Friday, June 6, 2008

Siptu Gets Stuck In

The recent painful history of union collaboration with employer attacks on workers’ conditions in Aer Lingus is so blatant that it could almost be forgiven if anyone with the least concern about the issues turned away in embarrassment and disgust.

SIPTU supported privatisation of the state-owned company on condition that workers conditions were protected. Ever since there have been unremitting attacks on these conditions while those at the top of the company have given themselves extravagant bonuses for having successfully pushed them through. In truth they have received these under false pretences. Those really responsible for their successful implementation are the trade union leaders who first of all sold privatisation and then imposed the attacks on workers when they were initially rejected.

Having made an agreement for pay rises under the latest social partnership umbrella – ‘Towards 2016’ – Aer Lingus management then tore this deal up and refused to pass the pay increases on to their workers. Then they demanded €20m cuts. What was SIPTU’s reaction? When workers rejected the cuts they made them vote again. Just as they did during the Nice Treaty referendum when they supported the government when it too demanded another vote when the first one didn’t go their way.

In this case however the union bureaucracy’s treachery is worse. When they voted for a second time, according to the union’s rules, the workers again rejected the deal. This time their leaders just tore up their own rule book and imposed the new terms and conditions on those sections of the workforce where a majority had been brow-beaten into accepting them in the second ballot. The remaining sections have been left isolated. They will no doubt receive short shrift if they too decide to fight back and ignore, by-pass or circumvent the union rule book, which is so often the bureaucracy’s weapon against its own members.

This whole rotten story has now been repeated with handlers at the aircraft maintenance firm SR Technics, an earlier victim of government and union false promises. Having voted against changes to their terms and conditions SIPTU again imposed another vote and forced another rotten ‘compromise’ on the workers. The nature of this compromise and the union’s sorry record has been made so clear in a SIPTU statement that it hardly requires socialists to comment further.

The SIPTU statement reads: “The handlers are willing to be trained up to undertake the task while awaiting the outcome of the arbitration. I would also like to point out that these men have undertaken additional productivity in the past without any monetary reward. They have had to forego the seven per cent increase due to them under the Sustaining Progress agreement and the last phase of Towards 2016, which was worth another 2.5 per cent, making a cumulative total of ten per cent. This latest change was introduced at the last minute in negotiations which had focused on the craft group of workers and we were given very little time to deal with the issue.”

So SIPTU dealt with it by mugging the workforce.

These are by no means isolated examples of the role of union bureaucracies, but rather fit neatly into a pattern that is so evident that it is overwhelming. Yet still many on the left regard these people as misguided reformists who share the same goal but just differ in ideas or methods. Like brass monkeys they see, hear and speak no evil as they hoist these people onto platforms in whatever single issue campaign is their latest hobby horse – giving them radical credentials so radically false we turn away in embarrassment and disgust.

But that is where we came in.

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