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(en) Unions - how can the 'democratic deficit' be tackled?

From Workers Solidarity Movement <wsm@newmail.net>
Date Thu, 7 Dec 2000 15:00:02 -0500 (EST)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

         Workers Solidarity No 61
- how can the 'democratic deficit' be tackled?

At the October general meeting of my union
branch, Dublin City North INTO (Irish National
Teachers Organisation), the district
representative on the CEC (Central Executive
Committee) told the members that the union
leadership was in the process of lodging a claim
for a pay increase to compensate for inflation.
However, he said, he couldn't possibly tell us
what the amount of that claim was, as this was
confidential. The members were effectively being
told 'don't worry your heads, your leaders will
decide what's best for you.'

This was simply further proof of the 'democratic
deficit' within many unions. The leaderships see
themselves as a protected elite, and many union
members feel powerless to do anything about it.
Rulebooks are often written in such a way as to
make it as difficult as possible for ordinary
members to influence how decisions are arrived

When the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness
(PPF) was being discussed earlier in the year,
many unions - including the INTO - witnessed
huge campaigns of propaganda by the union
leaderships in favour of the deal, and attempts
to silence opponents of the deal. Many union
members no longer feel that the union is theirs,
'the union' is seen as a faceless group of
people in 'head office' and many members feel
that they are not in a position to influence
what goes on.

However, the fact that 100% of the members of
the CEC in the INTO campaigned for the PPF and
yet it was only passed by less than 50 votes
overall (50.5% to 49.5%) shows that there are
people willing to take a stand. That vote came
about as a result of people going to their
meetings and making the arguments against the
deal, not allowing themselves to be intimidated
by the bullyboy tactics of the leadership.

There are a number of minor reforms which can be
won, and which can have a great effect in terms
of narrowing the 'democratic deficit' and taking
power back into the hands of the members. A
campaign across all unions for equal space to be
given in union publications to both 'yes' and
'no' sides on any national vote, and a campaign
for a five year limit on elected positions -
both Executive members and paid officials -
would be a start. They're hardly revolutionary
or earth-shattering demands but if won they're
the issues which can form a base for moving
closer to taking back control of our unions.

Gregor Kerr
Dublin City North branch INTO
(personal capacity)


           SIPTU's rukebook

Imagine a trade union where you can't put
motions to your conference if you want to change
the rulebook. That's what happens in Ireland's
largest union, SIPTU. A Rules Revision Committee
is elected, and then given the power to decide
what rule changes conference (allegedly the
highest decision making body) can discuss and
vote on. Branches can only ask the Committee to
consider their suggestions, it's up to that
Committee to decide if the proposal goes any

When this Committee asked for suggestions the
Dublin Electronics & Engineering Branch wrote
off saying that Branches should be able to
directly put rule changes to the union
conference. Other branches are currently
debating similar motions. Let's try to get a
good shove behind this initiative. We will never
turn our unions into anything great if we can't
even change the rulebook.

Alan MacSim=F3in
SIPTU Education Branch
(personal capacity)

This article is from the print version of the Irish
Anarchist paper 'Workers Solidarity'. We also provide
a PDF file of the latest edition for you to print out
and distribute locally.

Get this and see more articles on the web at

>From Irelands's Workers Solidarity Movement

Read the International Anarchist Platform
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