March 2012        

Further progress of the Trade Union Left Forum

The Trade Union Left Forum held its monthly meeting on 1 March. As reported in last month’s Socialist Voice, the aim of the Forum is to allow space for trade unionists on the left to meet and discuss immediate and future problems facing the movement.
     It understands that the working class has a central role in shaping Irish society, apart from defending the immediate living standards of its members. As a catalyst for change, it understands that the movement needs to continually analyse all the factors that shape society from a class point of view.
     At the March meeting the discussion was based on the theme “Political economy of contemporary capitalism: cyclical crisis and debt.” The introduction was by Gareth Murphy, who outlined the salient factors that govern the economic system we live under. It is neither benign nor neutral but has evolved into a situation where the ownership of the means of production is in fewer and fewer private hands.
     The present scene is where the dominant part of the global economy is no longer manufacturing or industrial capital but finance and banking capital. Because of its very nature of constant overproduction, this sector is awash with financial packages—i.e. money—which most hard-pressed families would be surprised to hear.
     But it’s a jungle, and predators eat predators, just as at one stage they went to war with each other, with terrible losses of human life and resources.
     The present crisis is due to speculation, under-regulation, and unfettered freedom of operation, outside the control of governments. The ruling political elite in most countries are in hock to the wealthy elite, who ensure that repayments to the banks are paid for with austerity for working people.
     The trade union movement has to pursue an alternative economic strategy, with the understanding that it is not for managing the system in a better way but for transforming it.
     The talk linked in to the previous one on privatisation and natural resources, as the kernel of such a transformation has to be regaining our sovereignty and independent decision-making.
     Again, as on previous occasions, the Forum combined analysis with reports from the ground. This time Brian Forbes of Mandate spoke of the situation in the retail sector, which employs nearly 200,000 people.
     While they are as hard-pressed as most low-paid workers, they face specific problems, with little or no control over their hours of work, perilous job security, and increased inflexibility on the part of employers.
     Part-time workers have to balance their work with social welfare allowances, and many are now considered part of the “working poor.”
     Mandate is carrying out a wide survey of its members, the results of which it will feed back into its delegate conference for a campaign “Decent work = better future.”
     Brian stated that “never since the foundation of the state have trade union membership and the ideas of collective social solidarity meant so much to its current and future generations.”
     The Forum is an open space where active trade unionists are welcome to put forward ideas, topics for discussion, and suggestions for activities related to the discussions. Its discussions are now being published in trade union journals and papers. The contents of the privatisation session will be published as a pamphlet, and a web site is in the process of being set up.
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