Posts By Des Derwin

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Leave it out!  Left in and left out in Irish Syrizian thinking

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The imminent truncation of the Labour Party and the rise of Sinn Féin would probably have tabled it anyway. But the reaction to Syriza’s election in Greece has changed the topography of the Irish left unity discussion (such as it is) in one long political week.  Not necessarily for the better. Sinn Féin and then SIPTU President Jack O’Connor , and others,  have shifted the frame from a radical left alliance to one effectively taking in Sinn Féin and even Labour.

These two propositions are very different animals altogether. Furthermore, in a burst of ‘yeah, let’s do it too’ élan, people are now talking about going for a left government. The strewn constellation of the radical left will likely be split on the wider of the projects, even if it gets no further than a talking point. Including even a shrunken Labour is almost a no-no for the radical left. Including Sinn Féin is highly problematical to say the least. (Some categorise them outside the left; the anti water charge campaign left their left flank exposed, and may still do; two recent developments raised leftist eyebrows that may not have been raised before: the cutback provisions of the Stormont House Agreement and their failure to support Clare Daly’s December Bill to repeal the constitutional ban on abortion).

But here is another problem. Sinn Féin’s stature as a left party does not depend on how they are viewed by one or other far left party, but on how they are viewed by the electorate (voting workers, blue and white collared). It will be very difficult to carry an argument for a united left alternative while simultaneously arguing that it should exclude Sinn Féin (and arguing for a similar exclusion with those who would want to add Labour too).

Fortunately there is an old shepherd’s crook on the Irish left for separating the sheep from the goats: coalition with conservative parties (effectively Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael). If this condition is raised by the radical left it requires Sinn Féin (and Labour) to qualify their political positioning, and rescues the radical left from the accusation of refusing to unite for a ‘left alternative’ offered (with various degrees of sincerity) to the people. So, there is a simple question for Sinn Féin, Jack O’Connor and others. Would a vote for Sinn Féin or Labour be guaranteed as a vote for the left? Or could it end up as a vote for another coalition led by, or with a large bloc from, Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael? How do you stand – now – on such a coalition? Of course there are crucial policy and programmatic matters to be considered. But this initial question would indicate whether there really is any game on at all.

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Moments of crisis: Aer Lingus seeks millions from SIPTU over strike threat

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Sam Nolan, veteran socialist and trade unionist and long-standing Secretary of the Dublin Council of Trade Unions has post this personal message on Facebook today (14th March). I have commented on it below.

“Moments of crisis happen at certain stages of history. Such a moment is now upon the trade union movement. The threatened move by AER LINGUS to sue SIPTU for financial damages for a strike that did not take place is such a moment. This move is a threat to the future activity of every trade union in the country. There must be a sharp militant response from CONGRESS affiliated unions as well as a legal challenge. Labour in government must decide which class it represents.”

My comment:

There has been surprising little reaction from the unions, the left and even the blogosphere (or my sector of it) to the announcement that Aer Lingus was suing SIPTU over a strike that did not take place.

The action by Aer Lingus, for damages, breach of contract and, in at least one report I heard, conspiracy, has all the marks of the pre-1906 open season on trade unions. As the day wore on the need for someone authoritative in the labour movement to take a stand and make a clarion call was ever more pressing. It is no accident that it is Sam Nolan that has stepped forward and it is fitting and fortunate that it is he who has. Not only has he stood in the front line for decades but he has the respect and authority in the trade union movement to be taken seriously and to be heeded and followed.

When Sam Nolan says it – “Moments of crisis happen at certain stages of history. Such a moment is now upon the trade union movement” – you know it is not stock left rhetoric. It is not some hamburger merchant that is suing, it is the national airline, backed by the airport authority and also by the biggest anti-union outfit on the continent, the William Martin Murphy of 2014.

It is time for SIPTU and ICTU to fight before there is nothing left to fight for – or fight with. And fight with street mobilisation and industrial action, not just in the courts or with press statements which omit that the Labour Party is in government and, in this case, that the government is on the board of the union-busting company. I hope unions, union committees and Branch and Sector Committees can take up his call without delay and that, if there is a delay, the Dublin Council of Trade Unions can repeat its recurrent role of being the focus and the catalyst on crises facing the labour movement.

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Avoiding the dustbin of history a year after privatisation in Dublin

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This day last year, 16th January 2012, was a black day for Irish trade unionism. From that day bin collection in Dublin was carried out by a private firm, Greyhound, after Dublin City Council sold the business to them bringing bin collection by the city to an end after almost 150 years. The privatisation of bin collection in Dublin City Council was, among all the recent setbacks and climb downs of the trade union movement, a symbolic defeat in a heartland of Irish blue collar trade unionism. The Dublin bins have gone the way of other emblematic and once seemingly impregnable redoubts of Irish trade union stability, such as the integrity and public status of electricity supply and the sacredness of the JLC/ERO system. Unlike signal defeats further back, those at Pat the Baker, Ryanair and Irish Ferries for instance, the Dublin bins passed with only a whimper.

That the privatisation of Dublin city bin collection happened at all was a depressing development. The manner in which it occurred served only to lower the mood further. As the changeover happened some of the bin workers themselves were certainly dissatisfied with the situation and with the unions:

“Before heading out [for the last time at Davitt Road depot], the men met for about half an hour to discuss their options. There was talk of “missed opportunities”, of how they should have balloted for industrial action before Christmas, or sat in in the depot last week, keeping the lorries hostage. They derided both council management and their unions – Impact and Siptu. Shortly after 6.30am the seven crews set out. It was minus 1 degree, and still dark….” (Irish Times, 14th January 2012)

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Six Points in Croke Park

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As talks for a new Deal begin here are a half-dozen things you probably know about the Croke Park Deal that should stop the unions extending it.

  1. The Croke Park Deal seems to set up a conflict between pay and job security, on the one hand, and services to the public and the needy on the other. (Of course the real conflict is between pay, job security and services on the one hand and the billions given to the banks on the other. Nevertheless this does not stop the media head fixers from using the structure of the Croke Park Deal to pitch services against pay, job security and conditions. The alternative is for the unions to fight against cuts in services and jobs, wages and conditions.)

  1. The Croke Park Deal seems to accept cuts in services in return for a jobs and pay guarantee. (This impression is reinforced by the lack of union resistance to the cuts and, indeed by point 3 below).

  1. The Croke Park Deal facilitates the cuts in services through co-operation with restructuring and transferring to cover for the reduced staffing.

  1. The Croke Park Deal agrees to massive reductions in (decent and unionised) jobs at the very time when every job is needed and in contradiction to the trade union policy of state-led investment in growth and jobs. (“Public Service Numbers are now [September 2012] 28,000 lower (at 292,000 approx) than their peak (of 320,000 approx) at end 2008”(Progress on the implementation of the Government’s Public Service Reform Plan, 6th September 2012]).
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