Amalgamated Transport Union witchhunt

Socialist Voice August 2001

IT IS now just over a month since Mick O'Reilly, the Regional Secretary of the Amalgamated and General Workers Union (ATGWU) and its Belfast organiser, Eugene McGlone were suspended from their positions by Bill Morris, the General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union (T&G) in Britain. The ATGWU, which has 50,000 members in Ireland, is a region of the British union.

By Dermot Connolly

At a union meeting in Belfast, the two were called into a side room and handed letters, which told them they were being put on 'precautionary' suspension while an investigation would continue into unspecified allegations made against them. There is no precedent in the union's previous history, and no union rule, which allows such action by Morris.

They were also told to leave the building immediately, not to talk to other officials or staff, and not to talk to the media. They are effectively banned from any activity in the union or defending themselves from speculation in the media.

A month later, they have been informed of the charges against them. A 240-page document has come up with absolutely nothing to back up the charge of poor management and gross misbehaviour. Some of the charges are ludicrous. There is the story of the 'sexy mug', seized on by the Evening Herald. This concerned a teacup bought for Eugene McGlone, which apparently had a woman on it who stripped when hot water was poured in. This was never taken out of its box, but when a female member of staff objected to it McGlone removed it and apologised to any member of staff who might have found it offensive.

This is the sort of nonsense that forms the basis of this investigation. They are trumped up charges raised by a right-wing clique in the union linked to Morris. There is absolutely no evidence of financial wrongdoing or anything else for that matter. The real issue is that Mick O'Reilly was appointed Regional Secretary by winning the vote on the T& G's National Executive against the wishes of Morris.

SIPTU bureaucracy

Then there is the issue of ILDA, the locomotive rail drivers union, who broke with SIPTU and the NBRU. The ATGWU took 118 of these into the union earlier this year. The position of SIPTU, and of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), was that these workers had to be crushed and forced back into SIPTU and the NBRU. This would serve as a warning to other dissatisfied union members if they tried to break with the union establishment.

The right-wing trade union leaders in the South know that there is massive anger at the policy of partnership and the lack of democracy and control over the unions by the membership. If they allow one group of workers, or indeed a union like ASTI, to strike out in a new and militant direction, partnership and their control would be greatly undermined.

SIPTU made the unbelievable claim that 62 of the ILDA workers were SIPTU members in arrears, even though these workers left SIPTU two years ago. This claim was unsurprisingly agreed by ICTU. This reduces union members to the position of serfs, who belong to one union baron or another. It makes a mockery of the right of workers to representation of their own choice in the workplace.

Socialists support the idea of the closed shop, where if a majority of workers are unionised then all workers have to be in a union, and preferably the same one. If there are different unions, the way to achieve unity is to have joint shop stewards committees and joint mass meetings of the workforce to take decisions. These basic ideas, developed over years of struggle, were to stop scab labour being employed and to have the strongest possible position for struggling with the company. They are being turned on their head now by the right-wing leaders who are bureaucratically policing the unions on behalf of and in collusion with the employers and the state.

A struggle has now opened up between left activists and the right in the ATGWU. A meeting of the Dublin District Committee and shop stewards called for the reinstatement of the suspended officials and an emergency meeting of the Regional Committee. The chairman of the Regional Committee called this meeting but was overruled by the official who Morris had sent in to run the union. The boardroom in the union office was locked on the day of the meeting.

Campaign needed

A majority of Regional Committee members can call an emergency meeting and this is now being organised. A majority of the Regional Committee will support Mick O'Reilly and Eugene McGlone. This is a very important measure, both in terms of using every avenue within the union rules and insisting on a fair procedure, but more importantly, of using the Regional Committee to mobilise support down into the membership and into the broader trade union movement.

A campaign into the trade union movement, North and South, explaining to activists and the rank and file, what the real issues involved are - an attempt to crush all opposition to bureaucratic rule - would receive massive support. The left in the ATGWU, including Mick O'Reilly and Eugene McGlone, have to come out fighting now. A good start would be to immediately organise a series of public meetings, open to all workers, with Mick O'Reilly speaking. A move which is now being discussed by activists in the ATGWU.

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