Judges' embrace of collective bargaining could keep the red flag flying
Opinion:On November 18th, 2011, something fairly ordinary happened. State employees formed an association “to promote the interests of members in their professional capacity” and “to represent members in any forum where that is necessary”.
That this happened at a time when it was proposed by their employer to reduce the pay and conditions of these workers was nothing new. Many workers since independence have felt the urge to form similar associations.
Some colleagues and I made similar moves in 1998 when, as State employees (train drivers), we formed an association for the promotion of our interests. The Irish Locomotive Drivers’ Association (Ilda) failed to procure representation rights with our employer and was subsequently denied them by the courts.
Many other employees and unions have also found the Irish courts to be cold places. A right of association provided for in the Constitution, which in effect supported trade union membership, was interpreted by the courts to contain a corresponding right to “disassociate”, thus providing a bulwark to anti-trade union interests. Cases such as Ryanair v the Labour Court have seen the Supreme Court rule against the State’s industrial relations organs by denying effective union representation to employees.
What made the events of November 18th, 2011, extraordinary is that the new representative body was an association of judges, effectively a judges’ union.
It would be churlish to link the timing of the judges’ new-found pluralism, solidarity and even comradeship with the Government’s attack on their pay, an attack supported by us mere citizens in a referendum.
Or to ask where is the negotiating licence for the Association of Judges of Ireland (AJI), a provision necessitated for trade unions by the Trade Union Act, 1941, and subsequent amendments.
Or to ask if the AJI lodged in the courts the deposit required of trade unions as a surety against any contemplated or actual unlawful action by it.
Presumably such a sum is to be taken from the judges only to be lodged with them again in the courts as a surety against any act of theirs that they would have to deem unlawful in line with their independent constitutional function.
Fanciful? Okay, the AJI is not a formal trade union, but it has forced the responsible Minister to the table by effectively threatening him with legal action and a consequent constitutional crisis. It’s called “industrial muscle”, m’lud!
So for us comrades all is not lost. The trade union movement has been under attack for years, and not just from judges. The anti-union consensus in Ireland is so strongly media-driven that even many beneficiaries of trade union activities are blinded by it. For a trade unionist and former Ilda “maverick” it can be very depressing.
But hope has sprung from the most unlikely source. The revolution is truly under way: silks will soon sport union badges; wigs will be supplanted by beards; and red flags, kept in chambers at first, will be unfurled only at the AJI’ s agm. But, as numbers grow and strength accumulates, the red flags will fly proudly from courts throughout the land.
Yes, judges have embraced the logic of collective bargaining and gone “maverick”. Welcome aboard, comrades. Ictu will be in touch regarding affiliation arrangements.
Brendan Ogle was the Irish Locomotive Drivers’ Association’s executive secretary and is a lifelong trade union activist. This piece was written in a personal capacity.