3 articles from the November 2001 issue of
Socialist Voice on developments in the Irish trade union movement

A new Irish union?

The media has claimed that a new union is to be established called the Independent Workers' Union. The Socialist Party has been historically very cautious about the idea of splits in the trade union movement because of the potential pitfalls, although not as a point of principle. We judge such developments in the concrete circumstances surrounding their occurrence. In this article we are conditionally raising what our Party believes are some of the potential positive and negative aspects of the formation of a new union.

By Stephen Boyd

There is widespread discontent amongst sections of union activists towards the right-wing trade union bureaucracy and in particular the complete rottenness of the SIPTU leadership. This discontent has been the main factor in the movement towards the formation of a new union. There is a whole catalogue of examples of the corruption that is now rampant amongst the majority of the right-wing trade union officialdom. The frustration and anger of good trade unionists, who only want to defend their members jobs and conditions, but who are thwarted at nearly every turn by union bureaucrats is totally understandable.

On the one hand, a new union could be successful in attracting large numbers of discontented members from other unions who have not been able to overcome the obstacle of the bureaucracy and also sections of unorganised workers. A lot will depend on the ability of a new union to quickly prove itself and gain credibility. Also, its structures and methods of struggle will play a key role in whether it can win the necessary forces to survive. The successful establishment of a new union can have a positive effect on the whole of the trade union movement North and South, and help to weaken the right-wing bureaucracies in all other unions by being an example and inspiration to activists in other unions.

The Socialist Party is not in principle opposed to the idea of splits from trade unions, if the newly established body provides workers with a democratic vehicle through which to struggle. On the other hand, we would always urge caution and that everyone should be cognisant of the potential difficulties.

A new union could fail and take some of the best activists away from the main body of trade unionism and leave the remaining membership weakened. If a new union was to fall flat on its face, then the result would be the weakening of the left within the union movement. During the recession, with redundancies being announced on a daily basis, the main focus of union members will be on the defence of jobs, and many may view the idea of leaving their present union and joining a new union as too risky in this current climate.

There is also the added problem of the potential for such a split, (if it was to have a major effect on an all Ireland based union), to be exploited by sectarians in Northern Ireland, who may view it as an opportunity to campaign in a sectarian way against what they would argue is a southern-based union. Such arguments in the current polarised political situation in the North can gain an echo. It should not be under-estimated how much damage such sectarians could do to the movement. It can even resurrect the idea of a split in the ICTU and the establishment of an Ulster TUC which would be a major backward step.

If the establishment of a new union becomes an inevitability, then the Socialist Party would argue that it must be established on a fully democratic basis. In order for the members to have full accountability over the leadership and to stop the re-emergence of a new bureaucracy that all full time officials should be elected on a regular basis by the members, and should be paid the average industrial wage.

Important steps forward have been made in the recent period in unions like NIPSA, CPSU, and BATU by activists who have either broken the grip of the right wing in these unions or have firmly shifted their union in a leftward direction. The right-wing trade union bureaucracy will be put under massive pressure by the recession. In this period, activists will have the opportunity to take on and defeat the right wing, and whether a new union is established or not the main task for union activists will be the transformation of those unions which organise over 750,000 workers North and South.

Joe Bowers faces dismissal

Joe Bowers was invited by the Belfast Telegraph to write the article as someone who 'represented Shorts workers for 25 years as president of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions and as chairman of the Northern Ireland Committee of the ICTU.' This substantial article pointed out amongst many other things that 'Shorts management submitted a notice to the government of up to 2,000 redundancies citing reduced demand for products [due to 11 September].....at the same time....Robert E Brown, president and chief executive of Bombardier [Shorts parent company] told a press conference in Montreal that no orders had been cancelled'.

By Stephen Boyd

On 2 November John Tierney MSF National Secretary was quoted in the Belfast Telegraph as saying that Joe Bowers had been suspended and was under investigation. Speculation is that Joe Bowers 'crime' was to have broken an instruction that he was prohibited from speaking in public about Shorts, and writing the above article apparently constitutes 'gross misconduct'. Although who imposed this prohibition and when remains a mystery.

Joe Bowers has been subjected to a consistent campaign of harassment at the hands of the leadership of MSF in Ireland and Britain. The right wing have tried everything within their powers to silence a trade union official who is simply guilty of doing his job, i.e., standing up for the members. Joe Bowers is apparently suspended although he has never been officially told that this is the case. Speculation is now rampant that Joe Bowers is to be sacked by MSF.

If he is sacked then it will be a scandalous outcome to a scandalous witch-hunt. An investigation is of course needed, but not into Joe Bowers. Instead their needs to be an investigation into the persecution of Joe, and the unhealthy relationship between the leadership of MSF and the management of Shorts.

While hundreds of MSF members face losing their jobs at Shorts, MSF think that the most important priority for them is to attack one of their own officials. Roger Lyons MSF General Secretary and his minions like John Tierney who are behind this witch hunt are rotten to the core, and it is them that should be driven out of the MSF, not Joe Bowers.

Mick O'Reilly

On 5 and 6 November Mick O'Reilly and Eugene McGlone appeared before Bill Morris, TGWU General Secretary, to answer the 'charges' which lead to their suspensions.

Unlike most arenas of natural justice, there is no jury or in fact any substance of justice in the current proceedings. Bill Morris is the judge, jury and executioner in this 'trial'. After the two days of deliberations, proceedings were adjourned to be reconvened at a date deemed suitable to Bill Morris.

The ludicrous 'charges' which have been levelled against Mick O'Reilly and Eugene McGlone should be immediately dropped and this farce of an investigation ended. Mick O'Reilly and Eugene McGlone should be reinstated into their positions and allowed to get on with the job of defending the hundreds of ATGWU members whose jobs are now under threat up and down the country.

A final decision on the fate of Mick O'Reilly and Eugene McGlone is expected in the next few weeks.

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