26 February 2009 Edition
Union leader urges united left and all-Ireland action
Sinn Féin Ard Fheis 2009
BY RUADHÁN Mac AODHÁIN
AS over 120,000 workers gathered at Parnell Square to protest against the Government’s handling of the economic crisis, John Douglas, General Secretary of the Mandate trade union, found the time to address the Ard Fheis in what is likely to be one of most difficult periods that workers have ever faced.
Mandate represents over 44,000 workers in what is now the largest sector of employment in Ireland, the wholesale and retail sector – also one of the sectors with the highest levels of exploitation. The majority of Mandate workers earn less that €12 an hour while 12 per cent of the total workforce in retailing are employed in tenuous contracts. What this represents for Douglas is that the Irish economy is “underpinned by low pay and exploitation”.
While the massive growth in both the retail and wholesale sector is a modern phenomenon, Mandate is a union steeped in tradition. Douglas opened the speech by explaining that the first president of the bar workers’ union, Patrick Moran, was executed in 1921 in Kilmainham and the first general secretary of the Drapers’ Union was one of the founding members of the Labour Party. Both unions went on to form Mandate in 1994.
The Mandate general secretary spoke of the need for all-Ireland solutions to end exploitation.
“The economic reality for retail workers and lower-income families in the North is no different. Therefore a solution to the current economic meltdown must be an all-Ireland solution. This island cannot support a two-economy solution.”
Douglas was in no doubt as to who are the culprits of inequality in our society.
“This government have no values; no vision of a better, equal Ireland. They created a climate of greed, they buried the vision and values of our first Dáil which met 90 years ago this year, they buried the Democratic Programme for Government written by Labour Party Leader Tom Johnson and adopted by the first Dáil.
The trade union official lambasted the Fianna Fáil-led Government for protecting banking officials while arrogantly attacking education, welfare and pay.
Douglas described the reasons for the Government’s loyalty to corrupt business leaders:
“They know that if they do not hang together, they will hang separately.”
“Delegates, all is not lost, take comfort in the certain knowledge that their world is crumbling around them. At a time when the economic order will have to be reconstructed, now is the time to create a new vision, a fairer and better way: a new economic development model based on values of equality and justice. We cannot leave it to the same political elite.”
But this is something which can only be achieved through a united left, according to Douglas:
“We must seek political expression for a vision of a new, fair Ireland through a broad coalition of parties of the left, community groups and other like-minded organisations.”
“The people and workers of Ireland are prepared to make sacrifices for a better future for their children but they need that vision and most of all they need fair and honest leadership. I believe that Sinn Féin has an important role to play in that leadership, for together we can build an Ireland united through a vision of a New Democratic Programme – a Social Solidarity Pact!”
FACING THE FUTURE: John Douglas with Arthur Morgan