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As for the unions… December 4, 2013

Posted 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.[3] 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.[4]

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.[6]

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.

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1. EamonnCork - December 4, 2013

In the world of Lucinda we don’t need unions at all. In fact they just get in the way of the small businessman who ‘represents’ his workforce. He should be free to pay them what he feels fit and they should be free to like it or lump it. Because he’s a wealth creator. There really is nothing more appalling than a loud and proud member of the small town bourgeoisie. If there’s a golf club bar in Hell (and being Hell there will be) this is how the members will talk.
Instead of looking after the wages and conditions of their members, which is actually what they’re there to do, the Unions should somehow ‘care’ about the plight of the unemployed. Yet how has Lucinda ‘cared’ for the unemployed. By being a member of a government which cut their benefit and adopted austerity policies which swelled the numbers of the unemployed and forced some of them to emigrate. So she’s not exactly the best person to be talking about ‘crocodile tears.’
Honestly this is really pitiful stuff, a parade of smug unthinking class prejudices. If Richotto came out with it, people would be giving out to him.
By the way, you’ll be looking a long time before you find a stupider phrase than, ‘the politicisation of policy.’

2. dmfod - December 4, 2013

She also pulled the ’70% of workers are represented by small businesses’ statistic out of her arse along with the rest of the article.

Even including small employers and self-employed people with no employees as ‘workers’, as Lucinda no doubt would, the figure is nearer to 56% and excluding them it’s only 40% – but why let trivia like facts get in the way of a pile of bollocks.


EamonnCork - December 4, 2013

So an outright lie then from the paragon of probity and idealism to get thing up and running. Don’t you just love The New Politics?
Though given her love of the American Right perhaps we should just regard this as Lucinda’s attempt to introduce ‘Truthiness’ into Irish life. Because it kind of feels like 70%, y’know.

WorldbyStorm - December 4, 2013

I half did a post deconstructing the article though I didn’t have that stat dmfod re small businesses which is dead handy, but in the end I just gave up. Perhaps that’s the intention. It reads like something that might have been delivered to an SFA or IBEC conference.

What’s telling is that added to what Tomboktu picked up on, that stat on small businesses of yours dmfod and indeed your thoughts EC on the politicisation of policy line which is both vacuous and self serving its a jumble of incorrect assumptions, half truths and worse outright falsehoods. Can she believe it? I’ll bet she’s horribly, unquestioningly, unreflectively sincere. I’d almost prefer if she was otherwise.

On the other hand if this is the best the ‘new’ partiers can come up with….

Eamonncork - December 4, 2013

It reminds me of a piece from Magill, I think by Gene Kerrigan though I’m not sure, written around the time of the foundation of the PDs. He goes to a meeting where Mary Harney keeps repeating, “I believe in the economics of the small grocery store.” She says nothing specific but keeps nervously coming up with this mantra which the writer actually doubts she could explain if questioned.
And before anyone says that the PDs did Ok, didn’t they? O’Malley, like him or not, was a major figure in Irish politics who appealed to (A) Those who hated Haughey and (B) Those who admired the fact that his defection had enabled the coalition to get a Family Planning Bill through against the opposition of FF. It wasn’t just right wing economics and none of the people in the RA have the same kind of stature today.
That’s why it’s largely media driven. And driven because of the very strange circumstances born as much out of personality as policy in which one major media outlet hates the current FF, for shafting Bertie, the current government, for failing to show sufficient respect to the legacy of Bertie and SF, for existing.

WorldbyStorm - December 5, 2013

That’s such a great last line in your comment I intend to steal it and drop it into conversations everywhere. I recommend others do the same.

+1 by the way on O’Malley as against this crew and that’s not just rosy retrospection. Couldn’t stand him, he was deeply contradictory and arguably nowhere near as courageous as some think, though he did show some courage, but he was a figure of some substance in political life.

Ed - December 5, 2013

I met O’Malley once when I was 13 or 14 at a family gathering (we’re not related). He asked me if I was a smoker, commended me when I said ‘no’, said they were the bane of his life then popped out for a fag. I’ve met enough politicians and wannabe politicans to know that there are some who instantly strike you as the kind to leave a trail of ooze and slime behind them; O’Malley wasn’t that type. Creighton is definitely a slimer, you’d be wise not to sit in a chair after she’s finished with it. I shudder to think what her conversational gambit might be with a 13 year-old.

Michael Carley - December 5, 2013

O’Malley’s reputation for integrity shouldn’t have survived the Peter Berry revelations about his role in the arms crisis.

EamonnCork - December 5, 2013

Indeed it shouldn’t. He was a fairly slippery character. He, for example, gave a speech stating ‘it is the duty of the state to prevent fornication,’ when FF were opposing the coalition’s family planning bill in 1976. Yet he gave the best speech, and the one which probably prevented its defeat, when the 1985 Family Planning Bill by Barry Desmond won through. He’s owed something for that because it was the first time a government brought legislation through in the teeth of opposition from the Catholic Church. Fierce opposition it was too and a defeat would have meant governments running scared of meaningful legislation on social issues in perpetuity.
Yet, and here’s the inconsistency in O’Malley, he himself didn’t vote for the bill or even abstain, he simply left the chamber before the vote.
Equally he brought in draconian Offences Against The State legislation when Minister for Justice yet spoke very well against similar legislation in 1976 when Paddy Cooney brought it in.
My point about him would be that he was one of the major political figures of the era and that the PDs were founded on that, their most appealing feature being that O’Malley had shown the guts to stand up to Haughey, who was immensely unpopular among a large section of the population. The original PD figures were largely FF refugees from Haughey, Pearse Wyse, Mary Harney, Peadar Clohessy, Mairin Quill et al. Their economic policy had been drawn up by Charlie McCreevy who then fell out with everyone else in what sounds like an extremely entertaining drunken row and stayed in FF in a huff.
There is a certain rewriting of history which took place when McDowell, who came from a FG background and was more obviously doctrinaire than the original leading figures, which suggests that right wing economics was the USP of the PDs from the get go. This was also compounded by the FF tendency when in power to placate their grassroots support by blaming austerity measures on their coalition partners. But I know people who voted PD and later went on to vote for Labour and even in one case Sinn Fein. The fact that O’Malley was seen as having stood up to the Church mattered to people who didn’t have a notion about the party’s economic policy. Their lower taxation proposals appealed then because after all you were only a few years after the PAYE marches and Irish governments appeared to have performed the miracle of combining high taxation with terrible public services.
Incidentally whenever I read anyone coming up with lunatic stuff about the innate radicalism at the heart of FF, I wonder if they noticed that party’s aggressive cosying up to the Church in the eighties and also their opposition to the Wealth Tax in the mid seventies when all kinds of primitive red-baiting remarks were made in the Dail, led by Haughey. Between that and his opportunistic efforts to trick the hunger strikers into giving up before the general election, criticised correctly by Brendan MacFarlane, which give the lie to the notion of his ‘republicanism’ I’m surprised to still read the odd ‘he wasn’t the worst’ comment on this site about him. Just because someone says fuck a lot doesn’t mean he’s a friend of the people.

3. EamonnCork - December 4, 2013

What’s particularly galling is that this rhetoric proceeds from the same place ideologically as the calls for light touch regulation circa 2006 so that government could get out of the way and let Seanie Fitz and the boys work their magic. The rewriting of history to blame the unions and the public sector rather than the banks and the developers for the collapse is shameless stuff.

4. Tomboktu - December 4, 2013

I hope to post shortly again about collective bargaining as a human right in European law — there was a significant decision in Strasbourg a few weeks ago.

Bit for now, I will note that the Canadain case that WbS mentions was mirrored in the European Court of Human Rights the year after the Canadian case (although it had been lodged many years before that). That case, Demir and Baykara v Turkey was the first in which that court recognised a right to collective bargaining.

However, I don’t know what the significance of that case is in Ireland. The Demir case arose because the Turkish state (in particular, the courts) tried to cancel a collective agreement that Mr Demir’s union had entered into with his employer, a municipal government.

5. Michael Carley - December 5, 2013

How many of those who object to workers choosing their own representatives in the workplace would agree to being told they had no right to a barrister should they find themselves in court?

6. John Kennedy - December 5, 2013
WorldbyStorm - December 6, 2013

A very interesting doc, thanks for that. The key quote for me is the one on p.9 about :

“Combining Tables 2 and 3, Table4describes total employment in the non-construction, non-
financial private sector. We now observe that SMEs account for 72 per cent of employment in the
private sector, while they account for 82 per cent of the 933,
768 workers employed in the indigenous
economy. ”

So she’s doubly incorrect, it’s not 70% of small businesses, and it’s not 70% of workers. And the distinction between small and medium in the study and more broadly isn’t insignificant…

“We define micro firms as those with less than 10 employees, small firms with between 10 and 49, medium-sized firms
with between 50 and 249 and large firms with over 249 employees.”


7. CL - December 5, 2013

‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights identifies the ability to organize trade unions as a fundamental human right.’

This ‘ability to organize’ is subverted when ‘company’ or ‘house’ groupings are given the same status as genuine worker unions; when the closed shop is not guaranteed; and when the right to dues check-off is not guaranteed in agreements. Which is why the Labour party’s bill is a sham.

8. CMK - December 5, 2013

I don’t know why Lucinda and her fellow travelers in the Sindo et al have it in for unions. The people who matter in the trade union movement, that is NOT the rank-and-file members, are mostly ad idem with her agenda. They, from what I can see, are fully supportive of the Troika program, competitiveness, wage restraint, pension reforms etc. A thinking right-winger would see the union leadership as an important ally who can be relatively easily placated for supremely low cost. I mean we’re five years in to the most radical re-structuring of the Irish economy since ‘independence’ in 1922 and there hasn’t been a peep out the trade unions. A one day ‘strike’, a couple of marches, several Zeppelin loads of hot air and, that’s about it…

Indeed, the defining characteristic of the mainstream of Irish trade union officialdom is an intense hatred of any other union members who upset things. Wait until we see the venom directed at ASTI members from ‘trade unionists’ in those unions who were happy to be browbeaten into accepting Haddington Road.

Lucinda should relax and not look a gift horse in the mouth. Get to know Jack, David and Shay – they’re on her side, if only she took the time do that, she’d see there’s nothing really to concern her. Jack, David and Shay will be working to make sure big bad Brendan, and his members, get their comeuppance over the coming weeks. It says a lot about her lack of nous that she can’t see an ally.

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