Tommy McKearney is a long-time socialist-republican in Ireland. He joined the IRA while still in his teens, following the introduction of internment in the six counties (“Northern Ireland”) by the British in 1971. He was actively engaged in the armed struggle against the British occupation and served as O/C of the IRA’s East Tyrone brigade. He spent 16 years as a prisoner in the H-Blocks (from 1977-1993), took part in the blanket and dirty protests and was on hunger strike for 53 days in late 1980. He is now northern regional organiser for the Independent Workers Union in Ireland – a small, new, progressive union – and a founder-member of the Peadar O’Donnell Socialist-Republican Forum. Tommy is also author of The Provisional IRA: from insurrection to parliament (Pluto Press, 2011). The interview was conducted in 2009 and has appeared in several places. Although now four years old, it retains its relevance in relation to both Ireland and New Zealand.
Philip Ferguson: Could you tell us a bit about the Independent Workers Union in Ireland? How did it begin? What sections of workers does it try to organize?
Tommy McKearney: The IWU is a general trade union that organizes among all sections of the workforce. It has, however, found that some workers are more open to recruitment than others. This has come about partly due to our origins and partly as a result of the current situation in the Irish workplace. The IWU was set up seven years ago in response to an attempt by bureaucrats in the trade union hierarchy, working we believe in concert with the employers and the state, to stymie criticism of the Social Partnership agreement. The strongest criticism of partnership was at the time emanating from the Irish leadership of the Irish region of the (British Isles-wide) Transport and General Workers Union. To prevent this bureaucrat-orchestrated clampdown, a small craft union of operative butchers (i.e. counter hands who work for a wage) affiliated to the union in Munster province broke away and rebranded itself as the Independent Workers Union. This new union established itself as a union fundamentally opposed to the ‘partnership’ arrangement and as such neither sought to affiliate to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) nor was it ever likely to be accepted under present conditions.
PF: Could you tell us about any successes the IWU has had Read the rest of this entry »