The Rank and file revolt

The first blossoms of a revolt by rank & file workers have appeared in this summer of unpromising weather but reawakening industrial action

It was inevitable that when workers began moving again, after depression and in the face of P2000, they'd come up against the dead-weight of an officialdom used to calling the shots.

It was also inevitable that some group of workers was going to rebel against the recurrent practice of union leaders calling off strikes at the last minute for new talks. The local authority and health board craft workers had already rejected offers and the craft workers saw the usual pattern emerging, of ballot after ballot until acceptance, of all resources going to the 'yes' side.

In the deals that came back the craft rebels also faced the now usual pattern of productivity for pay, of local bargaining as a door for restructuring, instead of the reinstatement of their relativity. So they pre-empted the usual drill and put pickets on, supported in many cases by SIPTU general workers.

Their action was consciously directed at the union leaders in the Crafts Group, ICTU and SIPTU. But the heat was turned up by union leaders calling them 'mavericks' and 'wildcats'. However, the action on the analogue claim was no isolated foray. One union, the TEEU, was officially opposed to the deal.

The Regional committees organised staggered strikes around the country; mass meetings of shop stewards convened to discuss policy and SIPTU members in many places declined the official advice to pass the pickets. Expression of no confidence in the national negotiators were made.

This is the shape of the rank and file movement that will come about in a far more sustained and coherent way to challenge the approach of Liberty Hall and Raglan Road, and offer alternative leadership to union members.

The craft leaders insisted the deal was a good one and campaigned for it in the ballot that continued after the rebels stilled their strikes. The media explained it was 20p or so short. Yet the 'mavericks' were in the majority in the ballot and the negotiators went in (after deferring the strike yet again) and got an improved offer.

The craft workers claim

Traditional trade unionism beats 'partnership' hands down

Health Board and local authority craftworkers are balloting on the latest offer by employers. The new agreement has been recommended by all the unions in the craftworkers' group, and the votes will be counted on July 7th. The agreement does not deliver the pay levels expected by the members but, in other aspects, it is more acceptable than the previous offer.

The offer is £18.87 an hour, backdated to July 1st 1997 - with no new productivity. While this is significantly less than the £25.26 which the workers should have got under the analogue agreements (which are supposed to keep them in line with similar workers in the private sector), it has been argued by the negotiators that too much was being expected by the employers for the higher amount. In three companies used for the analogues payments are higher, so an additional payment on top of the £18.87 will have to be worked out.

The agreement will be reviewed in October 2000 and flexibility demands will be negotiated at that point; but nothing new can be introduced by the employers without consultation. The agreement includes guarantees to exclude contractors who are not registered for VAT, pension funds, immunisation schemes for hospitals, and sick leave arrangements. It was pointed out to the employers' side that many contractors working in the public sector are just as guilty of operating in the black economy as their comparators in the private sector.

The ICTU has agreed that the analogue payments supercede the percentages in Partnership 2000, and that the level had to be brought up to the correct amount, regardless of the productivity. The analogue in the health boards and local authorities had been falling back over the years and the workers showed they were not prepared to let this go on, particularly in view of the flexibility and productivity that were demanded by the employers. Proof, once again, that traditional trade union weapons are a darn sight more effective than all the so-called partnership advocated by the ICTU.

Unofficial or semi-official bodies like the BATU bricklayers and the national locomotive drivers committee are part of a rise in rank and file confidence. The Garda pay dispute is also, in a way, a rank and file revolt and its funny to see union leaders reversing the roles as pay police in that dispute.

With strike figures running high and disputes lining up (ambulance, courts, trains) more workers can be expected to collide with P2000 and union red tape.

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