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Trade Unions - how not to build the resistance

Trade union activists dismayed at the role of ICTU and the leadership of the unions have been able to hold onto the hope that a left section of the bureaucracy would break away and provide an alternative leadership for militant trade unionists.  This unstated belief has in fact been the base of the approach of the left to the majority  of trade union campaigns.  The chief figure in this scenario has been Mick O’Reilly, leader of the ATGWU.  Mick, and another official Eugene Mc Glone have been under fierce attack from ICTU and from their own union bureaucracy.  They have been suspended and face a whole hodgepodge of charges that may lead to their dismissal from their posts.

Most militants are convinced that O’Reilly is under attack for positions he holds that are to the left of the ICTU leadership.

He opposes the PPF deal with bosses and Government

He gave a home to Brendan Ogle and ILDA train drivers after they failed to win union recognition

ATGWU itself took industrial action to attempt to establish negotiating rights for the rail drivers.

Since his suspension there has been persistent talk of a new union being formed. Does all this provide the basis for a new resistance, building in the trade unions rather than the ‘political’ left?

Sadly the answer is almost certainly no.

Mick O’Reilly was proposing amendments to the PPF, not an overarching alternative.

He intervened to give a home to ILDA members after they were defeated, not during the strike.  Solidarity action then would have made a difference, but would also have involved the ATGWU in full-scale conflict with the PPF.

It was ICTU and the ATGWU bureaucracy in Britain who decided to up the ante.  Even a relatively timid opposition was considered too much - they brought in tighter rules to prevent workers changing unions and then a series of charges against the ATGWU officials.  Even then, there was the basis of a significant campaign both in the ATGWU and in the trade union movement as a whole. Sadly Mick and his colleague decided to remain bound by a union gagging order.  In their absence the campaign withered.

What was left were persistent rumours of a new union, but these existed on their own, without an open campaign in the trade unions.

Again it was the bureaucracy who went on the offensive, challenging and facing down the union branches that had been named and going on to declare that ILDA members could not remain in the union of their choice but must rejoin the SIPTU union that had scabbed on them.  This ruling, it appears, applies even though the rule change came after ILDA joining ATGWU and it also applies to former NBRU who were never members of ICTU.

Behind the appearance of a new union movement lies the reality of a right wing offensive.  The ‘Left’ bureaucracy are too weak to defend themselves.  A new trade union movement can’t be built in advance of a serious campaign to try to advance a policy of defence of the working class and an attempt to win back democratic control of the unions around that policy.

Even to state a realistic policy of regroupment is to indicate how difficult the struggle will be, but we can’t even begin that struggle if we close our eyes to reality.



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