From Socialist Voice, October 2004

Another eighteen months of decline

Once again Irish workers are locked in to a national pay agreement under the guise of “social partnership.” The pay element will just about keep abreast of inflation, while workers in very profitable industries, such as finance and banking, where huge profits are being made, will have to watch as their employers rake in the millions. It’s clear now, if it was never clear before, that these agreements are about controlling wages, in particular in the public sector.
     “Social partnership” has been sold down the years as a vehicle by which workers and employees could influence and indeed shape company policy. It was presented as the end of conflict and the beginning of an era of co-operation between labour and capital. Some recent industrial disputes have put paid to these illusions.
     The management of An Post announced that it was closing its SDS parcels service, with the loss of 270 jobs—this on top of job losses in relation to part-time sorting staff. The National Implementation Body, which was set up under the “Sustaining Progress” deal, called for the management of An Post to review its operational procedures in relation to its decision to close SDS. The Communications Workers’ Union claims that employees were not consulted about the closure. The cornerstone of “partnership” was that workers would have a say; but a spokesperson for the management stated that “the company does not have to consult unions in advance.” In other words, we’ll decide what has to be done, and then we’ll tell you. This is a very strange partnership indeed!
     The management of An Post in particular has shown itself to be one of the most incompetent of all in the public sector. It has squandered millions in buying second-hand machines from Germany, buying premises that did not suit its needs, putting in ventilation that was inadequate—the list is endless. If there is a need for redundancies, then the place to start is at the top.
     But the point is that “social partnership” has been a complete illusion. It has demobilised workers and their unions. It has weakened union structures and the participation of the membership. It has concentrated power in the hands of the ICTU leadership, away from the individual unions and from democratic accountability. It has also allowed outside forces to determine what is in the best interests of workers.
     Unions no longer have a view of themselves or of society beyond what is given to them by the dominant political, economic and media elite. We will just be sliding into another eighteen months of the long decline in membership and influence of the labour movement.

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