On Saturday 21 January comrades from around Ireland gathered in Dublin to analyse their involvement in trade unions. The day was an enjoyable one, with a well-arranged programme of events and stimulating talks.
Some people ask, “What have the unions done for me?” It is important to list briefly what unions have done for us, things that are now just taken for granted, such as weekends off, paid holidays, paid sickness leave, child labour laws, social security, a minimum wage, an eight-hour working day, overtime pay, health & safety, health care, dental care—the list is endless, and our forebears have gone to prison to fight for these rights.
History has shown that the political class have never given something for nothing; they serve their own class and never do anything willingly. Throughout the length and breadth of Ireland, unions such as Connect, Unite, Fórsa (Civil Service Division), comprising some 500,000 workers, as well as the Students’ Union of Ireland, have been calling for the Industrial Relations Act (1990) to be taken off the statute book.
At the ICTU Biennial Conference in 2021, delegates voted for and agreed to the following motion: “Conference recognises that the restrictions on trade union action in the 1990 Industrial Relations Act need to be opposed and that the act should be reformed to restore rights which trade unions had before 1990. Conference mandates the Executive to seek an alternative legislative regime which would allow trade union and industrial action, for individual workers, for issues that concern workers across society and across employers and for effective solidarity to workers in dispute.”
We all know from our experience that the union leadership needs to be pushed and shoved into action—that is human nature. We need all the forces within society to seek out and contact their local elected political representatives, be they councillors, TDs, or Senators, and community leaders, asking them to push the agenda for workers’ rights and, most importantly, to ensure that the 1990 Act is abolished.
They need to do this today and tomorrow, and keep pushing. Small steps are what is needed. To broaden the scope of union membership, the movement needs to take on the major issues of today, the concerns of people in their membership.
One of the major issues is climate change. The planet is dying. The metabolic rift is not healing, overproduction is a failure of capitalism at its most basic, and the costs are catastrophic for humanity. These concerns are being felt within every family, every household. We must act, or we will become a thing of the past!