree a democratic influence on the key transport company.

The selloff of this profitable state asset has been accompanied by far-fetched tales. These include the claim that Dublin Airport, based on an island with direct land transport links to a hinterland with a population of 4.5 million people, will be developed as a ‘hub’ by IAG in preference to airports located in the South East of England – which has a hinterland extending from the UK to continental Europe by rail.

However, the far-fetched tale that will concern workers the most is that ‘guarantees’ hastily included in letters from management, in the soon to be defunct Aer Lingus head office, carry any weight when it comes to protecting jobs and conditions from a company with a long track record of asset striping.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect, for principled trade unionists, of the rushed fire sale of this public asset is the connivance of the Labour Party and possibly senior members of our movement in attempting to hide the move from democratic inspection.

At the Labour Party conference in March, a motion that was proposed by a group of TDs, was passed, claiming they would oppose any sale of Aer Lingus until guarantees related to the national interest in terms of maintained air transport links and guarantees for workers were met.

In doing this, the group of TDs set themselves up as a pseudo-gang feigning concern for workers’ interests. As the Government finally moved to dispose of the state asset within two days, under the contrived smoke screen of the marriage equality referendum result and the conclusion of public sector pay talks, this grouping immediately declared their concerns satisfied, without any basis, so further undermining the possibility of organised opposition to the sale.

Of even greater concern for trade unionists will be the role of our movement in meekly accepting this disposal of a state asset. Both the major unions in Aer Lingus, SIPTU and Impact, had already accepted in principle that they would not oppose, beyond mere verbiage, the sale. However, when even minor demands in relation to protecting workers terms of employment and jobs were not met by the company, little was heard.

The only conclusion that can be drawn from the debacle is that the leadership of some of our unions are so enthralled to the Labour Party agenda of social and economic liberalism that they are willing to jettison any commitment to the concept of democratic control of key state assets.

We can have all the 5 point and 10 point plans for a fairer better way but if we do not resist and struggle against privatisation we are complicit in the increasing corporatisation of society.

Tom Redmond: Working class hero

Tom Redmond

The Trade Union Left Forum wishes to salute and honour the life of Tom Redmond who passed away yesterday.

Tom was a committed and passionate trade unionist, republican and communist. He embodied the living spirit of Marxism in both his activity and in his writings and thinking. He would always challenge himself and others to take on board new experiences and revaluate the old in light of the new.

Active throughout his life in both Ireland and Britain he was an activist in SIPTU, the Communist Party of Ireland and most recently the Trade Union Left Forum, amongst many other groups. The unemployed struggles, housing battles and tax marches all benefited from Toms experience and energy.

For new and younger activists coming through in recent years, despite Tom’s age, he was a breath of fresh air. Never patronising, always willing to listen but also to remind younger comrades of lessons he had learned and witnessed. Right up to the end Tom participated in debates about strategy and tactics for unions, parties and the class.

The Trade Union Left Forum sends our deepest sympathies but also our thanks to his four children Simon, Eoin, Niall, Karl and all his extended family.

Tom will live on in the hearts, minds and activities of all workers trying to build a better Ireland and better world. This is the tribute we commit to for Tom Redmond, our comrade and a true working class hero.

Reposing at the Brian McElroy Funeral Home, Crumlin Village, Dublin 12 on Friday, 22nd May, from 7pm to 9pm. Funeral Service on Saturday, May 23, at 12.40pm in Glasnevin Crematorium followed by Cremation. Family flowers only please. Donations, if desired, to Our Lady’s Hospice, Harolds Cross.

Bus strike and the fight for public services

The support shown for striking Dublin Bus and Bus Eireann drivers over the May Bank holiday weekend illustrates the growing awareness within the working class of the threat privatisation presents to the common good. This new reality resulted in a media, less confident in rolling out its usual anti-public service worker rhetoric, being reduced to quoting employers groups complaining of decreases in foot fall in city centre shops in an attempt to attack the strike.

The campaigns to prevent the establishment of Irish Water, as a first stage in the privatisation of this utility, as well as the 2014 Greyhound Refuse dispute has educated many to the dangers of the privatisation agenda. In the lead up to the 48 hour strike, bus workers also effectively outlined to service users what will be the real impacts of privatisation; among them the eventual removal of free travel passes, the cutting back of services and realignment of bus routes to serve profit generation rather that community needs.

These wider social factors have reinforced the militancy of SIPTU and NBRU members who after accepting two rounds of cuts to their terms and conditions of employment in recent years, now face the prospect of being forced into working for private contractors. This threat resulted in over 90% of members of both unions voting for strike action in ballots during April.

At the core of the dispute is an attempt to privatise 10% of bus routes during 2016. If implemented this plan, drawn up by the National Transport Authority with the connivance of senior management in the bus companies, will see 10% of all Dublin Bus and Bus Eireann routes placed out to tender. This initial wave of privatisation in intended to involve 10% of bus routes in Dublin and the effective total privatisation of the service in Waterford City.

Despite attempts by the NTA to claiming it is forced into privatising a proportion of routes by EU directives, it is accepted that the agenda is being driven by the Government along with a cohort of neoliberal influenced senior managers in the bus companies and NTA.

Their claim is that the publicly owned companies can also ‘compete’ to for the routes being tendered. However, the tender terms are yet to be published but the NTA is refusing to remove workers’ wages from consideration, meaning that the agenda of driving down terms and conditions of workers while also defunding services through the cutting of the state subvention to bus transport till it is now one of the lowest in Europe, reveals the real aim is one of opening yet more public services to private capital.

Despite both unions stating publically their opposition to privatisation they did agree to engage in talks with the NTA, management and Department of Transport officials on the implementation of the tendering of 10% of routes. These talks, facilitated by the Labour Relations Commission, began last July. With no progress reported and the companies stating they intended to transfer drivers as well as buses to private contractors who successfully win the tenders, the talks broke down in April.

Prior to embarking on strike action, SIPTU outlined a six point agenda which would protect workers terms of employment and, its members hope, safeguard against a further privatisation of services. The NBRU has instigated legal proceedings challenging the NTA’s authority to undertake the tendering process.

In response the management of the bus companies have stated they intend to sue the unions claiming that they have breached the 1990 Industrial Relation Act by conducting a dispute which has gone beyond industrial relations issues and has the political aim of ending the Government endorsed policy of bus privatisation.

In the days leading up to the 48 hour bus strike over 1st and 2nd May, Fine Gael TD and Minister for Transport Paschal Donohue verbally stated that no bus drivers would be forcibly transferred to private contractors. This unspecified reassure is only a partial response to one of the drivers’ concerns. With further strike action set to commence on Friday, 15th May, the supporters of the neo-liberal agenda in Government and the State bureaucracy will have the choice of whether to curtail their privatisation push, for now, or attempt force it through in the face of growing union and public militancy.

As we publish this short overview of the strike SIPTU has confirmed that the planned strike tomorrow has been called off on the basis of an agreement reached in talks which deals with their 6 point plan. In their statement this evening they said:

Under the agreement, private operators will also have to comply with proposed legislation protecting public service provision  and the terms and conditions of transport workers or face sanctions, including possible loss of contract.  It was also agreed that public transport companies will not have to carry any legacy costs arising from the tendering of routes to private companies.

The protection of public services remains an ongoing struggle for workers, communities and unions.

May 1 Right2Water Conference

logo

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

The Conference

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

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

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

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

Progress

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

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

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

Questions Remaining

Important questions remain and points are still left unanswered.

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

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

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

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

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