Swing to left at NIPSA Conference

By Carol Barnett NIPSA General Council member

Socialist Voice June 2003

NIPSA, THE largest trade union in Northern Ireland, with over 40,000 members, held its conference at the end of May. The events of the last year featured heavily in the agenda, including issues such as attacks on the public services, the PPP/PFI strategies, the proposed loss of 600 jobs in the water services and the linking of so-called 'modernisation' to pay deals.

President Carmel Gates at the 2003 Nipsa Conference Photo by Kevin Cooper

A motion supporting the firefighters, including the decision to donate 40,000 to the FBU hardship fund, was passed. So was a motion supporting the sacked airport workers and a commitment was given to back this up with financial support.

Motions, carried supporting the campaign against the war in Iraq and the establishment of a socialist Israel alongside a genuinely independent socialist Palestinian state, reflect the shift to the left among NIPSA members. The right wing was defeated in a number of crucial votes.

However, motions calling for the election of permanent officials and the allocation of branch funds to branch level were deliberately placed at the end of the agenda so that they would not get debated. The Socialist Party, which had more delegates attending conference this year, has fought for many years to get these issues on the agenda. The next step now is to stamp out the right wing attempts to stifle the debate at conference.

A successful fringe Socialist Party public meeting was held to discuss the need for of an alternative working class party in Northern Ireland. Speakers at this included FBU Executive member Jim Barbour, sacked airport shop steward Gordon McNeill and Peter Hadden of the Socialist Party. The idea of putting up a slate of community and trade union candidates on a "Defend Public Services" platform in the Assembly elections was generally accepted.

We now need to build on the success of the NIPSA conference and use this opportunity to build a genuine left in the union which is prepared to fight on real issues such as the attacks on public services. One of these campaigns should be the building of a mass non-payment campaign to stop the introduction of water charges.

Carmel Gates elected NIPSA President

SOCIALIST PARTY member Carmel Gates has been elected President of Northern Ireland's biggest union, NIPSA. The vote took place at the union's annual conference held at the end of May.

Carmel won convincingly, polling 16,779 votes against 11,925 for the right wing candidate. Her vote was one of the biggest ever achieved by any candidate for an officers' position. Carmel had held the President's position for three months, having been elected by the union executive following the resignation of the previous President. But this was the first time she had stood for election at the full Conference.

Carmel spoke to Socialist Voice: "This is a critical time for NIPSA members. As a union representing people in the public service we are in the front line of government attacks. New Labour has swallowed the mantra of privatisation hook, line and sinker. This means job cuts and worse conditions for our members and worse services for the pubic.

"I want to use my position to make sure that NIPSA fights back against these attacks and that we defend the idea of adequately funded public services run to meet need, not make profits for some fat cat directors.

"I also want to make sure that any of our members who are involved in disputes get the full backing of the union. At the moment social workers are taking industrial action and we need to stand behind them to make sure that they win a decent pay award without strings.

"During the three months running up to the Conference I was able to use my position as President to support and build links with other workers in struggle, the firefighters and airport workers in particular. I intend to continue to do this. We need to rebuild the traditions of solidarity that created the trade union movement in the first place.

"I will also continue to campaign to make NIPSA more democratic with more resources and more control switched to the branches. It is the membership, not an unelected full time bureaucracy, who should be in charge of our union."

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