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Jack O'Connor Conference speech 2013

Date Released: 07 October 2013

Address by Jack O’Connor, General President SIPTU To The SIPTU Biennial Delegate Conference Monday 7th October 2013

 Vice President, Distinguished Guests, Delegates, Comrades and Friends,

Welcome to this historic room for Biennial Delegate Conference 2013, which marks the Centenary of the seminal moment in the story of the working class in this City and on this Island – which appropriately coincides with the World Day of Decent Work.

In the streets hereabouts, one hundred years ago, the Employers of Dublin, aided by the Police, the Media, the Political Elite and the established Churches, tried to batter their fellow citizens, the working people, into submission over six cruel and excruciating months. They set out to deny them any say in the shape of the Ireland that was to follow Home Rule, by suppressing their fundamental right to Freedom of Association, which they chose to exercise by organising into Jim Larkin’s incipient Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union.

Both sides correctly saw in this new Union a vehicle by means of which the working people of this beleaguered Island, the most detested downtrodden in all the British Empire, would challenge the hegemony of those at the top of society and would articulate a vision of an egalitarian equal Ireland.

But the fumblers in the greasy tills were determined to extinguish that and they ruthlessly employed every weapon at their disposal to do it even to the extent of starving thousands of innocent little children to the point of death, while at the same time paying homage to their God.

Despite it all, despite the absolute superiority they enjoyed from every possible perspective they failed. They failed to smash the Union, and by your presence here tonight, as the democratically appointed representatives of almost 200,000 workers and their families, you are bearing witness to their failure.

I want to thank you all and through you all the members of our Union who have stood together throughout the last five terrible years. In particular I want to thank all those who have served as Shop Stewards, Workplace Representatives and Organisers in one role or another during this very difficult period. I want to thank all who are employed in our Organisation who have worked hard throughout. I also want to acknowledge all those down the years through whose efforts our Union has remained a force for Fairness at Work and Justice in our society.

The resistance in 1913 was indeed heroic, in every street, in every tenement in virtually every miserably overcrowded room. Remarkably not only did union members defy the demand to sign William Martin Murphy’s pledge, that they would not organise in the ITGWU, but tens of thousands of others who were not members at all refused to sign – insisting on reserving their fundament alright toFreedom of Association. It was a splendid  demonstration of working class solidarity exemplifying all that is best in the human spirit.

Over the intervening years it became fashionable to depict that heroic resistance, insofar as it was acknowledged a tall, as some kind of opening salvo in a decade of rebellion which resulted in Nationalist Ireland finally evicting the British oppressor from this jurisdiction at least. And yes, that great struggle did go on to inform and perhaps even shape the character of the1916 Rebellion, through the role of Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army, but it was about something far, far greater.

It was part of a wider egalitarian Movement which saw the mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of workers across the UK and the developed world in the years between 1910 and 1914.

It was a period, for example, which saw the number of workers involved in strikes in Britain soar to 515,000 in 1910, 962,000 in 1911 and 1.5 million in 1912.

This was not simply an intensification of industrial battles around pay and conditions of employment -although it certainly was that. It was also informed by a grander aspiration, enlightened by the new Unionists of the 1880s, whichextended to notions of a decent life, access to education, to healthcare, to proper housing and even a say in the architecture of the future. It was characterised by the participation for the first time, although not exclusively, of unskilled workers such as Carters, Dockers, Servants and others.

Far from the classic simplistic Irish versus the British oppressor portrayal, the entire project in all its barbaric brutality was entirely conceived, planned and executed by Irishmen against their fellow citizens. Indeed it was only thanks to the solidarity of British workers organised under the banner of the TUC who contributed the equivalent of £16m in today’s money, that the workers of Dublin managed to survive as long as they did.

It was not a General Strike either as some insist on representing it. It was a Lockout. A savage, unbridled onslaught, on the poor of the City, by the Employers and the rich.

Padraig Yeates in his excellent book “A City in Wartime” captured it perfectly thus: “The Great Lockout of 1913 had been far more than an industrial dispute: it had been a political contest, a public debate played out as street theatre –much of it bloody – about the tyre of society people wanted under home rule. On one side had been the new Irish ruling class in waiting, Catholic, conservative and grasping; on the other had been a loose coalition of socialists, suffragists, trade unionists and radical nationalists who had varying visions of a more democratic, outward-looking and secular society”.

So there it is. The onslaught was not really about an industrial dispute at all. What William Martin Murphy and his contemporaries were really about was ensuring that what they referred to as “the rabble” would have no vehicle by means of which to articulate a say in the future of Home Rule Ireland.

That’s why they deliberately and ruthlessly set out to crush the working people’s Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union. Indeed they revealed their real agenda two years earlier in 1911 when Murphy and the Irish Parliamentary Party which held the balance of power in Westminster successfully secured the exclusion of Ireland from the Health and Unemployment benefit aspects of Lloyd George’s National Insurance Act.

The great battle which unfolded in the streets hereabouts exactly 100 years ago was a confrontation between irreconcilable visions of the future of the world. It was fought out during an extraordinary moment in human history in the long shadow of the Great Depression of 1873 to 1896 and during the countdown to the First World War.

We too are living through one such extraordinary moment – one which will determine the shape of things for years and decades to come. More than five years since the most dramatic and systemic collapse of the capitalist economic system since the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and despite some recent indications of nascent recovery, the future remains far from certain.

These days it is popular to represent that collapse in terms of the result of the actions of a handful of greedy bankers who grossly overstretched themselves aided and abetted by some corruptor incompetent Politicians. This is to limit the blame to the misdemeanours of a few, thus exonerating the system itself so that it can trundle on regardless.

The roots of the crisis lay in the systemic outsourcing of ever increasing proportions of productive capacity in the USA and elsewhere in the Developed World in pursuit of lower labour costs. This saw the collapse of the real purchasing power of the American Middle Class through the suppression of Trade Unions and the demise of Collective Bargaining which was camouflaged by what ultimately became the credit bubble. It was followed by the development of financial alchemy through the Financial Services Industry which accounted for ever growing proportions of GDP in Western Economies without actually making anything. All of it was underpinned by blind faith in the myth of the Market. There are indeed people who should serve long terms in jail for what they did, but jailing them will not fix the fundamental contradictions of the free reign of unbridled free market capitalism.

The response dictated by those same players at the top of the Global Financial system has been exclusively designed in the image of their interests. It has been especially so in Europe where the Authorities in Germany and the other creditor nations have engaged in a complex and deadly juggling act designed to ensure that their own pivotal Banks avoid crystallising the massive losses incurred as a result of reckless lending to the peripheral Countries (including our own) during the bubble years. This would impose the dramatic burden of recapitalisation on their own domestic populations, with awesome political consequences for the elite, (if it didn’t torpedo the financial system altogether). Consequently we in this Country and others were bullied (or conned) into socialising private debt and embracing servicing costs on a scale which will drain economic and social potential for decades to come.

Back in 2009 and 2010 one sided austerity was promoted relentlessly as the “there is no alternative” remedy, on the pretext that it was based on comprehensive and unchallengeable historical analysis. Better still, it was asserted with equal vigour that the key to success was doing it through cutting spending as distinct from increasing the tax take from the better off. In other words by robbing the poor, while insulating the rich as far as possible.

We now know differently. One sided austerity is not a scientifically basedconclusion at all. It’s all codswallop! Indeed no less an authority than the
IMF challenged the whole edifice in a detailed study earlier this year which concluded that the negative multiplier effect of fiscal austerity on stressed economies had been grossly underestimated. Actually it is simply a device for asserting the interests of creditors over debtors. The juggernaut rolls on because it retains its only fundamental attribute – which is that it coincides exactly with the interests of the rich.

These days all the establishment pundits and economic commentators are heralding the “end of the Recession” and the British Tory Press is absolutely gloating in praise of Osbourne’s brutal fiscal strategy. They may be crowing a bit prematurely. Yes, the 2ndquarter results do indicate 0.7% growth in the UK after a long period of austerity induced stagnation, as well as a slight reduction in unemployment. The Eurozone also finally recorded a limp 0.3% growth after six consecutive quarters of decline.

We do not know how things will unfold, but what we do know is that the remorselessly driven one sided austerity strategy has threatened to capsize the Eurozone and that it has condemned millions of citizens to unemployment, forced emigration and misery, especially among the young, on a scale not seen in Europe since the 1950s.

It is difficult to envisage how the stressed countries of the periphery can hope to regain the momentum to offer the hope and opportunity of sustainable jobs to their young people, while burdened by unsustainable levels of debt and in the absence of a major fiscal initiative at European level, to stimulate growth and recovery. Unless there is a marked shift in policy in Berlin and in Brussels, the outlook for these countries and particularly for their young working class  citizens, as well as the old and infirm who depend most on public services, must remain precarious.

It
is as if the future of the peoples of Europe and indeed wider humanity stand
suspended over the edge of a precipice, balanced precariously on the
commitments of the ECB and unprecedented injections of quantitative easing by
the US Fed, running at $85bn per month.

The
central strategy of the people at the top of the European Financial and
Political Establishment is aimed at persuading those corporate interests who
are warehousing trillions of euros, to invest again. In this regard, the
insistence on bargain basement sell offs of state industries and privatising public
provision isn’t just about sovereign debt reduction, it’s also about providing
safe avenues for corporate investment. But the key ingredient of the internal
devaluation strategy is, as always, what they call Labour Market Reform – in
other words – driving down the price of labour by attacking collective bargaining
structures and peoples’ rights at work. Amidst all this the much vaunted notion
of Social Europe has been sidelined. Thus, we see even in Germany the
development of an ever increasing underclass of working poor.

The
Eurozone is an entity with a single currency governed by the most neo-liberally
constructed Central Bank in the World, which has no responsibility for anything
other than preserving the value of money. Consequently there is little prospect
of the erosion of debt relative to GDP through inflation, which means that the
populations of several countries are burdened with life sapping reparations in
perpetuity.

The
threat to the survival of the very fabric of post war democracy has not gone
away. Indeed the ugly spectre of forces which many had considered consigned to
the dustbin of history are re-emerging to stalk the landscape of Europe with
the irrepulsive concoction of racial scapegoating and simplistic snakeoil solutions.

Look
at the Netherlands today where the anti-immigrant so called Freedom Party of
Geert Wilders is commanding more support than any other in the latest opinion
polls – or at the progress of the openly Fascist Golden Dawn Movement in
Greece, now striving to ferment a civil war in that Country, registering as the
third largest political force. These forces are gaining momentum in several
Countries, prospering in the hopeless ness which is directly attributable to
the brutal one sided austerity policy.

Here
on this Island both jurisdictions are going through experiments in one sided austerity.
The one imposed by the Tory/Lib Dem Government in the UK and the other
resulting from the ECB/EU/IMF Troika “Agreement”.

The
slashing of the block grant to Northern Ireland by £4bn over 4 years, as part
of the UK Government’s plan to save £80bn is aggravating decline and destroying
jobs. Youth unemployment now stands at 25%. The 80%:20% spending to tax ratio
of their adjustment, which insulates the rich, translates into the so called
Social Welfare reforms and privatisation of public services. This means
additional misery for the working poor and those most dependent on public
provision. The implications for the maintenance of intercommunal harmony and
consolidating the Peace Process seems to register well down the ranking in the
order of priorities of the UK Government. And we are scheduled to receive a
detailed report on the situation there prior to the debate on Wednesday
afternoon.

Since
the collapse of 2008, budgetary consolidation in this Republic has amounted to
€28bn or 18% of GDP – all to cut the fiscal deficit by a mere €6bn. Meanwhile
the domestic economy, which contributes a massive 74% to GDP has fallen by 24%
and is still plummeting. It is hard to imagine a more painful route towards
such a meagre outcome.

Even
Professor Asoka Mody, the original architect of the IMF in the development of
the Austerity Programme here, has recanted in the light of the overwhelming
evidence of the damage itis doing. Of course, his empirically based conclusions
have been rubbished by the purveyors of the hair shirt now that he is gone
off-script.

All
of which brings us to Budget 2014. In this regard it is worth noting that we
are now arriving at the point where state revenue will almost equal the cost of
all our public services. Government borrowing after 2014 will be entirely for
the purpose of servicing debt. Next year it will amount to €8.48bn or an estimated
4.9% of GDP, (about twice the Public Capital Programme of developed Countries)
and more than one-fifth of total tax revenue.

About
40% of the debt is attributable to the dreadful decision of 29th September 2008
to socialise the recklessly incurred debts of those at the top of our banking
system. This poses the question as to whether we should repudiate the debt and
unilaterally default on it.

We
have considered calling for it but we do not think it would be wise to do so in
a Country which is now so integrated into the Eurozone and which depends on FDI
for 50% of its manufacturing employment and 96% of its total exports. The time
to avoid the banking debt burden was by refusing to ratify the guarantee on the
morning of 30th September2008 but unfortunately it was opposed by only one
political party in the Oireachtas – The Labour Party – on that fateful day. The
problem with default is that it could become a one way ticket to the Stone Age!
We may yet have to do it but it would be better to wait for a restructuring of
debt at European level. It may take a while yet, but it will come when the
chickens of the current policy come flocking home to roost on the order books
of German manufacturers.

All
that being said the Promissory Note Deal means that the Government does have
some flexibility on the scale o fthe “adjustment” for the first time since it
was elected. . We are totally opposed to doing one cent more than the absolute
minimum required to achieve the 5.1% deficit target for 2014. The objective
must be to find the best and most painless route to the 3% deficit by 2015

The
fact of the matter is that if we are to achieve it, our GDP must grow to more
than €181bn by then from a projected €168bn this year – entailing cumulative
normal growth of 5.3% over the period. This cannot be done unless we stop
suffocating domestic demand which accounts for three quarter of the economy and
which remains in free-fall due to austerity policies.

The
Government must follow through by immediately leveraging the €6bn plus
Strategic Investment Fund money and anymore that can be found, into the economy
as rapidly as possible to provide social infrastructure and to enhance
productivity and competitiveness for the future. We have been calling for this
since Mayday 2011. This is the way to meet the target and it is also the way to
generate tens of thousands of jobs and to alleviate the misery being endured in
our society.

Otherwise,
as to the distribution of the adjustment itself, we call on the Fine Gael Party
to lift their veto on a tax contribution from the rich so that the biggest
element would be funded entirely by those who can most afford it. The public
tolerance for austerity has passed breaking point.

The
Nevin Institute has clearly laid out how an additional €1.65bn can be
contributed by the better off over two budgets without either increasing the
marginal rate of personal taxation or the standard rate of Corporation Tax.

If
they insist on over egging the pudding to impress the financial markets, there
is another way to stimulate domestic demand and that is by substantially
increasing pay. Yes, significant pay increases against the background of five
years of restraint would actually help the economy considerably. Indeed this
was one of the inconvenient truths ignored by the Austerity junkies back in
2009 when they were citing our emergence from the 1980s recession as support
for the absurd “expansionary fiscal contraction” rubbish that we don’t hear
very much about nowadays.

The
average industrial wage rose by14% between ’86 and ’89 contributing
significantly to the recover (along with a number of other factors) by boosting
Government revenue and private consumption. A rise in real earnings need not
dramatically affect the Country’s export competitiveness. Already, Ireland’s
real effective exchange rates (deflated by consumer prices) has fallen by 17%
relative to our trading partners since peaking in Spring 2008 (Source: Central
Bank).

Therefore
if the adjustment exceeds the 5.1% target we will propose that the Private
Sector Committee of Congress should spearhead a radical new drive for pay
increases across the economy.

The
response of the Trade Union Movement in today’s crisis is often compared
negatively with the heroism of1913. It’s worth pointing out that although there
were numerous sympathetic actions, what took place then was nota General Strike
– it was the exact opposite – a General Lockout designed to exterminate the
nascent Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union.

The
Workers’ were given no alternative to negotiate an Agreement of any kind. And
there was one other crucially important ingredient – our people had nothing to
lose – absolutely nothing to lose.

Today,
thanks to them and to countless battles over the intervening years, most
working people still have a very great deal to lose – even notwithstanding the
amount of ground which has been conceded over the past few years. And thus far
at least we have had alternatives – even if they are bad alternatives.

We
still have the option of going all out in one great pitched battle. We certainly
could give a good account of ourselves if all the elements of our disparate Movement
pulled together. But would it ultimately take our people to a better place?
Remember it’s not just our own employers and the Government, which incidentally
is democratically elected, that we would be confronting - but the Troika as
well.

These
are utterly ruthless people who have already demonstrated in Greece that they
are quite prepared to let the democratic system collapse to achieve their
objectives. No-one can say with certainty what the outcome would be – and we
may still have to do it, because this crisis is far from over. But there are no
each way bets in class warfare – it’s winner takes all. This was the bitter
lesson learned by our comrades in Britain when some of them staked all in a
once off pitched confrontation during the so called “winter of discontent” in
1978/79. They ended up with eighteen uninterrupted years of Thatcherism for
their trouble – which saw the reversal of a major proportion of the gains made
by the Labour and Trade Union Movement there since the 2nd World War.

There
is more than one way of fighting a war. It’s like being accosted by a band of
armed robbers on a remote Country road on a dark, wet, winter’s night,
demanding your car on pain of your life. You can mix it with them in the hope
of overcoming them or give them the car and suffer the misery of carrying on -
on foot. You can get another car but you can’t get your life back. No-one could
reasonably accuse anyone of being unprincipled for making such a decision.

If
it’s not possible to storm the ramparts of the other side without exposing the
Men, Women and Children on our own side to unsustainable risk, we must opt for
the next best option. This entails adopting a rear-guard strategy –erecting
such fortifications as we can and organising behind them to hold as much ground
as possible. Meanwhile we fight where we can win. Indeed we, in this Union,
have sanctioned industrial action in almost 40 instances over the last two
years. In this regard I want to make it absolutely clear that members who make
democratic decisions by secret ballot vote to take action in defence of
existing Agreements or to advance their interests will receive our absolute and
fullest support. Similarly we have been engaged in almost 30separate ground
campaigns on a whole range of social justice issues over the same period.

The
essential fortifications we have been involved in building are:

The
Protocol with the Employers in the Private Sector. The Croke Park and
Haddington Road Agreements in the Public Service 3. And doing everything we
could to head off a single Party monopoly Fine Gael Government (or worse, one
dependent on a handful of Right Wing Independents)

In
this latter regard some people say that this Government is the same as a Fine
Gael Government or worse. Well look at that Party’s Election Manifesto. Look at
their plan to effect the adjustment on a 73%:27% spending to taxation ratio by
2014(not 2015). That would have meant well in excess of €1.2bn in additional
cuts thus far.

And
look their plan for the legal mechanisms that protected the pay and conditions
of over 200,000 workers and which serve as the threshold of decency for the
entire workforce. Do we seriously think that such a Government would enact
legislation to put them back in place after they had been stuck down by the
High Court? No, they would not – indeed they would have dismantled them in the
first place.

And
look at their New Era policy where they planned to sell off all our State
Enterprises, our Airports, Ports and Harbours which are critical to the
resurgence of our economy?

In
the public Transport Sector we are faced with a battle to head off of tendering
out of 10% of bus routes. But we would have a different problem with such a
government – because the Fine Gael Manifesto said: “ We will completely
overhaul the bus market in Ireland by introducing competitive tendering for all
bus routes in the Country as soon as practicably possible”.

And
does anybody seriously think that the Programme for Government would include
acommitment to legislate for Collective Bargaining Rights – 1913 Centenary or not?

People
say these things would never happen – well they would and worse - because in
the event of such an outcome the moderate wing of the Fine Gael Party would
beside-lined.

The
political right across the World has long since learned how to concentrate misery
on the poor, the people who work in the Public Service and the lower paid
workers – a large minority, granted – but a minority nonetheless, thus preserving
a permanent electoral majority for themselves.

Look
for example at how Cameron, Clegg and Osbourne are driving their austerity
agenda on an 80%:20% ratio which is now moving to 85%:15%.

At
the endof the day, Delegates, unpopular and all as it is to say it, it comes
down to the distinction between making noise and making a difference! The
Labour Party is defending working people and civil society within this
Government to the limits of their electoral mandate. They are battling at the
very gates of hell, outnumbered by more than two to one and against the
background of the straightjacket of the Troika Agreement. This is not apparent
to people, but unless those of us who know it have the courage to say it there
is a real danger that we will end up with a Government that will dismantle the
core gains of a century of Trade Union work.

Does
that mean that this is what we expected when we recommended a vote for Labour
and transfers to the other parties on the Left? No! But the electorate chose
differently. Does it mean that we regard the Government’s Budgets to date as
fair – no we most certainly do not! But neither do we subscribe to the simplistic
- “It’s all Labour’s fault” analysis - because it ignores the elephant in the
room – the inconvenient truth that 60% of those who went out to vote in the
last election voted for Fine Gael and Fianna Fail and the others who guaranteed
the rich that they would be required to contribute little or nothing – and that
based on the current opinion polls if there were an election in the morning
those people would still command an absolute majority in the next Dáil.

We
do not indulge in describing the Sinn Fein Party’s economic policies as
“fantasy economics” either. They are not fantasy economics. They are
increasingly largely consistent with the analysis of the Nevin Institute.
Neither do we challenge the integrity of the people further to the Left. But we
do respectfully argue that there is a poverty of ambition on the Left. It’s not
sufficient to vie for leadership of the Opposition.

The
Left has a responsibility to embrace the lessons of history and to build a
unified, cohesive and credible alternative that faces the hard choices to
challenge the outlook and value system that has been dominant in Ireland since
1922. – Otherwise it will never command the support of a majority of the
electorate.

We
want to work with everybody who is committed to the principles of social solidarity.
The great tragedy is that the decade of Rebellion which followed the 1913
Lockout did not bring about an Ireland informed by the Egalitarian ideals of
those who led the Resistance.

Instead
public policy in both of the jurisdictions which emerged has always reflected the
interests and the values of William Martin Murphy and his kind. Individual
greed has always been prioritised over the interests of the public good.

Even
to the extent that the right to Collective Bargaining, the core issue at stake
in the Lockout, which is respected in virtually every EU Country, is still
denied in this Republic.

It
all led ultimately to the credit led property bubble here and the seminal
decision of the night of 29th September 2008, which saw the Government of the day
sign us all up for the colossal debts of our reckless bankers, condemning us to
our third existential crisis in sixty years and generations to a legacy of reparations.

Ireland’s
debt to GDP ratio has increased by almost the entire size of the Irish economy in
the six years since 2007, to 123% of GDP. This is the third largest increase in
public debt across advanced industrialised countries since 1900.

Unless
we can secure a very good deal on retrospective recapitalisation of the Banks,
the rate of interest on Ireland’s debt servicing bill will exceed the rate of economic
growth. We will have to generate primary surpluses each year.

That
means the volume of tax revenues will have to exceed day to day public spending,
either by additional increases in taxes or further cuts to spending. Thus we
are facing intense pressure on public services and a major on-going battle
around sources of taxation for years to come. This cannot be sustained by a
fragile recovering economy over the medium term.

The
prospects for Europe too are more uncertain than they have been any time since World
War II. At the very least we are moving into a new and more brutal phase of
capitalism. One thing is clear – the future will not be the same as the past.

We
do have one advantage over all the others – the best birth rate in Europe. Yet
we are sending our young people away to build economies across the world every
day of the week.

The
value system of William Martin Murphy and his kind has failed spectacularly, in
Ireland and in Europe. It has delivered nothing only unemployment, emigration
and misery. As we emerge from the embers of our third major economic collapse
in sixty years it’s time to revisit the other value system which was so
brutally suppressed in 1913.

Would
not the egalitarian values of equality, community and solidarity provide a
better more sustainable basis upon which to construct the future? And would not
today – World Day of Decent Work – be a good day to start?

Perhaps
agood place to begin would be by conducting an extensive, comprehensive and detailed
study as to why it is that other small countries in Europe have succeeded while
we have failed.

Why
is it that Countries such as Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden are
able to maintain higher employment rates and consistently lower debt levels,
despite vastly better public provision and social infrastructure underpinned by
higher levels of public spending funded by taxation, than us? And incidentally
substantially higher proportions of their workforces are organised in Unions.
What is in their value system that has enabled them to do it – and what is
missing from ours?

However
unless the Trade Union Movement steps up to the mark – the architecture of the future
-and a bleak increasingly barbaric future it will be – will be left exclusively
to the ideological descendants of William Martin Murphy and his kind. The Trade
Union Movement, despite all its faults, is the only force in society that is
exclusively owned by working people in whose interests it is to reassert the
values of social solidarity in the public domain. We cannot bring about a
Socialist Utopia overnight but by combining our resources across the Movement
we have the capacity:


  • To fund and equip the Nevin Institute to enable us to develop the
    concept of a new and socially sustainable all Island economic model respecting
    the dynamics of the Free Market but securely tethered to the interests of the
    public good and to advocate for it across every media everyday

  • To build a Workers’ College to offer a comprehensive and
    enlightened education, to degree level, as an alternative to the increasing corporate
    colonisation of Academe

  • To create a fully staffed media vehicle to challenge the virtual
    hegemony of corporate influence in the dissemination of news, information and
    ideas

  • To establish a properly staffed Trade Union Centre in every County
    to provide information, advice and support to Workers and Communities battling
    to defend their interests and to serve as focal solidarity centres,
    administered by vibrantly democratic Trades Councils

  • To co-ordinate our industrial and consumer potential to exhort
    massive pressure on all those who deny workers respect and dignity.

No
one Union can accomplish this alone but together we can build a powerful social
force for Fairness at Work and Justice in our Society. We should not lead
working people into avoidable battles if we can build alternatives to protect
them. And when we do lead them into confrontation we have an obligation to
provide them with the capacity to win. We have to focus on building a Movement
again, instead of functioning on the basis of a multiplicity of industrial
relations Institutions. Tinkering around the edges won’t do.

We
have to face up to the other inconvenient truth too. We have to stop treating
those employers who deny workers the fundamental right to Collective Bargaining
better than those who respect it. This means shifting a significant proportion
of income to organising and combatting exploitation.

It
also means paying as much attention to the success of enterprises where Unions
are recognised as we do to everyday negotiations and representations, to ensure
that good pay, pensions and conditions of employment are sustained through productivity,
innovation and skill.

Similarly
we have to recognise as well that the most important weapon in the battle to keep
public services public is to ensure that they are actually superior, the most
efficient and the best value for money and we have to reflect this in every
aspect of our work. Otherwise the other side will inherit the future and dictate
the agenda in the workplace by reference to the rules of the race to the
bottom.

Delegates –all the commemorations are important, but if we are really seriously true to the memory of the heroic Men and Women of 1913 – we must equip working people to win again. This would be living up to the legacy of those who struggled and starved in the streets hereabouts to insist on the right to a decent life. By working together across the Movement we can assert the values that sustained them through that heroic struggle, or we can choose instead to settle for relegation to the role of whingers on the side-lines of history while the ideological descendants of William Martin Murphy and his kind reinstate their model of society and get back to business as usual for another century.

Delegates, we stand at the crossroads of history, starkly challenged by the choice between making noise and making a difference. This is our watch – it’s down to us – we must not fail our children and future generations.

ENDS

 


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