ICTU head Peter Cassels talks about his idea of 'trade unionism'

we ask him:

*where's union recognition?

*who said we want to 'phase in' the minimum wage?

*who says we don't want a shorter working week?

The extended and instructive interview with Irish Congress of Trade Unions General Secretary, Peter Cassels, in the Irish Times (2nd June) merits comment at great length. He elaborates the partnership approach as, perhaps, its most articulate philosopher on "our" side, taking on board that "there are growing signs of disenchantment with Partnership 2000 among Irish workers".

He pushes out the boundaries of the consensus agenda a little, but it is his flights on a number of particular issues that need immediate attention and take him beyond anything that has been agreed or stated (that we know of) as policy at any level of the movement.

He says "we will have to switch our focus from issues like a shorter working day to how best to release people's potential in the workplace". Does this mean that unions should stop aspiring to shorter hours? What about people's potential outside the workplace?

He says that once the Ryanair enquiry results are put to the Government the issue of trade union recognition can be addressed by amending company law "to lay down standards or principles for employers to adhere to" or introduce procedures "that people would have to follow, like attending the Labour Court, or following Labour Court recommendations".

Er, where's trade union recognition gone? These ideas have been floated before, from SIPTU via the Labour Party Bill. If a 'golden circle' at the top of our unions have decided their own policy on union recognition, it bears little resemblance to the rallying cries at the SIPTU Conference last October.

He says, in relation to the National Minimum Wage and the new British rate "the priority in the Irish context is to get on with phasing in our own minimum wage." Phasing in? The ICTU is, in its own literature, seeking the Commissions rate to be introduced "at an early date" (presumably before April 2000) and the Dublin Council of Trade Unions is seeking immediate implementation. Where did the 'phasing' in come from?

As Peter said elsewhere, the unions should lead "the charge for change". But trade unionists should put a stop to Peter's gallop until he gallops off into the European sunset.

Two statements made by Peter we wholeheartedly endorse, though we doubt he was coming on the same train of thought to them: "We need unions to go back to the workplace and fuller involvement locally" [Whoops of delight! 'Way to go, Peter!'] "The whole question of creating such structures may mean full-time officials giving back more power to workers" [Why, Peter, you trotskyist devil you!]

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