April 2014        

Legal attack on SIPTU is a warning to unions


Recently, various stories have appeared in the capitalist media about pay increases, hinting that IBEC and SIPTU want to return to some form of “social partnership,” purely on the pay issue. (None of the woolly stuff about social issues.)
      At the same time, capitalist shock-troops are using different negotiating tactics: force and intimidation. On the one hand, employers’ organisations have been leaking stories about pay increases; however, they want the “pay increases” to come from a reduction in tax. In other words, everyone finances pay increases for employers, so they increase their profits, and there is a further reduction in public services.
      In 2007 the Ryanair case undermined the concept of collective bargaining by claiming that unions could not engage with Ryanair’s internal pay negotiating structure. The courts supported Ryanair, allowing employers to ignore collective bargaining. Later, when the capitalist class launched their attack on the working class they first separated the private and public sectors.
      The public sector is the most unionised part of the labour force. Over the years it has fought for, and obtained, good pay and conditions, which set a benchmark for the private sector. Consequently, it needed to be broken. Collective agreements were useful to the capitalist state when it came to attacking its own workers.
      By means of the principle of divide and conquer, the public sector was first of all isolated and vilified by a vicious campaign in the media, with lies and misinformation about gold-plated pensions and huge salaries. This created an environment in which public-sector pay could be cut, and a special tax, called a “pension levy,” was imposed, using “emergency legislation.”
      The public sector was to be browbeaten into submission. The Haddington Road Agreement and the “financial emergency measures in the public interest” legislation were the icing on the cake.
      Once the public sector was taken care of, the emphasis shifted to the private sector. Whereas union membership is over 90 per cent in the public sector, in the private sector some estimates put it as low as 20 per cent. This has arisen for a number of reasons (which will be dealt with in a future article).
      SIPTU is the largest union in the private sector. The latest move against it arises from the threatened strike at Dublin Airport over the defined-benefit pension scheme. Socialist Voice has already pointed out that pension schemes will be an area of attack in the battle to increase profits and reduce wages. The attack on SIPTU is not just aimed at doing it irreparable damage but also serves as a warning to the other unions that there will be consequences for any industrial action.
      In the Nolan Transport case in the 1990s the Chief Justice stated that the class struggle was over. He accepted that unions exist to act for their members, and called on employers to recognise that fact. That strike also involved SIPTU, and the whole process of going through the courts cost it heavily, in members’ hard-earned subscriptions.
      Now Aer Lingus (which is partly owned by the Government) is after SIPTU. Aer Lingus is suing for millions which it claims it lost over the threatened strike in March. The minister for transport, Leo Varadkar, described the Aer Lingus action as unhelpful but did nothing to stop it. Ryanair might also sue.
      Regardless of the outcome, the cost of defending the action in the courts will neutralise SIPTU. The union official involved in the threatened strike is also being sued. In effect, any moves within SIPTU to strike in pursuit of pay claims have been effectually silenced or weakened by the use of compliant courts to tie the union up in the legal process.
      After more than two hundred years of struggle and agitation there is still no recognition of collective bargaining. Although the right to strike exists, it has been curtailed by restricting sympathy strikes, using industrial relations machinery designed to cause delays, and provisions in the Constitution protecting property rights or the rights of consumers, so that the right is fast becoming one in name only.
      The employers’ organisations are well represented in the Dáil and have a sophisticated system for lobbying and propagandising through the capitalist press. The state, far from being neutral, is used by employers to protect the interests of capital and ensure that no laws are enacted that would in any way threaten the interests of big business.
      Unions are recognised in name, but there is no obligation to negotiate with them. Capitalists never waste a good recession.
[NOM]

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