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(en) Ireland, Workers Solidarity #83 - Thinking about anarchism Join a Union, Why Bother ?

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Wed, 22 Dec 2004 06:59:14 +0100 (CET)

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Before a single Luas tram trundled through the streets of Dublin, Ireland's
largest trade union, SIPTU, concluded an agreement with the operating
company, Connex, to represent the workforce. Unfortunately the
agreement included a no-strike, indeed no-industrial action, clause. So
workers at the company have effectively been told that their most valuable
weapon when it comes to defending their rights and conditions has been
given away. It seems that 17 years of 'social partnership' agreements have
come to their logical conclusion and that the so-called 'leaders' of our trade
union movement have effectively become 'social policemen' who see their
role as being that of delivering a compliant and uncomplaining workforce
to keep the wheels of industry turning.

When issues arise such as the latest round of redundancies in Aer Lingus
(as the management prepare for privatisation), we hear the union
leadership huffing and puffing, demanding meetings with management not
to defend workers' jobs by resisting redundancies but to discuss the terms
of the redundancy package. The idea of outrightly opposing the selling of
jobs, and ultimately the selling of the airline, seems alien to the thinking at
the top of SIPTU and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

Given this situation, it is not surprising that many people no longer see the
relevance of joining a trade union, and that a lot of workers see those
'leading' the trade union movement as part of the problem rather than the
solution. When ordinary workers look at the salaries and perks enjoyed by
the top union brass, they quite rightly see that in terms of income and
lifestyle union leaders have more in common with the bosses with whom
they negotiate than they do with the members they are supposed to

BUT what we must remember is that trade unions are OUR organisations.
They do not belong to the 'leaders' but to the rank-and-file members.
Joining a trade union, and encouraging your fellow workers to do so,
strengthens your position in terms of looking for a wage increase, ensuring
health and safety regulations are implemented, getting your proper
entitlements (holidays, sick pay ...) etc. Joining a union also delivers a very
clear message to your boss that you and your co-workers see that you have
common interests, and that he/she cannot pick on you individually. The
old slogan that there is strength in numbers still holds true.

Despite the overpaid bureaucrats, despite 'social partnership' agreements,
despite cosy deals, a union's strength still lies in its grassroots
membership. If a group of workers in a particular employment are willing
to stand together on an issue of workplace safety, working conditions,
wage levels or whatever they still have a very powerful weapon at their
disposal - the ability to stop production, to refuse to co-operate with new
work practices, to tell the boss that without the workforce there won't be
any profit!! Sometimes to use that strength, it will be necessary to either
take on or bypass the bureaucracy but remembering where the strength
lies - initially with one's co-workers, and more broadly with other
rank-and-file trade unionists, this too can be done.

None of this is to minimise the difficulties involved in joining a union -
especially given that many companies and employers are viciously
anti-union. In such employments, it may initially be difficult to organise
openly. It may even be necessary for workers who join a union to do so as
secret or 'sleeper' members for a period of time until at least a significant
minority of workers have joined. Sometimes, the formation of a loose or
informal network of workmates might be the precursor to joining an actual

Ultimately joining a union is our way of demonstrating that we have
different interests from our bosses and common interests with our fellow
workers. And while the current structures and beauracraucy are rotten and
need radical reform, we must remember that the trade unions are our
organisations, that we have every right as workers to organise in unions of
our choice, and that Unity is Strength - and it is from fellow workers and
fellow trade unionists that that strength can come.

by Gregor Kerr (Irish National Teachers Organisation Member)

See the WSM Trade Union position paper at

This page is from the print version of the Irish
Anarchist paper 'Workers Solidarity'.
We also provide PDF files of all our publications
http://www.struggle.ws/wsm/pdf.html for you
to print out and distribute locally
Print out the PDF file of this issue

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