Trade Unionism – Goodbye to all that!
18th March 2006
The INTO conference in Limavady on 3rd March was, unusually for such conferences, full of drama and surprise. In the biggest switch to the right in a generation, the union endorsed the savage cuts and political reaction contained in the British policy document 'The Review of Public Administration' (RPA). It invited representatives of the government to join the internal union discussion and justified everything in the name of partnership between unions and bosses.
Perhaps the least surprising element of the mix was Northern secretary Frank Bunting's defence of partnership. In an outspoken attack on myself he said: 'John McAnulty would die in a ditch against partnership - so be it - partnership is the way forward'.
This seems straightforward enough - after all, INTO is one of the leading unions supporting partnership with the government and bosses in the 26 counties. The surprise comes with reflection. 26 county partnership is a formal agreement that claims to contain concessions to the workers. There is no corresponding 6 county agreement. 'Partnership' in the North is in fact servitude, where the union bureaucracy doesn't bother to disguise the subordination of the worker's interests to those of the bosses.
Rather more dramatic was the announcement that union delegates would be helped to their decision by the bosses. The bureaucracy had decided to invite the civil service mandarin responsible for implementing the policy both to introduce the discussion and to respond to questions within the debate. With little protest the delegates lost their democratic right to decide union policy in private and the meeting lost it's status as a union conference.
To be fair to the Mandarin, he left INTO
members in no doubt about what they were signing up to.
Provo supporters were silent because their leadership welcome the promise of control and patronage in councils west of the Bann and because the leadership have kept only a sham opposition to issues like water charges, retaining support for their earlier commitments to the British during the Good Friday negotiations. More interesting was the silence of the Socialist party members in the INTO leadership. At the last Northern conference they were holding fringe meetings urging unity against education cuts. Now they are silent when the leadership they are part of endorses the cuts. Following the Irish Ferries defeat the Socialist party said clearly that the struggle was defeated and that the bureaucracy were responsible. They hinted at a break from the union leadership. Their silence in the face of this sharp right turn means that their practice remains one of unity with the union bureaucracy.
A grim time lies ahead – what Peter Hain
calls ‘year zero’ for public service. Budget cuts, job cuts, wage cuts,
pension cuts. When teachers awake to this reality they will find that those
they expected would defend them have lined up on the other side of the
barricade. That’s why it is so important to build a network of public
service workers today.