As we leave behind 2021 and the continuing pandemic, some green shoots have appeared on the industrial front.
Workers at Dunne’s Stores represented by Mandate have received a 10 per cent pay increase, which could only have been dreamed about a couple of years ago.
Unite had significant victories, securing €6,500 greasing money for crane-drivers and pay increases for Derry dock workers, forced from the employers by workers taking industrial action.
Connect has also secured pay increases and improvements to pensions, sickness pay and working conditions for electricians in the construction industry with the signing of the new statutory instrument to the sectoral employment order which a short time ago was being challenged by employers in the courts.
In the Stormont assembly a Trade Union Freedom Bill will be debated in January that, if passed, would significantly improve workers’ rights in the North; if not it will expose which side politicians are on: either on the side of the majority of people, the working class, or against us. It’s that simple.
At the recent biennial delegate conference of the ICTU there was a game-changer when a motion was passed that now makes it Congress policy to actively campaign to have all the rights lost by workers under the Industrial Relations Act (1990) restored and reinstated—this by the body that originally signed up to the act.
Workers and trade unions should gain confidence from these victories and organise to grow these green shoots into the rebirth of radical trade unions. All workers must join and actively campaign within trade unions to abolish anti-worker laws and to use this new-found confidence and momentum to build rank-and-file unity, to tip the balance of power towards workers and the trade union movement.
The anti-worker legislation on both sides of the border was introduced to cripple, handicap and stop trade unions in our task of defending and advancing workers’ interests. This must be opposed, abolished and replaced with Workers’ Rights Acts, in both jurisdictions.
The trade union movement was built on struggle and industrial action. The rank and file and shop stewards must organise to unite and drive this force for change, to win back workers’ power from the boss class.
We must organise from the bottom up, be relentless in organising the membership to fight, campaign and win back our rights and turn the ICTU policy into a reality with the restoration of all our rights lost as a result of anti-worker legislation.
We must once and for all ensure that employment legislation is enacted to protect workers against the onslaught of employers—not the other way round. Unity will be our strength; class solidarity is the rustproof weapon of our class. We must always remember who our enemy is: it is the ruling class. We must unite against them and not be diverted by the divisions they sow in our ranks.
Those who consistently mock the trade union movement from outside it do nothing for class unity—quite the opposite, in fact. One must ask, Is that their real purpose?
The trade union movement is the membership. It is up to the membership to get actively involved, to force the changes necessary to advance our interests. Nothing will ever be handed to the working class: every single right we enjoy has been fought hard for.
We must create the conditions and raise class-consciousness, which will lead to the necessary changes in policy. No more must we go down the path of “social partnership,” which always results in social betrayal of the working class by our enemies.
Covid-19 has exposed the reality of life and the social betrayal of working people in Ireland. Let this be the catalyst that reinvigorates workers and unions to end poverty wages, insecure employment, and the housing and health crises. These are all inextricably linked, all created by the ruling class for their benefit. Poverty wages create higher profits for business-owners; the housing crisis gives massive profits to the property classes, through state subsidies and exorbitant rents; the health crisis is bonanza time for private hospitals and private health insurance—one class always benefiting, the smallest class, the few, while the vast majority, the working class, suffer as a result.
There must be no going back to their “normal.” The green shoots are beginning to appear in the trade union movement. These shoots must be nurtured and built into a militant working class, united against our common enemy, to build an economy for the common good, a new Ireland, united and independent, where all the children of the nation are cherished equally.