Dé Sathairn, Samhain 14, 2009

Why You Should Join a Trade Union


In the corporate media of late, the subject that has been pursued with great zeal is that of union bashing.

Of course, it has been the same old story for the past 30 to 40 years but, now, as recession grips the whole country, the black propaganda machine has gone into overdrive. It may be asked why the establishment has upped the ante in its open warfare against the trade union movement in what is a critical economic period for Ireland.

The answer is simple; the unions are probably the only mass movement left to protect workers’ rights in light of the fact that workers have no representatives worth talking about in either Leinster House or Britain’s Stormont administration.

Trade union membership has been in steady decline in Ireland for approximately 20 years, mainly in the private sector, due to a number of factors, not least the so-called social partnership process having a pacifying effect on union activity.

In the early ’90s, the Twenty-Six County economy started to grow at an unprecedented rate and the prospect of full employment was being declared at every opportunity. The myth was repeated over and over again that the economic good times were here to stay and wages would continue to forge ahead. Business leaders done their damnedest to convince private sector workers that unions were an unnecessary hangover from a past of social conflict. Many swallowed the lie.

A prime example of private sector workers realising the predicament they were in without union representation was the workers of Anglo-Irish Bank.

The bosses in AIB always boasted of the lack of a union presence on the floors of their beloved bank. The workers were apparently happy with their lot while the bosses were upstairs gambling away the future of their staff. When the bank collapsed, the workers flooded into the ranks of the IBOA but, it was too late, the bank had been sold down the river. If there had been a union organised on the shop floors of AIB, some of the damage done may have been prevented before it came to pass, but that will always be a what if story.

There is a constant media focus on dividing the public and private sector workers and the reason is simple. The corporate media is run by the business class – it is in their interest to divide and conquer workers lest they feel the personal pinch due to an organised workforce.

What is most damaging to workers is division and that is exactly what the governments in power in Ireland and the corporate media are trying to ferment amongst staff in the private and public sector.

There are workers in the private sector who have lost their jobs, while others have taken pay cuts, who are now being encouraged to take pot shots at public service workers who face a similar plight.

The real enemy of both private and public sector workers, of course, is the small class of super rich – 1 per cent of the population - who control 40 per cent of the wealth. There are billions upon billions of euros of profits, made during the Celtic Tiger period by working people, that remain in the coffers of this coterie of legal gangsters. Despite the corporate cries for ordinary workers to take a hit, these billions will not be shared with the nation in its time of need.

The reason the likes of Michael O’Leary fear unions is not because they slow down progress within their companies but because they are a threat to the enormous profits they makes off the backs of their workers.

Trade unions in Ireland and elsewhere are far from perfect. Many people would be correct in saying that the present leaders of the unions in Ireland are far from inspiring. One of the progressive developments Ireland is in need of is a renewed and larger trade union movement and, with that, fresh leadership. At the present moment, the political establishment pays lip service to the unions; the power, wealth and common interests of the business class and most politicians combine to ensure that. If, however, there was a strong and cohesive union movement with a passionate, politically radical leadership, the establishment would have to take note of what the majority of workers are saying throughout the country.

The problems associated with joining a union in the private sector are well documented. These include promotions being denied and prospective union members being verbally abused and intimidated by their employers. However, individuals within any company are easy pickings for employers so long as they remain just individuals. Workers organised into a union are a different matter altogether.

The law with regards employment within the European Union may appear to hold out some hope for workers but, if you find yourself at opposing ends to your employer as an individual, it is a David and Goliath battle. The employers have the best access to the best employment lawyers that money can buy, individuals do not. However, when an individual joins a union, employers would have second thoughts about walking all over employment rights.

It should always be remembered that a union is not there to make a profit. Unlike employers, it is there to protect its memberships’ employment rights and to obtain a decent day’s pay for decent day’s work.

Workers in every facet of the economy should be organised in trade unions. Employers and their political allies have, yet again, effectively declared war on working people. It is time the majority organised in defence on their own interests, as James Connolly said: “We are many, they are few”.

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