Upsurge of strikes in Ireland

Dr Groove (dr_groove@geocities.com)
Fri, 08 Nov 1996 11:19:44 +0000


Bad news for Spring and De Rossa

OVER THE LAST few months we've witnessed the level of =

industrial action jumping from virtually none to disputes =

erupting in An Post, Eircell, Trinity College and the Civil =

Service. The government has asked the Irish Congress of =

Trade Unions get their members into line, i.e. to ensure no =

more disputes arise. The bad news for our government is =

that it appears that this current round of industrial action is =

not about to quickly fade away.

That the Government can talk to the ICTU leaders as =

friends is indicative of the cosy relationship which has =

come about over the last ten years. There has now been a =

decade of "social partnership" agreements between =

themselves and the trade union leadership. 'Our rulers' in =

the D=E1il expect trade unions to police their own members, =

i.e. to discourage disputes and encourage the membership =

to leave it up to the full-time negotiators to hammer out a =

"good deal" for them every three years. This policy, =

however, does not extend to saving jobs as the former =

workers from TEAM Aer Lingus, Digital (Galway), =

Waterford Glass, or Packard can tell you.

These national agreements see the unions enter into =

negotiations with the government and employers, usually =

complete with staged 'breakdowns' and threatened =

withdrawals. Then a programme arises ensuring that pay =

rises are kept to a minimum in return for some - mostly =

ignored - promises about job creation, social welfare, =

taxation, etc. The reality of the PNR, PESP & PCW is that =

they put severe limits on what workers can look for but =

place absolutely no limits on what employers can demand =

from workers.

The highly restrictive Industrial Relations Act, which was =

brought in following a commitment in the PNR, has led to =

a virtual decommissioning of the most powerful weapon =

open to any organised workforce, the strike. To give =

examples of how restrictive the act is ...under the Act seven =

day's strike notice has to be served on the =

employer/company before any action is taken, which =

allows time to recruit strikebreakers or to move production =

elsewhere. =

Furthermore it is illegal to have a dispute over one =

person's rights without first going through months of =

procedures. So if a shop steward is sacked you can't walk =

off the job without the risk of the union or even the =

individual strikers being sued On top of all this, the social =

aspect of each agreement has been ignored. The =

unemployed, the great lost tribe of our time, has largely =

remained forgotten about. =

Ireland has one of the largest levels of long-term =

unemployment in Europe. This is despite profits well in =

excess of European averages being made by both Irish and =

multi-national companies here. All of this is adding to a =

rising discontentment within the Irish workforce as we =

head into towards the winter when the government hope =

to hammer out yet another national agreement. =

Despite all this, the membership of unions continues to =

grow. The Irish Nurses Organisation grew by 3,000 over =

April and May as looked like they were heading towards a =

dispute with the government. The shop workers union, =

MANDATE, also experienced a rise in membership as a =

result of the strike in Dunnes Stores. Far from frightening =

off workers, as some union officials claim, a fight to =

improve wages and conditions puts heart into people and =

encourages them to join a union. =

52% of the entire Irish workforce is in a trade union. This =

is the one of the highest percentages in Europe. Small =

battles are being won all the time, despite the national =

agreements and all that goes with them. Workers have not =

forgotten how to fight or what their rights should be. The =

battles will continue. =

But another fight will be within the unions as members =

struggle to gain control over their own struggles. It will =

have to be wrested from a bureaucracy that has tightened its =

grip on the reins of power over the last ten years. The trade =

union movement has to be brought back to fighting for the =

rights of workers rather than watching the ICTU throwing =

them away over a negotiation table.

Dermot Sreenan

-- =

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