to all workers - a message from construction worker gus mcdonald
Gus writes about the current state of the labour movement and the trades unions in Ireland
By now it is crystal clear that we are on the cusp of yet another global recession.
This will impact on investment, which will in turn impact on the construction industry and on
jobs, as once again we find ourselves totally reliant on the private sector.
The decline in union density since the last recession saw the unions take a stance geared
Certainly, that was the case with the leadership. They exchanged compliance with the
bosses for a guarantee of membership.
As this recession approaches, we cannot let the same union leadership make the same
mistakes that drove many from the labour movement.
In fairness that looks less likely this time around - if we follow the examples of grassroots
fightback that is brewing.
Grassroots members are organising and have had various degrees of success.
In the case of Unite the election of Sharon Graham was a huge victory for the grassroots
Forcing a change of direction in union policy, including an independent investigation into
blacklisting involving officials.
Of course no union leader can transform the union movement from above, it has to be
grassroots driven, but her election offers an opening, an opportunity.
In Ireland the shakeup in Unite has caused a changing of the guard amongst its officers and
a more progressive and aggressive approach to member representation.
As we look through the rest of the unions, we can see that pressure from grassroots
members is starting to bear fruit.
In Batu the grassroots forced the election of 2 new Committee members, in the process
cranking up the pressure on an already hugely unpopular leadership.
Although there's a way to go to shake the old bureaucrats from their complacency.
In SIPTU the grassroots members have gone public calling out the leadership, even going
so far as to publish a letter calling them out in the mainstream media.
The water workers have forced the union to call for a referendum on public ownership of
our water and continue to shine a light on the union's shortcomings.
Across the board grassroots members are angry and their unions can be forced into
actions that the leadership would not otherwise take.
Clearly there has been a disconnect between the membership and the leadership that's
grown over the years, thanks to social partnership!
What is heartening is that as this recession approaches, the grassroots movements within
some of our unions are no longer prepared to accept the self-serving policy of a
compromised leadership any longer.
More worrying is the fact that weak leadership and lack of democracy remain the main
obstacles to the progress of workers’ rights in Ireland.
As we gaze across the Irish Sea to the rebirth of the UK Labour movement. Clearly there is a
change of attitude among union members.
The only worry is that with the same individuals desperately clinging to the levers of power,
the Irish Trade Union movement may never recover if they fail to take a defiant and decisive
stance alongside the grassroots.
But no bureaucrat is going to suddenly be inspired to fight unless we all organise the rank
and file and light a fire under our union bosses.
This recession will not be like the last.
Either the unions fight, or they will not be around for what follows.
That's not to say that the labour movement will die with them!
Just the opposite.
The labour movement would have no more use for them and in time would replace them.
It's time that our union leadership and ICTU decided which side they are on?
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