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SF and the unions… and what about unions more broadly? January 18, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

The Phoenix has a pretty positive profile of newly elected SF TD Louise O’Reilly who seems to be working hard in Dublin Fingal. I liked her riposte to one FFer in the Dáil Chamber, where presumably when given out to about SF policy in the North responded:

If you’re that concerned about the North go up there and bring your policies with you.

Fair point. More broadly her election – and background as an active trade unionist – would seem to be very good for the party (and always good to have more active union members in the Dáil, full stop). But the Phoenix points to an important point when it says:

For SF O’Reilly’s election is hopefully the harbinger of greater trade union involvement for the party. But it is one thing to attract energetic young grade unionists individually to join the party and become Dáil reps for it, it is another to forge the close working relationships with he trade union movement as a whole that is a key aspiration of SF.

This is a serious issue, because the absurdly close links with the Labour Party have left the unions utterly compromised in a context where the LP is a shadow of its former self. And one has to wonder whether those same unions wouldn’t prefer to cosy up to FF rather than establish links with SF.

Just on unions more broadly no surprise to discover that in my own workplace where I’ve been since the early 2000s I’m one of a diminishing band of union members. A very diminishing band. People in their twenties and thirties just aren’t joining and those who are older are moving towards or have arrived at retirement. Leaving a group of us in our forties and fifties and early sixties at the barricades. Given that this is a PS employer I’d be curious as to the experience of others? Does that mirror the dynamics elsewhere in the PS? If so I cannot but blame the unions for yet again letting their eye drift away from the ball. Firstly in the 1990s and 2000s they made little or no effort (I know this from direct experience) to unionise the private sector. And now, with that well lost at this point there’s the PS.

I’d have to wonder whether if SF did manage to establish formal links with the unions whether there’ll be much of a membership left to establish those links with.


1. sonofstan - January 18, 2017

” Given that this is a PS employer I’d be curious as to the experience of others? Does that mirror the dynamics elsewhere in the PS?”

Different country but exactly the same here.

Liked by 1 person

6to5against - January 18, 2017

Union membership had drifted downwards in my workplace over the 00s, and wasn’t helped by ineffective posturing on the national level in 08-10. But then there was a drawn – out employment rights dispute locally and the union were wonderful. They were fully committed to supporting those involved, even to the point of legal fees that ran well into the tens of thousands, and they won. Unequivocally.

Membership is now 100%.

All politics is local.


Des Derwin - January 18, 2017

Or battle and broaden.

(PS is public sector, I presume)


WorldbyStorm - January 18, 2017

Yep, PS is public sector.

Liked by 1 person

2. GW - January 18, 2017

Ideally we need a broadly-based left party that is significantly driven by (organised) worker’s interests, given that Irish Labour has abandoned the promotion of them.

But if SF is willing to take more input from trades union activists, within an outside of their activist base, then fair play to them.

Liked by 3 people

3. CMK - January 18, 2017

I was at a union conference today which was interesting. Over the past two years they have gotten rowdier as younger people, not many but some, have gotten more involved and are not taking any crap from the officials. First time I’ve seen the Chair remove the mike from a fellow panellist who was having none of it from a very senior official laying down the official line.

Regarding getting young people into the union movement; well, since 2011 we have had in the public service an official two tier workforce with new recruits on poorer terms and conditions than existing members. On top of that we’ve had huge reductions in annual leave, sick pay, more hours and then increased casualisation. The young worker in his/her 20s/30s has seen all this happening and zero organised response from a union movement that says its sole function is to protect members terms and conditions and pay. In fact, a graduate entering the public sector in 2007, say, at 22 years of age will have seen colossal assaults on pay, terms and conditions with zero resistance from the union movement but rather the active acquiescence of the union movement. That is coupled with increasing bizarre hypotheticals (‘The Troika wanted to sack 60,000 public servants, we HAD to sign that deal!). In that context, recruiting these workers is a (very steep) uphill task. That particular penny has not dropped with senior trade union officials who seem to have blanked out the 2009-2013 period altogether.

All of these changes and their pernicious consequences were pointed out in detail by Left union activists in the public sector and these were, at the time, derided as the ‘usual suspects’ who were ‘against everything.’ A warning of the dangers of falling for that kind of thinking; sometimes the Left are actually the only ones telling the truth. The ragged state of trade union consciousness in the public sector workforce is a direct consequences of the sell-outs since 2009. Young workers on 22k a year paying 1200 euro a month in rent are not going to fork out 20 euro a month in dues to an organisation that tells them cuts in their living standards are the only option.

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - January 18, 2017

I agree entirely and it is key that in workplaces people do organise because the power relationships are so imbalanced even in the PS. I’m genuinely fearful of what the situation will be in five or ten years time when there is at best a residual union membership which can be ridden roughshod over by employers of whatever kind. And while there are pockets of unionisation in some areas they’re small and though powerful in their own context isolated from each other and the broader mass of the workforce.

Moreover once institutional memory of unions is lost who and how is it built back up again? Not to diss the left but its a big enough task trying to encourage activism in communities and focus politically, but workplaces are a whole different ballgame (as well as which, and I know this from personal experience the political returns can be much smaller – five years after a very difficult dispute I was a co-organiser of most of those with me were still FF voters at best. There was no break to the left on foot of their experience). Yet if organisation doesn’t occur there there’s the direct effects of exploitation and the secondary effect of lack of political power and the tertiary effect of absenting even rudimentary and partially progressive bodies from the broader societal context.

Liked by 2 people

D_D - January 19, 2017

Hear, hear!


CMK - January 19, 2017

I second all you say there, WbS. There is a deep existential crisis in the unions, particularly in the public sector. A huge credibility gap has opened up since 2009 and ‘business as usual’ will not close it. Certainly my own experience is that public sector terms and conditions are eroding at a steady rate and union activism is a case of firefighting and triage but that people will join a union where there is visibility and clear activism.

I was involved in a FB discussion with a UCD academic several months ago who sniffily informed me that the bulk of union members are significantly to the right of activists and officials, which is largely true. However, without Left wing activists and officials (broadly defined) the unions would be a dead letter but there are huge problems in the public sector and I think only a cathartic confrontation with government over the next pay deal can act as a first step to restoring the union movement’s credibility.


4. dublinstreams - January 18, 2017

re the connection between Labour and Sinn Fein and Unions Siptu re funding and donations…
‘Siptu rejects move to end link to Labour Party
Union backs proposal for review into use of political fund put forward by executive’ http://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/siptu-rejects-move-to-end-link-to-labour-party-1.2382637
also ‘SIPTU Members Can Stop paying percentage of Contributions To The Labour Party With This Form’
the SBP then reported ‘Siptu to donate money to non-Labour candidates’ https://www.businesspost.ie/politics/siptu-to-donate-money-to-non-labour-candidates-300273

seems to be hugely less donating to Labour since 2011 http://www.sipo.gov.ie/en/Reports/Election-Reports/D%C3%A1il-General-Election-of-25-February-2011/ but it can’t see it going anywhere else, or atleast its not easy to find. Can you name unsuccesful SIPTU (or other Union) members who might have got donations so I can look through the reams of badly photocopied, non-indexed unsearchable pdfs? that SIPO provides.

SBP named Funchion and Daly as too possible beneficiaries but we don’t get to see their donations yet because they won :/


5. Jolly Red Giant - January 18, 2017

There have been moves over the past couple years by the TU bureaucracy to make overtures to SF and similar overtures from SF to the bureaucracy. Despite everything the bureaucracy still have not got to the point of making the jump into the SF camp (in part because of the impact it would have with some unions in the North).

However, if it is in the interests of the bureaucracy to do so then they will have little hesitation in doing so. From their perspective if SF are in government then it offers them an opportunity to have an ‘influence’ as they had with Labour. SF hold little threat to their power and influence within the trade union movement – SF have traditionally supported all the partnerships and rationalisations and betrayals by the leadership since the 1980s.

As to the wider issue of SF being able to attract trade union activists to their ranks – well I am sure they can attract some – but SF hold little attraction for many activists because they do not and never have directly challenged the bureaucracy (and while O’Reilly is one of the more capable of the SF reps, she too is a member of this TU bureaucray).


6. The Broken Elbow - January 19, 2017

I see prendiville is still up the shinners’ arse…….


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