9 September 2004 Edition
Real partnership is between workers
On page 9 two leading trade unionists debate the issue of 'social partnership'. Some trade unionists oppose such deals between unions, employers and Government on principle. Others judge each on its merits and vote accordingly. The level of debate in recent years has been very low, with most trade unionists following ICTU's lead and voting for the deals, as they did last week. But the real issue here is the integrity of the trade union movement itself.
An interesting comparison would be with the peace strategy of Irish republicans. At every stage of development of that strategy republicans have prioritised the integrity and unity of their movement. They have realised that the building of political strength is a strategic priority and that real change will not come about without a strong Sinn Féin organisation and a politicised support base which can be mobilised to campaign on key issues. Negotiations are another aspect of struggle - they are not the be-all and end-all. As a result of this approach the political support of Sinn Féin has grown, built on the firm foundation of an activist base. In stark contrast the Irish trade union movement, after two decades of 'partnership' deals is weaker than ever before. More and more workers are non-unionised. Grassroots participation is minimal. The big unions are top heavy with highly paid bureaucrats whose close relationship with Government and employers has gradually replaced solidarity with the rank and file. Over-dependence on 'partnership' weakened the unions as their building blocks at workplace level are neglected. Too many union leaders have forgotten that the most important partnership is that between fellow workers. A renewal of trade unionism, in the tradition of Larkin and Connolly, and relevant to Irish labour conditions in the 21st century, is badly needed. The many republican trade unionists and potential trade unionists out there should become part of that renewal at workplace level.