From Socialist Voice, July 2007

ICTU delegate conference a lacklustre affair

The 2007 biennial delegate conference of the ICTU took place in the first week of July. More than six hundred delegates and two hundred observers from affiliated unions gathered in Bundoran under the theme “Equality for all.” The ICTU conference is the biggest labour event in Ireland, bringing together hundreds of workers from North and South.
     The agenda and resolutions before the conference reflect the state of the movement at this time. Motions covered inequality, pensions, the health service, the break-up of the ESB, Palestine, and nuclear power.
     What exercised the outgoing president of Congress was the possibility of the Government supporting the opt-out from the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which the British want and which was part of the rejected Constitutional Treaty, now being reheated and dressed up in another treaty.
     Congress rejected the Government’s proposed break-up of the ESB as being unnecessary and as being pushed through without any consultation with the unions, contrary to the consultation and agreement under “social partnership.”
     Growing inequality was a major item, with a resolution passed condemning this trend. This is despite twenty years’ of social co-operation between Government, unions, and employers, with one of the main planks being greater equality.
     A motion opposing nuclear power was referred to the incoming Executive. The TEEU strongly condemned the present practice of employers attempting to undermine existing pension arrangement at the expense of workers while increasing their profits. This is an issue that will only grow in importance. The example of the IBOA, which engaged in a determined action against the bank to defend their members’ pension rights, is a good example of where less talk and more action delivers real results.
     The coverage of the conference in the national media was scant, which reflects not just the fact that the lives and interests of workers get little real coverage or indeed outright hostility but also the fact that some elements within the trade union leadership are so closely tied to government policy that anything critical rarely gets to the floor of some union conferences.
     An example of how confused and disoriented the movement has become is the fact that during the address by the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, he made reference to critics of the Government’s economic polices being “on the verge of committing suicide.” This comment was greeted by laughter and applause from a significant section of congress delegates, implying support for such policies and a welcome for the fact that those who are critical are not able to advance their arguments.
     Though the media picked up on Ahern’s use of the term “committing suicide,” the real story was the complete lack of opposition or of any response from any leading trade union figure to the thrust of his speech.
     The conference showed clearly to those concerned about the current and future direction of the labour movement that they should be under no illusion about the enormity of the task facing us.

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