“Mainstream trade unionism continues on shameful road failing to challenge Government” – Irish union leader

Posted: May 5, 2014 by Admin in Class Matters, Community organising, Ireland, Workers history, Workers' rights

Noel Murphy, National Secretary of the Independent Workers Union in Ireland, made the following address to the union’s 11th annual conference on 29th March 2014.  The IWU is a small, class-struggle union, standing outside the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) and hostile to the viciously anti-working class Irish Labour Party

Noel Murphy (national secretary) and Patricia Campbell (president) at the IWU 2014 conference

Noel Murphy (national secretary) and Patricia Campbell (president) at the IWU 2014 conference

A Cháirde,
Our organisation is 12 years old at this our 11th Annual Delegate Conference. We exist and given our limited resources because of small membership, few assets and a large dependence on voluntary labour, we are not faring too badly. We are high on aspiration. We seek to improve the conditions of our members, and of workers and their families in general both here in Ireland and worldwide.

We see mainstream trade unionism continuing on the shameful road of failing to challenge Government in any significant way, based on the premise that Labour in Government prevents the EU-led austerity programme from being worse than if Fine Gael was alone in Government.

There was never such a need for militant trade unionism and yet many workers, particularly private sector workers, fail to join the movement for a number of reasons:
* Fear that trade union membership will lead to job loss through victimisation
* Fear that trade union membership will mitigate against future employment
* Trade union membership will make no difference
* Trade unions are just another part of the repressive state apparatus
* The unions are self-serving, self interests groups made up of over-paid bureaucrats who don’t really care about ordinary workers

We regard ourselves as being different from the “mainstream trade unions”, but we are also failing to attract new members in any great numbers and it is the intention of this conference to devote most of our time to address this crisis.

Our Work in 2013
The Union executive met 4 times since the last Annual Conference, with a reasonable attendance record from all NEC members. There was an adjustment in the NEC composition as one Northern member replaced another during the year. In addition to the regular NEC meetings we also held an extraordinary Conference in October last in Dublin. We maintain offices in Tyrone, Cork and Dublin. We expect to move back to the Seamen’s Union Building in Dublin very soon and we could also open an office in Belfast.

We have functioning branches in Cork, Dublin, and the area known as Northern Ireland. We have groups of members in Derry, Galway, Belfast, Donegal and Wicklow. We have individual membership in various counties around the country.

Overall we have a membership of around 700 paying members and a substantial number of these are non-Irish nationals, mostly Polish serviced by a Polish Office. Membership is static, largely due to recession and it seems that every time we gain a new member, we lose somebody else as a result of the recession.

Ireland – Political and Economic
The political and economic situation in both parts of Ireland remains largely unchanged since our last Annual Conference. Unemployment remains at around 14% and would be much higher if we were not exporting our young (mostly) unemployed at a rate of around 80,000 per annum. Workers in employment continue to see pay being cut (although noises about pay rises are being heard). The Industrial relations institutions would appear to have adopted a pro employer bias.

Last year we saw the EAT rule against a worker who was made redundant and we had a dismissal case, where the dismissal was way over the top in relation to the offence, being upheld by the EAT on the grounds that the employer had “acted reasonably” Adding to this we have the Civil Courts, granting injunctions preventing legitimate Strike Action and declaring that damages must be paid to the offended employer.

Additional taxes, outside of payroll taxes are being levied on the dwelling place and shortly on rain, while there seems to be no effort to redistribute this new exchequer revenue in real job creation projects. In fact, to date, we are only being offered schemes, which provide little or no training and in some places, will leave worker financially worse off. However there has emerged, a new approach to incomes, from our recently founded Derry Branch in the concept of a living wage as opposed to a minimum wage. This is a welcome development and deserves serious discussion on the Recruitment and Organisation section of our conference.

The Political opposition is virtually non existent in the North as a result of the “power sharing” arrangement at Stormont while in the South is curtailed through the parliamentary whip system, a Government comprising half of the Dáil Deputies and the most serious decisions having to be approved by or dictated from the European Union.

Recent developments in the Southern State prove that the ruling class, even when exposed rallies to its own defence, e.g. Gårda Whistle Blowing, Salaries of “Charity” chiefs, Banking Enquiries. Real opposition to the policies of austerity imposed on the working people, North and South by the European Union in conjunction with the Irish and British Governments must come from the people and its organisations.

After 30 years of collaboration the main trade union structure is tied into the establishment and does not seem to know how to break free, even through it is being strangled by the same establishment.

Past and Future
We honoured the men and women of the 1913 lockout last year (in spite of those who wished to deny us this right), but it was pitiful to see the proposed mass rally for Dublin, organised by the ICTU, needing barriers erected to protect the leading officials of unions and the Labour Party from the wrath of the working people. We need a new approach to organising among workers at work and in communities and I suggest some headings:
The Rain Tax
Worker Representative Groups
Wage Councils
Living Wage
Radicalism through Art
Public Manifestation
Organising non Irish workers
Active Service Units

This is difficult work for a largely voluntary organisation and I take this opportunity to acknowledge this work.

Activity has costs associated with it and funds have to be found. While additional fund-raising takes place and is welcome, the basic source of Trade Union funding is membership. We recruit only in small amounts and in recent years, we seem to be running just to stand sill in the same spot.We are familiar with the historical promises of big groups of workers saying that they supported and would join an Independent Union e.g. ILDA, Keelings, AT&GWU, SUI, LUAS, Taxi Drivers, Bus Workers, UCD Clerical and Irish Emergency Services

A breakthrough with any large group would give us the income to work on the areas most in need of organisation. These are generally the most abused and exploited and I believe that it is our philosophy to fight for the most downtrodden underdog. At this conference, I welcome the views and comments of all present as to how we achieve the aim of going from a small organisation, which has proved it is capable of surviving into being a large organisation, improving the interests of large amounts of working people.

We’ve also got an interview with the northern organiser of the IWU, Tommy McKearney.  Tommy was an IRA fighter and commander, who served 16 years in jail and was on hunger strike in the H-Blocks in 1980.  Read the interview with him, here.


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  2. PhilF says:

    Difficult to imagine this kind of speech being given – and meant! – by the national secretary of a union in New Zealand. It’s an achievement for the IWU to have simply survived, plus I think it’s given rise to an offshoot or two dedicated to specific sectors, but it is pretty tiny.