August 2015        

ICTU conference shows the strength of the workers’ movement

Motions put to the biennial delegate conference of the ICTU, most of which were adopted, covered such wide-ranging topics as the economy and equality, fair banking, the Stormont House Agreement, fracking, climate change, water charges and public ownership, TTIP, and precarious work.
     The breadth of the topics covered mark it out not just from other years but as a broad left conference representing all the parties, policies and workers’ viewpoints on the left, held in an atmosphere of trying to maintain unity and strengthen the organised workers’ movement—meaning that, regardless of our view of particular stances by unions or their leadership, the organised workers’ movement is where all left activists need to be involved, both through their trade unions and through trades councils. The trade union movement is as strong or as weak as workers make it.
     On the economy, motions dealt with the usual “austerity isn’t working” slogan, confusing the fundamental class aspect of austerity programmes, in that they do work: they work for those people implementing them and are in fact an aspect of class warfare by private business and the state.
     Unite, in its motion on the economy, rightly attacked the concept of “the recovery,” which is supported by the establishment and the media, pointing out that the jobs being created are low-wage and precarious jobs, and that households are still drowning in debt. “Conference rejects this ‘new normal’ in which workers, who have already paid the price for the crisis, will continue to pay the price of the recovery.”
     The Dublin Council of Trade Unions made a practical call for left forces to engage with each other. “To bring such a programme about there needs to be a dialogue between trade unions, community groups, and environmentalists, progressive political parties of the left and single issue campaigns such as Right 2 Water etc.”
     And the motion put by the Executive Council of the ICTU ends: “Conference vows to fight back. It hereby instructs the incoming Executive Council to lead a campaign for a new type of political economy in both parts of Ireland, a campaign which puts decent wages, decent work, full employment and quality public services at the centre of a vision for a New Ireland.”
     The IBOA proposed a motion, which was unanimously supported, calling for a Charter for Fair Banking, in which customers, communities and staff are treated with respect. “The principle of respect treats communities fairly by upholding equitable employment policies and practices, contributing to balanced economic and social development and working to protect the environment.”

The environment

The environment received welcome attention at this conference, which is a positive recognition of the crisis facing humanity, one driven by the contradictions of the capitalist system and its necessary pursuit of profit and accumulation at all costs.
     The Fermanagh Trades Council rightly described fracking as a poisonous industry. “Conference therefore demands an outright ban on fracking for natural gas anywhere on the island of Ireland. We seek instead for the Irish government and Northern Ireland Executive to invest in alternative, renewable energy generating capacity with a view to both states becoming world leaders in this technology.”
     In a detailed motion, worth reading in full, the Belfast Trades Council described the crisis facing humanity in the following way: “The escalating ecological crisis is becoming ever more of a threat to the security of life on this planet. Changing climates and extreme weather events are on the increase and have varying devastating effects on human life from reduction in food production to natural disasters.
     “These events inevitably have a greater impact on poor and working class people across the globe who are vulnerable and less able to protect themselves by building infrastructure defences and being able to rebuild after a natural disaster.
     “Overcoming this global crisis will require a restructuring of our economy and a rethink in terms of how we utilise resources of our planet. We cannot continue an unplanned, unregulated global economy in a planet on finite resources.”
     And even the Executive Council put forward its own motion on the environment, saying: “Conference also calls on affiliates to work to deepen the awareness among members of unions and of citizens in general about the issue of climate change and the challenges and opportunities that arise from the transition to a low carbon society.”


Unfortunately, the motion on TTIP stopped short of calling for it to be scrapped (a position adopted by the TEEU at its conference recently), instead merely seeking negotiations to be halted while exclusions or changes are made.
     In quite a selfish and cynical motion, the ASTI purely sought a “general exclusion or carve-out for education and other vital public services in any final agreement”—which, while of course welcome, ignores the many other harmful and negative aspects of TTIP and totally ignores the contradiction between the motions on the economy and the environment and the reality of TTIP and what it means.


More positively, the trade union movement voted in favour of two motions, one from the Waterford Trades Council and one from the CWU, opposing water charges and calling for a referendum to ensure public ownership of water through the Constitution. In addition to this, the conference rejected an amendment by Impact, supported by SIPTU, which sought to water down (excuse the pun) the opposition to water charges and merely to increase the allowances given.
     While the passing of progressive motions is positive, as these make ICTU policy, experience shows that it requires active trade unionists to make sure progressive policies are held and that demands are turned into actions over the following years. This is why it is so important for all workers to be involved in their trade union, and particularly for class-conscious workers and activists to be part of the organised labour movement.

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