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1913-2013: The Hundred Years War Over Union Recognition

Date Released: 30 July 2013

This year marks the Centenary of the Dublin Lockout when employers in the city sought to destroy the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, which they saw as a threat to the status quo and their own dominant position within it. Two books launched today (Tuesday, 30th July) in Liberty Hall by SIPTU General President Jack O’Connor at 5.30 p.m. look at the dispute in its historical and current contexts.

Lockout: Dublin 1913 by Padraig Yeates is the classic account of the battle for union recognition and is being republished to coincide with the Centenary, while Are Trade Unions still Relevant? Union Recognition 100 Years On, Editors: Tom Turner, Daryl D’Art and Michelle O’Sullivan, takes a fresh look at the continuing controversy over the role of trade unions in Irish Society.

“From William Martin Murphy and the Dublin United Tramway Company to Michael O’Leary and Ryanair the fundamental questions remain the same”, says Yeates. “Should workers have a right to collective bargaining, to seek a larger share of the profits they help create and a voice in their workplace, or are these luxuries a competitive society can ill-afford, that interfere with the right of companies to maximise their profits?

“When these arguments were played out a century ago it was the conservative consensus of employers, the Catholic Church and the Home Rule political establishment-in-waiting that prevailed. This set the seal on the socio-economic consensus in the twentieth century.”

Tom Turner says; “The argument underpinning Are Trade Unions Relevant? is that they provide an independent voice for workers and address the power imbalance with employers. There appears to be no substantive alternative that allows a degree of democracy in the workplace.

“Countries with high levels of union density tend to be less unequal and have more comprehensive welfare systems. We argue that trade unions have a continuing relevance in the 21st century both for employees in the labour market and wider society.”

Daryl D’Art says; “This book provides a unique detailed focus on union recognition in contemporary Irish industrial relations, incorporating extensive comparisons with European and Anglo-Saxon countries. Using large-scale surveys in Ireland and Europe, we find not only a strong belief in the need for unions but a strengthening of this conviction among employees since the early 1980s.

“Results show a significant positive effect on political participation, with associated higher levels of political activism and electoral participation. We conclude that there is a significant union representation gap in private sector services, lower skill occupations and among younger workers.”

Michelle O’Sullivan says, “The trade union movement is increasingly feminised. Female workers have a strong orientation towards unions and solidarity, while studies of unionisation by immigrant workers highlight the importance of the length of residency, and sector, in determining union membership levels.

“In the first representative survey of MNCs operating in Ireland we explore determinants of unionisation and rates of ‘double-breasting,’ where firms simultaneously operate union and non-union sites. We assess the implications of the Supreme Court Judgement in Ryanair v The Labour Court and the legislative options operating in states with similar constitutional frameworks.”


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