Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

29 October 1998 Edition

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Workers in struggle

Crunch time for trade unions

The best and worst of the Irish trade union movement was on view last week in the 26 Counties. On the positive side workers in Dublin, Waterford, Cork, Kilkenny and Limerick took to the streets in support of the basic right of a worker to picket their employer.

It is now clearly true that building workers throughout the 26 Counties are deeply concerned about the black economy on building sites as well as health and safety issues. An often peddled lie is that only building workers in Dublin are unionised and that industrial relations issues do not matter outside the capital.

Workers imprisoned

On the negative side two building workers were imprisoned, one of whom was needlessly arrested at five in the morning. Irish workers were promised that the Industrial Relations Act became law that the act would not be used to against them by employers. The sad truth is that since 1990 the Industrial Relations Act has been used consistently by employers to prevent pickets, threaten workers and deny their right to take industrial action.

Another downside was the lack of leadership from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU). The ICTU remained silent about the dispute which is strange considering that workers don't get imprisoned every day.

ICTU's failure

This week ICTU General Secretary Peter Cassells found the time to condemn the ``invasion'' of farmers into city protesting about falling income. Does Cassells believe you can pick and choose who has the right to protest in their capital city?

Another downside to the building workers dispute was the action taken by some workers who entered offices of the Plasters Union, who rent offices in the Building and Allied Trades Union Building.

They threw files into the road and then burned them. Bill O'Brien Chairperson of the BATU's Dublin Regional Council speaking in a personal capacity told an Phoblacht that he ``unreservedly condemned the attack on the plasters''.

Judicial Review

Part of the differences between the Plasters and BATU stem from an agreement on the role of subcontractors on building sites between the ICTU's Construction Industry Committee and the Construction and Industry Federation.

BATU are seeking a judicial review of agreement. Regional organiser Denis Farrell told An Phoblacht that ``No members of any union have voted on this agreement''. Bill O'Brien said the agreement was deficient in that there was no requirement on subcontractors to be bonded in case of bankruptcy. Main contractors are not responsible for the sub contractors they hire and the process to investigate and solve problems is too slow.

Unofficial pickets returned to the two building sites at the centre of this dispute yesterday. Now is there a need for the trade union movement to regroup as a whole and plan a way forward that benefits all workers. The ICTU must lead the campaign in favour of these workers rights. Anything less means they are siding with the employers against their own members.

Quote The ICTU remained silent about the dispute which is strange considering that workers don't get imprisoned every day

Dear Charlie McCreevy

Social welfare rates have risen by only 16% over the last four years while average income has increased by 28%.
Charlie a chara

Now that it is less than six weeks to budget day you are probably making up the most glittering package of tax breaks mixed with clever spending plans that you can muster up. The pressure is on to deliver a voter friendly budget especially as the Fianna Fail leadership consider whether it is possible to go for an early election next year.

You have been subjected to some fairly intense lobbying from all quarters. However in the last week two fairly important groups have put in their penny's worth.

First in was the International Monetary Fund (IMF) who peddled there usual cocktail of restraining spending growth, fending off public sector wage claims and watering down the already piecemeal minimum wage proposals.

One interesting point the IMF did make was that if there were to be tax cuts in the budget they should be ones that ``should be directed to strengthening work incentives for the low paid.

The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) make a similar but much more eloquent case for tax cuts that help the low paid in a new study published this week. Their study found that the last four budgets have aided the well off. In fact the poorest have lost out compared to other economic groups.

Social welfare rates have risen by only 16% over the last four years while average income has increased by 28%.

Charlie last year you ignored the advice of many organisation who said that available funds for tax cuts should go to increasing the personal tax allowances and take the low paid out of the tax net. This year the case for such a policy is ever more urgent. This is the time to be a Robin Hood Charlie not another sheriff of Nottingham.

Is mise,
Neil Forde

AIB's economic imperialism

One of the unmentioned downsides of Ireland's status as a first world economy is the role played by both the state and it's companies as exploitative economic imperialists. It might sound like a dated term but what other way could you describe the media reports of AIB's bid to buy Poland's biggest commercial bank Grupa Pekao.

The Polish government is to sell a 55% stake in the bank. Why? Because like so many public utilities in the 26 Counties there are demands from the EU, the IMF and other unelected global economic institutions that these public owned resources be privatised.

It is sad to see AIB, a bank borne out of an economy which has suffered so much under the yoke of foreign economic exploitation enter the vanguard of similar exploitation in Poland.

AIB are only interested in the potential profit this bank can yield for them. They have no interest in the welfare of the Polish economy and what effect a deregulated banking system could have for a fragile economy.

AIB already have a stake in a Polish bank and are now seeking to expand further into this economy. In the long run it will use its banking foothold in Poland to expand further taking the profits earned in one economy and putting them into another not to aid development but to make still more money. If that isn't economic imperialism, tell me what is?

Third Force Bank

The announcement of merger talks between Irish Life and Irish Permanent made their shareholders fairly happy this week as share prices rose on the prosepct of the market power and profits the new banking entity could wield.

If the two banks merge they will be the third largest financial institution in the state after AIB and Bank of Ireland. The fact that Irish Life used to be state owned shows that the losers in this new scenario are the Irish people. If such a company had been state owned the considerable profits could have been invested in the Irish economy, in the Irish people.

It is now five years since we were promised a third force state bank. Now the private sector has delivered such a bank and the benefits will flow only to them and not to the people such a bank was supposed to be for.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1