As for the unions… December 4, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, Irish Politics, The Left, Uncategorized.
Some more choice quotes from Lucinda Creighton’s thoughts this weekend on why collective bargaining is a bad idea, a piece which rapidly – too rapidly, broadens out into a critique of unions as a whole. By the way this is taken from the Sunday Business Post but she has been writing far and wide (well, that would be the Independent in various forms) over the past week or two, or three.
She writes that ‘Eamon Gilmore’s announcement that he will push forward legislation on collective bargaining is yet another example of the LP’s politicisation of policy that has scant regard for the working people of Ireland’.
Tomboktu has already pointed to some problematic aspects of the following on this thread:
The LP’s vision for Ireland is for a minority of well-paid union leaders, such as SIPTU’s Jack O’Connor, to claim the right to represent all of the workers of Ireland. These are the same trade unions, under the same leadership, that right throughout the Celtic Tiger period demanded continuous wage inflation, not just for their workers, but also for their own leadership. There was no economic or evidence-based rationale underpinning their demands for wage inflation. They demanded such inflation because the coffers of the state were full, or because a company’s profits were growing.
The use of the term ‘wage inflation’ only adds to the mess. But there’s more:
Most recently Jack O’Connor told the government that the improved economic position of Ireland meant that SIPTU would soon be demanding wage inflation for all of their workers in both public and private sectors.
The fact that competitiveness has improved, which inevitably has incentivised employers to take on more employees, is dismissed by the very same people as some sort of neoliberal speaking point.
When was the last time we heard of an Irish Trade Union leader talk about competitiveness or wage restraint? In March 2003, Germany’s SPD the party from the same European family as Labour in Ireland, introduced reforms including cutting unemployment benefits, making ti easier to hire and fire workers and raising the retirement age.
At the time Agenda 2010 was approved by almost 90 per cent of SPD party delegates. These decisions were taken in the face of enormous trade union opposition to structural changes i the German labour force. The SPD showed leadership in facing down the TU movement which at the time opposed the Agenda. WIthin the last ten years the number of unemployed people in Germany declined from 4.4 million to 2.9 million while employment rose by 3.1million to 41.7million.
Unfortunate timing that reference to the SPD given last weeks events, not least the issue of retirement ages – even if they are as Die Linke notes ‘watered down’.
The public coffers may today be in better shape than 2010, and employment may be growing, but do those who shed crocodile tears for the working people in Ireland actually care about the 280,000 people currently on the dole and without work? All the evidence suggests not.
Teachers’ unions protecting some longer term members against the interests of new teachers, or ESB unions protected over-inflated pensions against the interests of small businesses who rely on their services – the same small businesses that represent 70 per cent of all workers in Ireland – provide absolute proof of the insularity espoused by union leadership. The trade union movement is bereft of leadership that cares about all the workers in Ireland, rather than simply its own sectorial membership and the fees they collect.
Quite simply, Ireland does not need collective bargaining. Workers’ rights are extremely well protected in this country, thanks largely to the rules and regulations set down by the European Union. Workers enjoy high standards of healthy and safety in the workplace, relatively high play and conditions vis-a-vis the rest of Europe, and strong protection in labour law, with recourse to the Employment Appeals Tribunal and the Labour Relations Commission.
She concludes that this is a Labour Party stunt. This may well be true, more on the proposal later, but…
One small point. Collective bargaining isn’t as Creighton seems to argue, a (pernicious) optional extra, it is a recognised (by some) as a human right. But who would that be?
As this useful wiki notes:
Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights identifies the ability to organize trade unions as a fundamental human right. Item 2(a) of the International Labour Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work defines the “freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining” as an essential right of workers.
It would be interesting to know how those who contest the notion stand in relation to that. Or is it that some rights are fundamental, and others… well… they just aren’t. Or as noted in Tomboktu’s other post on the matter from yesterday, that somehow we’re going to wind up with an Irish solution to a supposedly Irish problem that will gut meaning from the very idea.
The piece goes on to note:
In June 2007 the Supreme Court of Canada extensively reviewed the rationale for regarding collective bargaining as a human right. In the case of Facilities Subsector Bargaining Association v. British Columbia, the Court made the following observations:
The right to bargain collectively with an employer enhances the human dignity, liberty and autonomy of workers by giving them the opportunity to influence the establishment of workplace rules and thereby gain some control over a major aspect of their lives, namely their work… Collective bargaining is not simply an instrument for pursuing external ends…rather [it] is intrinsically valuable as an experience in self-government… Collective bargaining permits workers to achieve a form of workplace democracy and to ensure the rule of law in the workplace. Workers gain a voice to influence the establishment of rules that control a major aspect of their lives.
That point alone is essential. The workplace is to some extent – and perhaps unfortunately given its domination financially, time-wise and in other respects – absolutely key to our lives, where working. Any curtailment on workers autonomy within that, anything that tilts the ground yet further towards employers, is something that has to be resisted or pushed back.