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'Your Job is Yours as a Right. Fight and Fight Again for It!'

category national | worker & community struggles and protests | feature author Tuesday September 07, 2004 01:57author by seedot Report this post to the editors

The language of the IWU.

Two journalists from Indymedia went to meet Ray O'Reilly from the Independent Workers Union, along with a couple of IWU members who work in Dublin Bus. This article covers part of that interview, the discussion on the Irish Trade Union movement and its constituent parts.

"Your job is yours as a right." To read this in a trade union statement makes you feel like it must be labour history, not a letter drafted by the IWU to be sent to the Aer Lingus Workers about their current predicament. And yet Ireland's youngest union is the one that was smart enough to register the internet domain: and the letter is up on their website. They have overcome the main legal hurdle to establishing a viable trade union (a negotiating license) and have an evangelical belief in trade unionism that expresses itself in language that comes straight from the 19th century proletariat that gave birth to the movement. Ray talks of "...restoring the Trade Union movement as the organised arm and voice of working people."

There is another funny thing about the IWU - When asked why they are different from other unions they talk of their principles as if they were a creed that was in danger of being lost. Anybody who has been following the Irish trade Union movement's squabbles over the last few years, especially ILDA's struggle for representation, will see the reason for the particular list of principles. But from the outside it reads like an indictment of the labour movement that these have become principles that differentiate one union from the rest. Surely the right to free association, the openness and transparency of the unions, the primacy of members decision making are going to be part of any trade union's core principles? Article continues here . . .

Audio Clips of Interview
arm and voice - 16 seconds - 250kI believe - 1 min 16 seconds - 1.2mbIWU and Congress - 59 seconds - 937kbIn their place - 1 m 12s - 1.1mbIndentured Servants - 16 seconds 263kbSIPTU - 1 m 36s 1.5mb

Related Articles on Indymedia
IWU CharterOrganising home helps in CorkInaugural IWU ConferenceIWU members victimised in Dublin Bus
Blind Alley of the IWU A response to the article by Liberty Hall Langer

Other Background Material
IWU WebsiteSIPTU websiteLabour History of Ireland ArchiveIrish Labour History Society
Note on Links in story: Most links are to mp3 files which are hosted on

On their website the IWU display the images of Connolly and Larkin, which is perhaps particularly justified given that they are possibly the only union using the language of Connolly and Larkin today. They see themselves as reclaiming the labour movement from the bureaucrats.

When Ray talks about Connolly and Larkin turning in their graves if they were to know of what became of the ITGWU (which merged into SIPTU), he focuses on the issues that have coloured many people's views of SIPTU , especially in the airport and their sweetheart deal in Luas. Unions that manage redundancies for state companies and weaken their membership by removing their right to strike bring out more than the cynicism that most of us feel, his language reflects the anger felt at the state of the movement. The obvious question about working within the existing structures focuses on the need to have a union that was not in the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, which is classified as "an arm of the state."

It is when we speak about Trade Unions and the state that I start to get a warm glow. I have heard many trade unionists complain about partnership with the bosses, about the corrupting impact of negotiating with government but when I ask Ray O'Reilly about the 1990 Industrial Relations Act his answer is much more straightforward on an issue that I feel is often overlooked: "laws are designed in democratic bourgeois societies like ours to keep the working class in their place". Now whether you believe this of all laws or not, I think few can doubt this was the purpose of the 1990 IR Act, and that it is pretty successful in doing so. I think that it is a huge failure of the labour movement - which I pay my dues to - that no-one else will say this.

Maybe we should be charitable and say the reason nobody else is saying this type of thing is because they are scared. Maybe they feel that Ireland is not ready for the language of the 19th century labour movement to be used in analysing the reality of today's workers. But surely during the recent citizenship referendum the trade union movement could have offered the accurate analysis of our immigrant workforce as "somewhere between indentured servants and slaves." What could have happened?

It seems that the IWU may be discovering what happens when you use language like this, when you reintroduce a trade unionism that many thought had long gone. They have members on suspension for distributing trade union material in their workplace. In Ireland in 2004 the HR representative of a state company can inform the nation on radio that this is justified, since these workers can only join pre-set unions. Individual workers in the company instinctively know that they should support the IWU members - but where is the movement? Where is 'An Injury to one is an Injury to All."?

Maybe that is why they are scared, maybe the Irish Trade Union movement has forgotten what made it strong. But whether you are a member of a union or not it doesn't take too much to feel that the right of the IWU to have its language heard must be supported.

Further material from the interview tapes will be released later. Copyleft for non-commercial use. Alternative versions available (OGG file is big)

audio testing 0 Mb

author by jonny B. Goodepublication date Wed Sep 08, 2004 11:19author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I am delighted to read and hear some sensible words from a union in Ireland, too long have we had to deal with corrupt and uncaring unions who's only aim seems to be to "look after themselves" and get special treatment.

It does not matter which union you belong to or even if you do not belong to one, this union needs support because the state and the other unions will do their best to kill this one off.

If this is allowed to happen then real trade unionism will be dead and buried forever, the government and the other unions will never allow another negotiating licence to be issued to another union and we will all have to pay the price for that by having our rights under the constitution and the laws of the land refused to us.

Remember through all of the problems and the illegal treatment of their members the IWU has not taken any industrial action, no picketing and is relying on the law to deal with these issues. The IWU seems to be behaving in a manner which can only inspire confidence in it's ability to represent it's members in a lawful, honest and well thought out manner and not to so do by using bully boy tactics.

Good Job and congrats to the IWU I will be joining.

author by Related - perhapspublication date Wed Sep 08, 2004 14:08author address author phone Report this post to the editors

On fighting for a job. Sorta cco-anarchist take on the whole work ethic thing.

Related Link:
author by IMPACT memberpublication date Thu Sep 09, 2004 13:53author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Good idea having an independent union, will look up site and find out more info about joining etc. Just see that the photo of the info table is set up in the space in front of the Central Bank. May I suggest that you dont bother with that spot in the future and cross the river to Henry Street instead, so some real people will know about the union? The main crowd at the central bank spot are primarily punks from places with "Rath-", "Dun-" or "-rock" in the name, who are more concerned with keeping their mohawks and badges up to date than dealing with the real world.

author by Chekovpublication date Thu Sep 09, 2004 14:03author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The picture is from the Mayday rally at central bank, not just any old day. If you remember back to Mayday, DCTU ignominiously decided to call off their traditional march in case they might inconvenience the government's celebrations. When this excuse was scotched by the cancellation of the government's celebrations, they refused to march on the grounds that they didn't want to associate with the anarchist crazies - showing their utter willingness to lap up the propaganda of the capitalist media which was revealed to be utter bullshit on the day itself. So fair play to the IWU for showing up with their banner.

By the way, I remember on the day that the most recent job losses were announced at Aer Lingus and an IMPACT rep was interviewed on RTE. She started her piece by saying "we have to think about the people who will be left behind". Not the merest thought about actually fighting for the jobs it seems. I also remember IMPACT's role in the bin tax dispute when they took an abjectly pro-government line from the start and were overtly hostile to the campaign. I can well understand why IMPACT members might be a little dissatisfied with their representation!

author by Punk Unionpublication date Thu Sep 09, 2004 16:56author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I also remember seeing quite a few mohawks on mayday.
Updating badges - on the street - facing watercannon reality.

Anyway back to the point.
Up the Independent Workers Union.

author by realistpublication date Fri Sep 10, 2004 01:45author address author phone Report this post to the editors

surely only if you made it yourself

author by until it sleepspublication date Mon Sep 13, 2004 00:33author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Militant TUs and full employment are not easy bedfellows.

author by wobblypublication date Mon Sep 13, 2004 17:37author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Unlike the Wobblies who actually fought and died for real policies that shook the establishment such as the battle for a shorter working week, it is hard to see
exactly where they are that different to the existing 'Unions'.
What are they doing to bring Ireland up to the level of social protection enjoyed by such capitalist countries as Sweden and Germany? What are they doing about the lousy amount of holidays that Irish workers get? I dont see too much in this 'new' union to get excited about.

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