May 3rd, 1968

Thu, May 3, 2012, 01:00

FROM THE ARCHIVES:The spurt of economic growth in the 1960s was accompanied by a rise in unofficial strikes, mainly in CIÉ and the ESB. This editorial reflected on the phenomenon. – JOE JOYCE

IN RICHER and more indolent days the fashion for practical joking was a symptom of a seediness and purposelessness. One such joker dressed himself in overalls, cordoned off a section of Piccadilly and dug a hole, to the complete unconcern of everyone around him.

Today our established system of manager-worker relations is showing cracks, and one can imagine, in the spirit of the old-time joker, that an eccentric has only to paint a slogan on a placard, to march up and down outside any major establishment in order to throw a whole industry into chaos with the magic words “Strike On Here.”

Such is the superstitious fear of pickets that the most unofficial action immediately starts a panic throughout the ranks of even those who claim to stand firmly behind their own leadership. People who may be only remotely connected with a strike, or indeed not in any way connected with it, can be thrown out of work, or may voluntarily put themselves out of work at the waving of the magic placard.

We have in recent years had a rash of this unofficial action. It is a malaise. It is not mere stubbornness or stupidity; for something very significant is moving in many of our established institutions, and it need not be Communism.

But things are surely topsy-turvey when priests have to go out and preach socialism while Labour men and trade unionists crawthump and tiptoe around, even in some cases denouncing the priest for preaching the social approach for which they themselves are supposed to stand; either that or they denounce and run away from their leadership.

If trade unionism is changing at all in Ireland it is changing from below, and therefore the leadership is wanting. In effect, the unofficial body, the E.S.B. generating stations Day Workers’ Association, is a new union with an apparently tighter discipline over it members than the official bodies.

The National Busmen’s Union, the Post Office Officials’ Association, have similarly come up from below, in face, they say, of delay and bad communications from the leaders of the original parent body, and appear well disciplined. (Fortunately, a measure of responsibility has now asserted itself in the E.S.B. and Dublin Corporation disputes.)

The unions have a lot of thinking to do. How true is it that part of the cause of the weakness of union officials is that they are in many cases miserably paid? And what of their position at the negotiating table? Are they not often mere boys sent on an errand instead of plenipotentiaries? (And how often can this be said of the management men who face them?) The unions have in many cases treated their officials badly; if they thought more of them there might be less discontent, less difficulty in communicating, and unofficial, weakening divagations might be checked.