Addressing the Challenges of Tomorrow

Later this week (Thursday, 25th, May), delegates representing our members throughout Ireland will assemble for a Special Delegate Conference. We will be there to discuss proposals for a plan for the development of the Union, so that we are best placed to meet the challenges of tomorrow. In this context, we will also be deciding on the future of the Union’s political fund.

The paradox of these new times is presented by the threat of Brexit, Trump and the rise of the political right on the one hand. On the other, here in Ireland, if we can manage to navigate a course through Brexit and Trump’s protectionism, we are on the threshold of making more progress on building our public services between now and the centenary of the foundation of the State in 2022 than in any similar such period since the second world war.

This is because there will be more resources available to the next government than since before the economic collapse almost ten years ago. Moreover, if Brexit plays out as badly for the people in the UK and Northern Ireland as some of the predictions suggest, the prospect of a new and enormously better relationship between the people in both jurisdictions on this island is emerging.

In our analysis, Brexit is not uniquely British, but a manifestation of a wider process of alienation among working people which threatens the very existence of the EU itself. This, of course, is the outcome of the vicious one-sided austerity strategy pursued by those at the top of the European system, (including the Tory Party in the UK), in response to the global economic collapse of 2008.

However, the problem is still more profound. The tension at the heart of Europe pre-dates the economic collapse and originates in the period of the dreadful Barroso presidency of the European Commission which extended from 2004 to 2014. During those years, policy makers in Europe embarked on a nakedly free market globalisation strategy abandoning the essential core compromise between capital and labour that underpinned the post-war European project.

Unfortunately, the lessons have not been learned. While it appears that the present EU Commission president, Jean Paul Juncker, understands the true nature of the contradiction, he is not succeeding in bringing about any significant shift in policy. The net result is the ongoing alienation of tens of millions of working people who, for the moment at least, are embracing the agendas of their deadliest enemies on the political right in several countries. Far from the protection the advocates of resurgent xenophobic nationalism are offering, the outcome, if they succeed, will be the direct opposite.

This is already evident in the core ingredient that is common in all their political programmes from Le Pen to the neo-fascists coming to the fore in Eastern Europe. Ironically, the one common demand among all of them is the commitment to slash corporate tax rates. This would enable the global companies to play one country off against the other. So much for opposing globalisation! No! The collapse of the EU will serve only to exacerbate competitive tensions and the race to the bottom in the workplace.

One way or the other and unless the Left can set aside its differences to wina sufficient degree of power to bring about a dramatic shift among policy makers at the top of the European system in the direction of the core values which underpinned the establishment of the EU itself, the assault on the gains made by the working people of Europe in the post-War years will continue and indeed intensify.

For an ever increasing portion of our people, the notion of a decent job with a secure contact of employment upon which one could establish a family and aspire to a sustainable future will become ever more remote. It behoves all of us who are committed to economic equality and social justice and the cause of those who must sell their labour in order to live, to step up to the mark.

Tragically, thus far, we have been unable to convince enough of those in leadership of the trade union movement in Ireland to set about the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission on the Irish Trade Union Movement which were aimed at equipping organised workers to face the challenges of the future. This despite the fact that they were adopted virtually unanimously at the biennial delegate conferences of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in July 2011 in Killarney and July 2013 in Belfast.

Simultaneously, those who articulate the interests of the great majority of citizens in the political arena, the Labour Party, the Social Democrats, the Left Republicans and those who see themselves as being on the Revolutionary Left remain irretrievably divided and totally antagonistic to each other, thus leaving the field to the centre right.

In these circumstances, we must do our very best to build the most effective organisation possible so as to influence the agenda in the workplace and in the wider political arena.

Simultaneously we must ensure that we work with others to build a stronger, more powerful trade union movement. On Thursday (22nd, May) this will be the focus of our Special Conference which follows a period of consultation throughout the Union extending back to September last year.

The next edition of Liberty will include a full report on the outcome.

by SIPTU President Jack O’ Connor (Originally published in Liberty)

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