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The Ghost of partnership past 
…. or a tale of partnership present?

A cautionary tale from the Irish National Teachers Organisation.

John McAnulty

5 July 2006

Just why working people should oppose partnership, and why that means fighting to depose the existing trade union leadership, was illustrated by a cautionary tale from the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO). 

The tale began at the Easter Congress of the union when an overwhelming majority of delegates, in the face of bitter opposition from the executive, voted to withdraw co-operation from the school inspectorate. The delegates were opposed to the publication of school reports and suspected that the aim was to establish school league tables and establish the market-style system that had caused such chaos in Britain. 

The employers responded immediately. Education minister Mary Hanafin announced that support for the new inspection regime was built into the current 'sustaining progress' agreement - in other words, the INTO bureaucracy had already sold out on this issue.

The teachers were not the only public service workers to find out that their leaders had surrendered important rights under the benchmarking elements of partnership. They were alone in attempting to do something about it. Right away they ran into the mechanisms of 'sustaining progress'. Mary Hanafin informed them that the latest tranche of pay due to them was being witheld, and the union bureaucracy retired in disarray.

Hence the 'consultative conference'. The consultative conference was not held to consult, but to inform the membership that the leadership had decided, on legal advice, to abandon policy decided by congress. To add insult to injury, they held a 26-county consultative conference, ignoring the Northern delegates to congress.

In the aftermath of the conference a leading member of the union resigned in protest at the clear negation of union democracy by the executive. 

Mary McIntyre, who has been the INTO representative for Donegal and Leitrim for five years, said there is a fear in the INTO that the publication of reports could lead to league tables. 

“I have to take the views of the teachers here back to Dublin and the view was that we should not be co-operating with publication of whole school evaluations. What happened was like having a general election, not liking the result and then ignoring it and carrying on like before”. 

Mary McIntyre said that she resigned as she felt the decision by the CEC was undemocratic and went against the wishes of the majority of INTO members.

“I have resigned because the CEC took the decision to ignore the Congress and ignore the feelings of members on the ground by not asking the minister to defer publication,” she said. “I felt that I could not condone the disregard for the democratic process. I resigned because I felt that I could not sit and say I agreed with what was done.”

An honest enquirer might ask: Why is it that the one member of the executive upholding union democracy resigns and the rest stay on?  Shouldn’t it be the other way around?  If the executive find themselves unable to carry out the commands of congress shouldn’t they proffer their resignations? And shouldn’t this be doubly the case where it was the executive itself, in the fine print of the last agreement, who sold out the member’s rights on this and many other issues?

But this would only be the case if the executive were representing the workers against the bosses.  The rules of democracy, even the rules of decency and shame, do not apply when the union executive are representing the bosses to the workers.

The Ghost of partnership future

There are many who would defend the executive.  An isolated incident they would say – unions are caught between a rock and a hard place – we have to live in the real world – the leadership are doing their best to secure the long-term interests of members.

Unfortunately for these apologists, the INTO executive at the 'consultative conference' made it absolutely clear that there was more than one congress directive that they were intent on ignoring.  The major discussion at congress, alongside the question of inspections, was about the impact of benchmarking and productivity deals on the working conditions of teachers.  Speaker after speaker were bitterly critical of the executive and of the situation under partnership where what had used to be automatic elements of pay bargaining – elements to compensate for the effects of inflation and cost of living – now had to be earned with speedup and productivity.  It was only by desperate effort that the leadership avoided an absolute ban on any productivity discussions.

Now they return to the consultative conference.  They are clearly part of the ICTU bloc supporting the latest partnership deal.  The deal agreed? – exactly what the Congress opposed! A cost of living increase payment that will be hard pressed to keep up with inflation and in return endless concessions on conditions and even on the existing provision for a public education service.

The fact is that we are locked in a spiral of retreat that has not yet reached its limits.  The more the union executives deny basic internal democracy, the more that working conditions deteriorate, the weaker the unions become and the more demoralised the rank and file members, thus opening the way for further betrayals by the executive.

All the more reason to sound the alarm over the present tactics of the left in opposing the current partnership proposals.  Demoralised themselves, socialists inside the bureaucracy are hunkering down and keeping quiet. Outside the union structures, major elements of the left want to embrace sections of the bureaucracy who show the slightest disagreement with any element of the current deal – ‘go back and negotiate a better partnership!’ is the current call.

The experience inside INTO should be written in letters of fire across the foreheads of these socialists – No to partnership! Defend union democracy! Oust the bureaucracy! 
As it is, individual members of the unions are showing a higher level of class counciousness than those who aspire to represent the class as a whole.



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