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5 January 2006 Edition

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We haven't got a chance unless we organise

BY CAOILFHIONN Ní DHONNABHÁIN

2006 New Years resolutions - Join a trade union

The recent developments at Irish Ferries should act as a wake up call to all workers about the importance of joining a trade union. Our present weakness lies in our lack of solidarity as workers.

The neo-liberal movement has built up a momentum that poses a very real threat to pay and working conditions across Ireland. Those who promote this agenda do their best to convince us that the system is inevitable — that there is no point resisting it. But it is not inevitable.

Those pursuing the neo-liberal agenda have sought, and to a degree fostered, a culture of individualism and consumerism where individual workers lack solidarity with other workers. They have successfully brought about a situation where workers are precluded by law from solidarity picketing and where workers are incited to condemn others workers who participate in strike action. They have fostered the development of an anti-union climate comparable to that which existed in the United States in the early decades of the 20th Century.

Many workers now ask the question why join a trade union? Why join a trade union when you receive an annual pay increase under the terms of the most recent social partnership deal? Why join a trade union when workers rights are protected in legislation?

The philosophy of trade unionism is that all people are born equal, are endowed with certain fundamental rights and their labour cannot be treated as a commodity in the market system

Unions assist their members in many ways. They assist their members when they are having trouble at work and they negotiate with the employers for better pay and conditions. Workplace studies have found that the wages and conditions of workers at a workplace that is organised and collectively represented by a trade union are better than those working in unorganised work sites. The Nordic states, which have the highest levels of union density in the world, have higher standards of living and better social protections.

We must stop being complacent. Workers have to stop assuming that the working conditions we have at present will remain. These are under constant threat. The eight-hour-day was hard fought for by trade unionists in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, yet today workers across Ireland work hours far in excess of this as a norm merely to pay excessive mortgages. In effect the eight-hour-day is being taken away from us by stealth and it has become normal for workers to have to work overtime in order to make a living wage.

The weakness of the Trade Union Movement is the key factor that gives certain employers the courage to proceed in their assault on existing workers rights. If unions were at their optimum strength is it conceivable that Irish Ferries' bosses would treat their workers and industrial relations mechanisms of the state with the contempt which they have? Or indeed is it conceivable that the government would allow them act as they have acted?

What many employers are looking for is what they term increased 'flexibility' within the 'labour market'. What this means in real terms is increased ability to fire workers at will, impose shorter work contracts and reduced social protections. They are also seeking to create a low-wage economy by displacing workers and replacing them with migrant workers from Eastern Europe and elsewhere who are subjected to low pay and exploitative conditions.

Organised labour has a key role to play in stopping the current drive by employers towards displacement, outsourcing and the exploitation of migrant and other workers. The trade unions need to get migrant workers unionised so we can all stand together in opposing the current drive towards lower wages and diminished work conditions.

It is important to have a strong Trade Union Movement. It is important for activists who are committed to social change to understand the importance of being active within the Trade Union Movement. The Trade Union Movement can only be radicalised by the involvement of those committed to radical social and economic change. It is a cop out to dismiss the Trade Union Movement on the basis that it is not radical enough or that the leadership is compromised by its close ties to a conservative, centrist party and its involvement with government.

If you want to send a message to those such as Dan McLaughlin, Chief Economist of Bank of Ireland and other parasites like him who gloat about the supposed death of the Trade Union Movement and their ability to impose exploitative working regimes, then join a trade union and the fight against the erosion of workers' rights

Don't write off the Trade Union Movement. Join a trade union, become active within it and agitate to make the Trade Union Movement a more radical force, an ally in the struggle to create a socialist republic.

An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
  • There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.

Buy An Phoblacht magazine here

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