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Reversing the tide for workers

Date Released: 27 November 2014

Reclaiming the ground that workers have lost during he economic crisis was the theme of the SIPTU Utilities and Construction Biennial Conference held in Liberty Hall on 21st-22nd November.

In his first key note speech asDivision Organiser, Owen Reidy, said that activists must be prepared to use their industrial power to reverse the erosion of pay and conditions that has occurred over recent years.

He said: “We must be prepared to ballot for action to promote our just aims and ambitions in the future if talking and negotiating fails.

“As Andy Stern the US trade union leaders says, ‘We must use the power of persuasion, but if that fails use the persuasion of power’.”

However, Reidy said that the Division’s use of its industrial power must be done in an intelligent manner, which supported the wider strategy of improving services and infrastructure for all workers.

We must use disputes that gain publicity to create a wider narrative, for example on state subvention and funding forpublic transport rather than exclusively about our members’ conditions and pay.”

He added: “All of us in this room have an opportunity to make a real difference, to leave things better and stronger than when we found them. Our cause is a great cause and one we should be proud to be part of, one for the common good.”

Delegates gave a warm welcome to Jesse Hughes and Ray O’Reilly, representatives of the Greyhound Recycling and Recovery workers who were involvedin a 15-week lockout during 2014. They also passed a motion calling on the union to use all its “influence in securingand supporting the required legislation that would introduce a Joint Labour Committee for the Waste Management Industry thus avoiding a potential race to the bottom.”

Other motions passed included; “opposing the fragmentation and underfunding of transport services by the Government and the National Transport Authority”; support for the SIPTU campaign to secure Collective Bargaining Rights for all workers, and one calling for a lobbying campaign to ensure a minimum of 40% women representation on State Boards by 2016.

The last motion also called for an “end to political patronage and cronyism” and the implementation of “full democratic participation in decision making.”Delegates attended workshops on union organising, shop steward training and the use of strike as a tool today. The restrictions placed on strike action by the 1990 Industrial Relations Act dominated discussion at the workshop on strikes.

Sector Organiser, Adrian Kane, also raised the issue of the willingness of younger people to cross official picket lines when this would have been frowned upon by previous generations. The final day of the conference saw a lively debate on Irish Water. A number of delegates called on the union to mobilise members to take part in the Right2Water ‘People’s Assembly” outside the Dáil on 10th December. There was also general support for a campaign to ensure water supply and services remain in public ownership.

The conference was also addressed by the three national officers of SIPTU, the President of the Utilities and Construction Division, Tommy Wynne and historian Francis Devine on the Labour Movement 1913 to 1916.


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