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Defend Mick O’Reilly!
The suspension of Mick O’Reilly (and a colleague) as head of the Irish District of the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Union by his bosses in London following an ‘organisational audit’ is a worrying development. So far no justification for the suspension has been offered but O’Reilly has been unable to publicly defend himself because of a gagging order by London, breach of which might give the excuse to turn suspension into a sacking. The membership of the union has thus been left speculating on what is going on leaving them feeling powerless to even form an opinion never mind take action on the basis of it.
Rumours have been rife as to the cause of the suspension with reports circulating that it was the result of a request from Bertie Ahern to Tony Blair to use his influence on the T&G leadership in London to get rid of a thorn in his side. The ICTU leadership felt compelled to disclaim any responsibility in the matter and since he is almost as much a thorn in their side as Bertie’s no pressure will come from them for public justification of the move or opposition to it. This was quite clear from the ICTU Congress in Bundoran where the hierarchy of the union movement was determined not to let it become an issue. This was obvious when delegates were locked into the hall in order to hear Bertie Ahern once again praise social partnership and the role of ICTU enforcing it on workers.
The London leadership of ATGWU took no action when a court case taken out by a woman officer was settled against the union. The central allegation was that the then secretary, John Freeman, had given interview questions to favoured candidates for positions and that the whole Irish organisation was run on corrupt cronyism. Now they swing into action at the suggestion that Mick O’Reilly might be representing workers!
What is abundantly clear is that the suspension is an attack on the rights of workers and of those opposed to partnership with the bosses. The press has already let it be known that it was O’Reilly’s support for the train drivers in the Irish Locomotive Driver’s Association joining the ATGWU that lies behind the suspension. This and O’Reilly’s prominent opposition to social partnership, and lately the Nice Treaty, all point to the inescapable conclusion that as far as the establishment is concerned (an establishment that includes ICTU) there is to be no choice given to workers. ICTU and the state do not want alternative organisations for workers fed up with company-friendly unions. They don’t want alternatives to the cosy social partnership deals and they don’t want anyone voicing political opposition to pro-big business plans encapsulated in the various EU treaties.
All these are good reasons why militants in the union movement and the left must prioritise opposition to the suspension. This can immediately be done by recalling the rank and file union campaign whose founding we reported in the last issue of Socialist Democracy. While it is especially important that a campaign be built in the ATGWU, in Britain as well as Ireland, the threat to Mick O’Reilly is an issue for the whole trade union movement. It is not necessary to agree with everything Mick O’Reilly stands for, and Socialist Democracy certainly has many differences with him, but he is being attacked because he offered workers fed up with the present suffocating consensus an alternative.