For a decade now, thepeople of Ireland, North and South of the border have been crucifiedby a cabal of political parties wedded to the interests ofcapitalists. For a decade, cuts have been inflicted against the mostvulnerable in society in order to “balance the budget”. For adecade, trade unions have not been actively recruiting into theirunions from the waves of people joining the workforce. Trade Unionmembership has dramatically declined and with it so has the share ofwealth workers receive for their work. What does that mean?
In practice it means thatwhen a worker heads out for a days work, they make a wage – thiswage is a predetermined amount they’ve agreed with their employer inexchange for a set amount of hours or a piece rate of work done. Thetrend in Ireland for the last 25 years is that the share of thewealth the worker gets in the form of their wage or other benefitshas steadily declined. This decline is in conjunction with thedecline of union membership and the amount of days workers go onstrike.
According to TASC, wealthinequality in Ireland is rampant with their report ‘The Distributionof Wealth’ stating that 72.7% of the net wealth is held by the top20% in Irish society. The bottom half of the population has 5% of thewealth. These stark numbers may not mean a lot, but what it in effectmeans is that wealth is concentrated in the hands of an ever growingminority of people in Ireland while the rest of us get bread crumbs.
How is that relevant tothe trade union movement and it’s decline is the most immediatequestion worth asking. Well – a trade union is a voluntary body ofworkers and unemployed people that represents their interests,primarily but not exclusively against employers. They represent theirinterests by defending them, as a group, against any attempts to cuttheir wages, manipulate their conditions or mistreat them. They alsorepresent their interests by lodging requests for pay increases whenthe enterprise they are working in is performing well. If the workersare working hard and as a result of this hard work an enterprise isdoing well – then they deserve a greater share of the wealth theycreate.
Another important featurein the decline of union activity and radicalism have been ‘socialpartnership’ deals which effectively lock trade unions into ensuringtheir members do not engage in radical or militant action. Inexchange for this shepherding, the state guarantees pay increases.One could call it naivety – somebody else could call it classcollaboration, whatever you call it, the emphasis of anybodiesanalysis should be on the consequences of the strategy ICTU has takenin the last 25 years. The consequences are mentioned above but torepeat and summarize, a rapid decline in industrial action and uniondensity has befallen the union movement. Therein lies the problem. Asecondary and supplementary issue would be the influence the LabourParty of Ireland continue to exert within the Trade Union movement.The Labour Party has been in coalition with Fine Gael and overseenthe most ruthless of austerity, despite all of this SIPTU continuesto be affiliated to it.
Taking into considerationthese issues – the tasks of revolutionaries seem straightforward.If most workers in Ireland, North and South, are not organised orrepresented, then what is it that we as the spiritual followers ofJames Connolly set about doing? What exactly is our task and solutionto the epidemic within the trade union movement?
For some time now, theConnolly Youth Movement and all its members have made a concertedeffort to educate our members in the importance of trade unions. Ourresearch and engagement with young people concludes that most peoplein the age bracket of the CYM (16-30) now no longer even know what atrade union movement is, or what it does, or how do you join one. Weset about the task of educating our own members as to what tradeunions are. In all our branches we ran workshops on what unions areand how to engage with other young people on encouraging them tojoin. We have made union membership a mandatory element of CYMmembership but after actually explaining why one should join a unionand its benefits. Subsequently – we have made union organising andindustrial organising a key aspect of the strategy that the CYM hastowards changing Ireland. We have done so because electoral politicshave not delivered a greater share of the wealth for the workingclass in Ireland, we have collectively become poorer in the lastdecade. In order to reconsolidate the position of our class andstrengthen it’s position we believe that union regrowth and unionre-organisation should be at the heart of any moves to changeIreland.
The ruling class willtremble significantly more when we organise workers across allsectors of the economy and can at the desired moment grind theeconomy to a halt. That, in my view is one very important expressionof class power that is far above and beyond winning seats here andthere and that is crucially why, the Connolly Youth Movement willcontinue to organise union workshops and actively recruit to tradeunions we believe are politically principled and attempting to changethe tide.
As a movement committed totransferring the ownership of society to the working class,re-energizing the union movement and rebuilding it is one of thefirst steps we are going to focus on.
Article originally published in Forward #27, Connolly Youth Movement, May 2019