Happy Birthday Fightback

SIPTU is the biggest union in Ireland. It is also one of the most bureaucratic and conservative. Its forerunners - ITGWU and FWUI - had inspiring early histories but that doesn't impact on Liberty Hall in the 1990s. Today we are fed a constant diet of 'partnership', moderation and restraint. Our union has become so cautious that it couldn't (or more accurately wouldn't) even sort out Ryanair when they denied recognition to our members.

Twelve months ago three SIPTU members decided that something should be done. We knew we weren't on our own, over one third of members consistently voted against the 'social partnership' agreements. But those who want a more militant and democratic union are isolated from each other. Very few know other activists from outside their own workplace or branch.

So, instead of waiting for someone else to kick things off, we decided to do our bit. The first 'SIPTU Fightback' last July was posted out to about 100 people in the union whom we had addresses for and thought might be interested in what we were doing.

We made it clear that we were not a front for any political party, that we had no detailed platform or policy list. We want to help build a network of activists for change, a network of people with political affiliations and people with none. We do, however, have definite viewpoints, the core of which is opposition to 'social partnership'. "The bosses are not our partners" (as we said on the cover of every bulletin).

We also said we wanted the Industrial Relations Act repealed or drastically reformed; solidarity from throughout the union for sections in dispute; a fighting instead of a compliant and timid union; open access for all views, on national Programmes or whatever, in Union literature; vigorous pursuit of a decent (not a token) national minimum wage; and a recruitment campaign like the Nurses and Dunnes Stores rather than "watches and sweatshirts".

Strong organisation in the workplace is the key to changing our union, we want an end to decisions coming from the top (no matter who is making them). If the union really is the members, the members should feel a real sense of ownership and control.

With these ideas we have sent out six issues of this bulletin in the last 12 months. We covered news of fellow workers in struggle like at Irish Life, the Three Lakes Hotel, Aer Lingus Catering, the building workers successful fight against sub-contracting, Ryanair and the Liverpool Dockers. Inside the union we looked at the three elections, the proposed rule changes at the Ennis conference, the sexual harassment allegations (and how the bureaucracy reacted).

We also wrote about the High Level Group report on union recognition, the joint union-management AnUMAN conference, Haughey's role in the 'partnership' deals, how the Finance Act encouraged wage cuts, the ICTU's EU funded propaganda for 'partnership', and how the Irish Independent fiddled the figures to prove that the Irish were the best paid in Europe with an average take home wage of £7 an hour!

Other topics covered ranged from the formation of a trade union group within the Anti-Racism Campaign to the Dublin Council of Trade Unions' minimum wage campaign. And our history spot told the stories of the laundry strike that won paid holidays, how the unemployed organised in the 1930s, the unofficial National Shop Stewards Federation of the 1970s, the tax marches, and the women of Jacobs who stayed out longer than anyone else in 1913.

A lot of you seem to have liked it, our mailing list has jumped to about 450 people. And, amazingly, we have (just about) managed to finance it through small donations from readers and the proceeds of a pub quiz.

We were clear (amongst ourselves anyway) when we started this project that we were not going to provide a neverending service for everyone else. Our hope is to work with other activists to improve our union - not to work for them. What we agreed to do was to "fly a flag and see who saluted". Enough of you "saluted", if we all get together with each other in some form of a network we can have far more of an impact inside SIPTU.

Now it's time to move on to the next step - getting more people involved in this bulletin and beginning the work of building that network of militants within our union. Over the next few months we will be organising fairly informal meetings for readers, where we can meet each other and discuss the best way forward from here.

To the SIPTU Fightback page