Industrial Reports

Socialist Voice February 2003

North: Carmel Gates Elected NIPSA President

by Padraig Mulholland

NIPSA's NEW President is Socialist Party member, Carmel Gates. Carmel has been elected by the union's General Council. She will take up office on 1 March and hold the position at least until the NIPSA Conference in June.

Carmel, who ran for the General Secretary position last year winning just under 40% of the vote, spoke to Socialist Voice: "The position of President needs to be elevated. Unlike the General Secretary who is elected every five years and the full time officials who are not elected at all, the President is elected every year.

"I want to use the office to visit branches and bring the union closer to the members. I will be encouraging members to get active at local level so that the process of changing the union can continue. Far too much power in NIPSA is in the hands of the full time bureaucracy.

"If we are to be successful in resisting the attacks on pay, conditions and services we need to fully democratise the union, putting the members in charge.

NIPSA Election Setback - Build the Left

The election for the NIPSA General Council (Executive Committee) saw a shift to the right, with the old conservative grouping who, up to last year, had been in charge for many years regain an overall majority. Still, eight members of the Time For Change group were also elected.

Socialist Party candidates who ran as part of the overall Time for Change bloc did well. Six Socialist Party members were elected, the same number as were on the outgoing Executive.

Time for Change stood on a programme of opposition to low pay, inequality and cuts in public services and for union democracy. The right wing hardly mentioned these issues and ran a black propaganda campaign attacking Time for Change, and particularly the Socialist Party.

This had little impact on union members, only influencing those who would take a more negative view of trade unions as a whole. The fact that a number of Time for Change members lost their seats was in part down to lack of resources to mount an effective election campaign. The right wing represent the old establishment and were able to call on greater union resources.

Also, the defeat suffered by Social Security Agency workers, traditionally on the left of the union, in their recent dispute over conditions reduced the vote in this area.

It is possible that the right wing will now try to go on the offensive. Even before the election, there were signs of a growing witch hunt against activists. Attempts were made to dissolve branches of the union that stood up for members.

If they attempt to use their majority to continue such attacks they will find that the election results do not represent any shift to the right among the membership. The good performance of Socialist Party candidates gives a truer picture.

Any attacks on the rights of members or branches, or any backsliding in the fight over pay, conditions and against privatisation will be strenuously opposed. Time for Change must now discuss the lessons of this election and regroup itself on a firmer basis. If this is done this result can turn out to be a temporary hiccup and can be the swansong of the right in NIPSA.

The Army Can't Do Our Work

By Kevin Lawrenson, NIPSA Branch 705

SOCIAL WORKERS across Northern Ireland are about to ballot for strike action over a pay claim.The claim for regarding, submitted to the Department 12 months ago, was rejected without any meaningful negotiations taking place.

This sparked widespread anger among social workers, which has now resulted in a formal dispute being declared. The ballot for strike action will be held this month, with action likely to begin in March.

I have attended a series of consultation meetings with members and the mood has been angry and determined. As one member put it, "They may be able to bring in army personnel to put out fires but they can't bring in the army to do our work."

Another summed up the mood of most members, "We are happy to take industrial action as long as it not one day here and one day there. What we want is to walk out now. We don't want to work to rule we just want to go out on strike."

Social workers don't want to go on strike, but the consultation has shown they are ready and prepared if they have to.

Firefighters Dispute: No Retreat - Maintain the Action

by Peter Hadden

FIREFIGHTERS ACROSS Britain and Northern Ireland reacted with justified anger at John Prescott's threat to reintroduce the Fire Services Act of 1947 to impose his measly 4% pay offer.

A dispute that began over pay is now also about defending the fire service from cuts. It is also about defending the right of trade unions to negotiate the pay and conditions of members.

With so much at stake, the decision not to go ahead with the strikes planned for early February came as a surprise to many members. The strikes were put off to allow for negotiations.

Whatever the intent of the FBU leadership, the postponement of action will once again be interpreted by the government as a sign that the union is vacillating. If the strikes had gone ahead, the FBU would have been negotiating from a position of strength. As it is, they face the employers from a much weaker position.

A reasonable settlement means a significant offer on pay; the 16% on offer at the start of December would be the very minimum. It also means

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