Category Archives: Politics

ICTU Conference Belfast July 2013

Day 1

It was with some trepidation and excitement that I attend my first ICTU conference. I have been involved in trade unions in various shapes and guises since entering the workforce in 1987. I have stepped up this involvement in recent years and have been on the edge of the ICTU family. This was my maiden voyage to the biennial event that is their policy making and shaping event.

I read the documentation with great interest and my first impressions is that nothing was too contentious. It gave a chance for the membership to rubber stamp their feelings on austerity but also helped get some ideas out there between the rhetoric and enable rank and file union members to organise within their trade union.
As Paddy Mackell – Belfast Trades Council stated in his opening address to the packed Assembly Rooms.
“Current Economic Situation has completely failed working people”. He then went on to make some interesting statements including quoting Dr Conor McCabe “We don’t need an onshore tax haven”.

And that set the tone for Day One. ICTU outgoing President Eugene McGlone explained that ICTU has a combined membership of nearly 800,000 people.
“It is our responsibility to ensure 3/4 million people (ICTU membership) are listened to”, we need to “Create a climate for change” and “Create a fuller understanding of the need to organise” and that we should ensure that “Solidarity works to our benefit”
As the Trade Union movement in an integral part of our social fabric we should engage with it however “the movement must always be responsive to our class, we’re manifestations of our communities.”

The reference to class is very interesting. The trade union movement came from a class structure and the need to ensure that the working class were dealt fairly by their employer. It is arguable in Irish Society today that class structure is still there. Where is the line between Working and Middle Class? Do the working class aspire to break from their structure to be part of a middle class? Are workers there to be represented no matter what their standing is in society? It is one that I don’t know the answer to and no doubt has many academics scratching their middle class heads.

Anyway this conference isn’t gonna provide the answers to class in Ireland. However ICTU General Secretary David Begg did try and provide some answers to the route that society is heading. He told the audience that we are at a “critical juncture in the economic situation…this is a crisis which could have been avoided….there is irrefutable evidence that austerity isn’t working.” David pointed out that personal expenditure is down by 3% in the last 12 months and many other facts relating to the austere policies spreading through society. He asked “how can policy makers deny this” and stated that “Solidarity is the cement that binds us together”. As the trade union movement has been stating since 2008 there is a better fairer way and “Now is the opportunity to press our case for alternatives way forward.”
SIPTU President Jack O’Connor also spoke eloquently of austerity “One sided austerity has utterly failed, there is no disguising this matter.”
Mick O’Reilly from Dublin Council of Trade Unions was as vociferous and emotive as Jack when he called on members to “have the courage to resist Austerity”. DCTU are trying to involve Community Groups and in a candid speech Mick stated that “we don’t have all the answers” but “we have to explain to our members what is happening. We can use policies as a weapon”. Mick called on the “trade union movement to be transformative and develop our own media.” He called on government to “Repudiate the debt and start organising.” In a statement of fact he recognised that “Our members are not clammering at the door looking for industrial action but we have to show them the confidence to do this.”

There were calls for workers to be more involved in running society, socialise the economy with the creation of worker led businesses. The obvious was stated many times “Huge despair and disillusionment amongst trade union membership. We need to give our members the information”

From a Public Sector perspective it was noted that due to the ban on recruitment there has been very little employment of the Disabled in society as the Public Sector is the only real employers of people with disabilities. Eugene Mc Glone said in relation to Haddington Road Agreement “No Govt should have the power to legislate away our terms and conditions” . The reality is however that they do and no proposal was put forward to counteract this.

There was a closed session on the future of trade unions in Ireland which will eventually lead to some change in structures and there was recognition that working members can be educated in their roles by retired workers. Value needs to be put on the knowledge and work of retired workers, they are today what our future is tomorrow.

All in all an interesting day. You can’t but be moved by some of the rousing talk given at the podium. What that will equate to in the coalface of the workplace is the burning question. However the direction of the trade union movement is that austerity isn’t working and the family that is ICTU will continue to try and press this home at every opportunity (verbally at least). I took from the day that we need to engage the union membership with our work, they are the union and they need to know this, we are the media and we are the conduit for this information.

hope

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Flowers, sandblasting, Burma, Bahrain and Colombia – Day 2 Global Solidarity Summer School 2012

Day 2 started on a much more somber note than out introduction. I had heard about Bahrain in the context of the Arab sprin
last year but have been ignorant of its events since then. Tara o Grady from Bravo (Bahrain rehabilitation anti violence organisation ) gave a heartfelt appeal to our conscience.  Bahrain is a country not too dissimilar to Ireland, except of course for no freedom of expression or association.  The horror stories of what has happened to people protesting the Bahrain regime were sobering.  In the weeks after the much publicised pussy riot court case and their 2 year sentence in Russia for singing an anti state song in a cathedral it
was interesting to hear the story of Ayat Al Qurmuzi who received 1 year for reading a poem against the king. There are Irish businesses in Bahrain and people over here have a chance to let our opposition to brutality be known.

www.bravo.org

We then went to our respective workshops on Colombia, Burma, Palestine and the clean clothes campaign.  All worthy of their own stories and all appalling to hear about.  The depressing tale of children in Ethiopia who need to fill 18 boxes of flowers before being allowed home from a days work, the morbid story of the settlements and the displacement of people in Palestine, the trials of the Burmese people and the danger facing trade unionists in Colombia were all shared.

We didn’t end on such a negative note and we all set off uplifted in the knowledge that we can all play a small part, be that encouraging action in our unions (stories aplenty of solidarity committees and their achievements in PSEU, IMPACT, UNISON, NIPSA, INTO and SIPTU and the vast sums that have been passed on in solidarity) or even writing a damn letter.  If you feel that the world is perfect then maybe reflect on those well off, if you don,t feel it’s perfect let’s change it eh?

www.ictu.ie/globalsolidarity

www.cleanclothescampaign.org

www.nipsa.org.uk/globalsolidarity

www.labourstart.org

niallhope

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Global Solidarity Summer School – day 1

“Knowledge is power and I’m looking forward to bathing in know,edge and spreading it after the weekend” is how ICTU President Eugene McGlone ended his welcome address today at the 4th annual Global solidarity summer school in Wexford.

Eugene’s words came after Minister of State Joe Costello opened the summer school with words about his area of responsibility for trade and development at the department of foreign affairs.  The minister is putting the finishing touches to a white paper for Irish aid which is a result of extensive consultations with civil society in Ireland. Minister Costello spoke about how he intends there to be a summer school for Irish aid in the future. He also spoke on how the trade union movement has a role in bonding society together.  This was a common theme through the afternoon as delegates were poised with the question of how do we make the union movement relevant. One way is through participation in society as a whole and be active in campaigns, campaigns like the one that will replace the millennium development goals which are up in 2015. As Ireland takes on the eu presidency for the first half of 2013 this small country could have influence on what will replace these goals.
The global solidarity summer school had approx 80 people all trying to find ways that they can help make a difference. These people are a starting point, a chance to go back to the wider trade union movement in general and Force change upon it.  Discussions took place around Colombia where one of the Colombian delegation that travelled with an international group this year has been missing since April. There was also talk about Palestine where jack o conor from siptu is on the record as saying “what’s happening in Palestine is the greatest crime to humanity over the past hundred years”.
Roland Munck from dcu posed the question to delegates “what is global solidarity “. Is it just stopping the race to the bottom? is it about decent work for all? is it stopping forced child labour?  Or is it more?  He suggested we can’t look at one country in isolation and that globalisation is not only about capitalism spreading its wings it can be about organised labour too.  It made for a good debate and the question is there more to global solidarity or is it just good to have friends is one that will provoke reaction from all involved in trade union activism. Judith kirton-darling spoke of solidarity being a two way process, where workers in Latin America support their European colleagues in the battle against Austerity
The range of speakers was really impressive, visitors from the TUC in Britain and the wider trade union movement were in attendance.  Judith, as mentioned above, is a member of the ETUC and Jeffrey Vogt was over from the ITUC. There was talk of the Cuban 5 and how Irish trade unions could work with sister unions in the us to get these people freed and allowed to see their families. The diversity of opinion from the floor meant that we could have been talking al night about the inequalities of the world but one thing was for sure the people in attendance on this wet Friday afternoon want to try and engage with the wider trade union movement and society as a whole to see if we can really make this a better and fairer world for all.

www.ictu.ie/globalsolidarity

niallhope

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