Unions ‘not interested in social dialogue’ if it constrains members

Ictu head John Douglas: Water charge campaign biggest ‘mass social mobilisation’ ever in State

John Douglas, president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, speaking at a Right2Water press conference in March. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

John Douglas, president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, speaking at a Right2Water press conference in March. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times


The trade union movement is not interested in the Government’s plans for “ social dialogue” if it confines and constrains the legitimate role of all its members, the president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) John Douglas has said.

Addressing the biennial delegate conference of Ictu in Ennis, Co Clare, he said the trade union movement in Ireland was stronger than ever and had withstood an orchestrated campaign to destroy and marginalise it.

He said the trade union movement had re-discovered its activism and campaigning spirit and had shaken off the shackles of top-down centralised bargaining.

Mr Douglas said the anti-water charge campaign was the biggest mass social mobilisation of people since the foundation of the State.

He acknowledged that the water charge movement did not have universal support within the trade union movement, but argued the extensive concessions which had been won by the campaign would be enjoyed by all trade unionists.

“While it is understood and understandable that some unions because of their particular membership base or indeed constitutions cannot openly support the campaign, it is clear that union members across all unions are a central part of the anti-water charges movement,” he said.

Mr Douglas said if the trade union movement had been “totally absent “ from the anti-water charge campaign, it would have severely damaged the credibility of the movement.

He said with a general election looming in the Republic of Ireland , “we as trade unionists must grasp the nettle of political power with out membership bases”.

He said: “We must campaign for a government which advocates and implements the true ideals of a Republic, we must campaign for a mass mobilisation akin to what we witnessed during the marriage equality referendum in order to secure the political ground which allows us to deliver the social agenda along with the industrial agenda.

“ We must challenge our members, we must question party loyalties, we must set aside our own self-interest or the self-interests of our members.

“Our vision can never be achieved by industrial agitation alone. No union can profess to be non-political.”

Most vulnerable

Mr Douglas said the most vulnerable should be given priority in any economic recovery.

“We cannot allow political parties to play loose and easy with our vision of real and fair sustainable social recovery by auction politics to secure votes,” he said.

He said as the centenary of 1916 approaches, a “mature conversation” is required among all citizens as to what sort of economy and society we want and what are we prepared to pay for that “vision”.

He said: “Self-interest must be set aside, the ‘I’m alright Jack’ attitude of appeasing sections of voters or union members must be set aside. We must all join the dots between decent public services in health, education, housing etc and our social contributions as citizens of this island.

“Our public services on receiving theses resources must continue to deliver a world class service to those who resource the social wage and must be willing and able to adapt to the changing needs of citizens and society.”

Mr Douglas urged the Government to introduce new legislation to compel employers in sectors covered by joint labour committees to determine pay and conditions to take part in these structures. Otherwise, he said, there should be new laws to make it possible to proceed without them.

Ictu is an all-Ireland organisation and Mr Douglas said that Northern Ireland was the most deprived region in the UK. He said if left unchallenged, welfare cuts and the 20,000 public sector job losses being enforced by the Tory administration in London would plunge Northern Ireland into the dark ages.

Mr Douglas urged delegates at the conference to stand and applaud the people of Greece who he said were being put through the ringer by their creditors.

He called for a European debt conference “at which the issue of debt and debt restructuring is considered from the social perspective of the peoples of Europe, rather than solely from the financial institutions of Europe and the ideologues of austerity”.