As nation burns – union leaders busy themselves writing letters to the Irish Times

1 Jan

It is now over a month since the ICTU march in Dublin on November 27th and the question arises, what have Irish union leaders done to build upon the support of the 50,000+ people who turned up on that bitterly cold day? The mood at the march was certainly very clear – enough talk, time for action. The booing of Jack O’Connor and David Begg said it all – “we’ve heard enough of the blather about fairness. You have hundreds of thousands of members, when are you going to do something about it?”

Of course, it’s not the first time these guys have been booed by their own members for their paralysis. How about this pensioner’s impassioned response to the union leaders’  “yap yap yap”? Needless to say, the ICTU heavies were on hand to try to shut him up.

Tragically, the answer to “what are you going to do” is a resounding “nothing.” But then that was clear from the outset. Here we have ICTU President Jack O’Connor’s response to this very question during the November 27th march:

The message couldn’t be clearer: “I’m going to do absolutely nothing. And if you don’t like that, you’ll have to get rid of me.”

Noisily Doing Nothing

Revolutionary or reformist penmanship?

Not that the union leaders have been idle – far from it. Whether it’s defending social partnership on the national airwaves or penning exculpatory letters to the Irish Times, union leaders have been busy covering their own backs, while not lifting a finger for their members.

The most disingenuous of these pieces has to be David Begg’s broadside on “reckless banks and blundering government,” in which he neglects to mention the fact that he was a member of the Central Bank during the bubble. No doubt being a governor of the Irish Times Trust assists him in getting such pieces published with their self-serving omissions unchallenged.

And then we had the fearsome call from SIPTU for an expert group to investigate profiteering. This expert group would probably consist of the usual ICTU/IBEC hacks, and social partnership would be back at last. The profiteers must be quaking in their boots at the very prospect.

The only bit of light relief in this abominable charade was SIPTU’s leaking of the mobile phone numbers of cabinet members. It appears that the phones used by many callers were not set to “partnership mode” and the abuse heaped on the hapless government ministers must have come as quite a shock in comparison with the honeyed tones they normally get from SIPTU. Mind you, Jack was unapologetic – going so far as refusing to apologise. Tut tut tut – whatever next?

Whatever Next?

Not that we should expect any real resistance from the likes of Begg. After all, this is the man who boasted “I cross the road at the traffic lights. ” He is also in the unique position of heading an organisation that, while it cannot call a strike, it can call one off. But let’s not say “calling off”, rather “deferring”. And while we’re at it, it’s not a “strike”, rather a “day of action”. After all, we don’t want to scare the middle classes.

And therein lies the problem. Our union leaders think that the battle they are engaged in is one of optics, spin and media-massaging. They believe this despite the government and employers having long ago ditched such childish notions. Every agreement has been torn up, all cosy relationships with the unions have long been abandoned by the other side. It is now a war to the knife, and the best the union leaders can muster is to pen peevish letters and refuse to apologise.

Whether it is cowardice, naked self-interest or phantasmic fears of a fascist backlash, Begg and O’Connor (along with Liam Doran,  Blair Horan, Shay Cody, Peter MacMenamin etc etc) are hopelessly unsuited to deal with the new labour landscape. Their only hope is to cling to failed notions of social partnership while talking tough, and try to hold out for a new government who will return honeyed words. It is a strategy that is destined to fail, and fail at a tremendous cost to the  Irish trade unions and Irish workers generally.

The only glimmer on the horizon has been UNITE’s calls for determined national action against the government’s failed economic policies. The union, representing 60,000 workers, put a motion to ICTU last month calling for a general strike – a motion to be considered by the ICTU general purpose committee on January 11. We will have to wait and see if the ICTU leadership is going to continue with its pathetic charade, or actually turn to true trade unionism.


One Response to “As nation burns – union leaders busy themselves writing letters to the Irish Times”

  1. paddy healy January 3, 2011 at 10:32 am #

    From Paddy Healy, Former President TUI, Lecturer in Physics, Former member of Governing Body and Academic Council of DIT
    Will Third Level Education be irretrievably damaged like the banks before anybody blows the whistle?
    Following conversations with colleagues in various universities, I now have a reasonable idea of the demands on unions being made by the University authorities under the Croke Park Deal. These demands confirm the predictions in my e-mail message to IoT colleagues but go even further. I include these demands below.. Though the discussions are taking place on a university by university basis the management strategy is being orchestrated by the Irish Universities Association. READ Full Discussion
    Demands being Made by University Authorities Under Croke Park Deal
    1. That tenure be brought into Line with corporate industrial relations law. (This means that tenure until pensionable age with the individual university is being abolished and university academic staff can be made compulsorily redundant and/or redeployed to other parts of public service. This will require legislation PH)
    2. Renegotiation of all existing contracts for implementation from September 2011
    3. Contractual restrictions will be placed on Academic Freedom ( The restrictions are not yet clear but if the worst precedents abroad are followed they could include prevention of public criticism of government or the university authorities: they could also include forcing academics to carry out particular research projects or particular research outcomes could be suppressed due to commercial research agreements with private companies eg infamous heliobacter pylori case abroad- PH)

    4. Staff must engage with workload monitoring and measurement.
    5. Academic staff required to be in attendance at the university each day for twelve consecutive calendar months
    6. Holidays to be at the discretion of the University. Staff member must apply and receive approval in advance for holiday leave (The effect of points 5 and 6 taken together is that holiday entitlements are to be set by The Holidays(Employees) ACT which sets minimum holidays for employees to protect them from predatory employers. If this were accepted it would reduce the holiday entitlements of academic staff below those of comparable public service employees and below those of trade unionised employees in the private sector—PH)

    7. The current position under which the staff member automatically gets an increment unless management objects will be changed. Staff will only receive an increment following a satisfactory Performance Appraisal outcome. Failure to engage with Performance Appraisal System (PAS) will lead to a freezing of the incremental position and denial of access to promotion, sabbatical leave etc. The PAS system will include student evaluation of lecturers. (Performance appraisal will apply to all grades of academic staff including professors-PH)
    8. Extra hour per week of teaching or administration to be implemented immediately
    9. Staff may be redeployed to other Departments/duties within the University
    10. Staff may be redeployed to other posts outside the university but within the wider public service (as set out in Croke Park Deal) with particular regard to HEA Proposals (eg Mergers to be recommended under Hunt Report PH)
    11. Co-operation with Outsourcing (including teaching and research PH) in accordance with Croke Park Deal
    12. New arrangements will apply to rewards for additional internal work and external consultancy work
    My Email Message to TUI Colleagues in IOTs
    Reliable information is circulating in HR Departments of the Institutes in relation to the demands being put to TUI in current talks on Croke Park Deal
    1 extra hour per week teaching or other duties to be in addition to completion of 560 annual hrs teaching.
    Summer Break to be reduced to 6 weeks
    Full Maximum 560(L), 630(AL) hrs to be delivered annually
    All night weighting(1.5) of teaching hours to be abolished
    All hours credit on teaching time-table for course co-ordination to be abolished
    Credit to be allowed for post-graduate supervision as part of annual 560 hrs at a rate to be negotiated
    Post grad supervision to be continuously delivered on a 12month basis
    I believe that all third Level Area reps(executive members) should be present at these talks (this is not the case)
    I believe that attempts to make lecturers redundant and the above demands should be resisted in common
    Any “trade off” would be disastrous for union
    Talks with IFUT in relation to University Staff are being dragged out until Institute Staff have been bludgeoned into submission by the threat of redundancy. Then the assault on conditions of service of university staff including tenure and redeployment will begin.(This will require changes to the Universities Act. The acceptance of the principle of redundancy across the public service in the Croke Park Deal by ICTU led by SIPTU, IMPACT, INTO, PSEU lends support to the elimination of tenure and the required legislative changes. TUI, IFUT and ASTI remain opposed to Croke Park Deal)
    It would be suicide to do a deal with a dying government

    Paddy Healy 086-4183732

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