From Socialist Voice, June 2010

It’s different politics that’s needed—not less

At the recent annual delegate conference of Impact the incoming general secretary, Shay Cody, criticised political groups and parties for attempting to influence members of Impact to vote No to the Croke Park deal on the pay and conditions of public-sector workers.
     He claimed in his speech that Impact was resistant to manipulation by those who “seek to manipulate and capture our organisation for narrow politically sectarian ends.” This is rich coming from an acolyte of Eoghan Harris, the arch-manipulator, whose strategy, along with “Group B” (otherwise known as the Official IRA), was to infiltrate by surreptitious means the trade union movement during the 1970s and 80s.
     Cody needs to be reminded that trade unions—not just here in Ireland but in many countries around the world—have been instrumental in establishing parties to politically represent their interests. Until workers’ parties were established, all the political parties represented in parliaments and governments reflected and fought for the interests of the employers and owners of capital and wealth: in other words, they reflected the class nature and structure of politics.
     Workers had to fight long and hard for the right to vote, and they had to fight to get a political voice.
     The labour movement here in Ireland also recognised that it needed its own party, its own political arm, when Connolly proposed in 1912 that the Irish Trades Union Congress should establish an Irish Labour Party to represent its interests in the political sphere.
     Connolly at that time was a leading member of the Socialist Party of Ireland. Irish trade unions needed their industrial muscle and their economic and social demands to be reflected and fought for politically in the different political forums, whether at the local, national or international level.
     Even today some Irish trade unions are affiliated to the Labour Party, and some of the British unions operating here are affiliated to the British Labour Party, and some to both. Fianna Fáil also has a lot of influence in the Irish trade union movement, particularly in Impact.
     There are no areas of political, social or cultural life that are separate from, above or unshaped by the dominant political and ideological values of society; and within a class-divided society these are the values and ideas of the ruling elite.
     The problem is not that there is no politics inside the trade union movement: it is that the movement is dominated and shaped by bad politics—politics devoid of any class understanding of society. That is why leaderships keep falling for the ideas and values contained in the various “social partnership” agreements: because that is the logical outcome of their view on Irish society.
     At the same Impact conference the outgoing general secretary, Peter McLoone (no stranger to Fianna Fáil politics), stated that Brian Cowen “must get up off his backside now and get all the key public-service management players together, as their current approach to reform ain’t working.” He even questioned whether the senior management in the public service had the ability to “drive” the changes contained in the Croke Park deal.
     Here is a leading trade union figure calling on managements to attack his own members’ terms and conditions. If that is not politics, what is?
     What is clear from the comments of the outgoing and the incoming general secretary and some other leading elements of Impact is that they have politics and have a political view of the role of Impact and the wider trade union movement. It is one of lying down and prostrating themselves at the feet of the Government and the employers; and if they sit quietly in the corner, the Government and the bosses won’t notice them and maybe won’t attack them.
     Keeping our heads down is not an option any more. The attacks on workers are growing and will only intensify as the crisis deepens and our country totters on the brink.
     There are only two ways to move: we either hide behind the Government’s and employers’ political and economic strategy and demands—that is, to make workers and the poor pay for the crisis—or we can push forward and put working people and the poor at the centre of political and economic development.
     It is not a case of the trade union movement needing less politics: what is needed is a different type of politics. Its present strategy will only sustain the old unequal, socially unjust Ireland. What we need most urgently in the trade union movement is politics that can move the labour movement forward so that it can become the centre for the forces of change for a new Ireland. That will not happen by tail-ending this Government.
     The Labour Party has nothing to offer but a variation on the same theme as that of the Government. This was best exemplified when Fianna Fáil called on it to clarify its position on the Croke Park deal, and to call on workers to support it. The Labour Party remains silent, because it has no alternative to that of Fianna Fáil.

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