Partnership Exposed as free collective bargaining breaks through

SIPTU Fightback - Supplement to No 9 - Autumn 1999

A newsletter for SIPTU activists seeking a democratic & fighting union

The Ansbacher revelations, following on the Dirt enquiry, the payments to politicians Tribunals, and the exposure of Haughey, show that the very people who founded partnership and the captains of industry who are our 'partners', were ripping us off illegally through salted-away money, as well as legally through social partnership in the Celtic Tiger. We now know beyond doubt who the politicians real partners were: Dunnes Stores, CRH, developers and the rest of the Golden Circle. We now know that when we were being lectured on wage restraint, when the Programme for National Recovery was sanctioning the McSharry cuts, hundreds of millions of ponds were allowed to be stashed away in 'offshore' accounts.

During the years of social partnership profits, top salaries and non-wage incomes soared while wages were held down. Workers who were unrestricted by P2000 or who simply busted it, got way more than the terms of the deal. The nurses and the CIE workers have set out to do the same. Free collective bargaining is emerging from the cocoon of P2000 and extending its wings. SIPTU has had to back the nurses and the CIE workers, even though it was the union leaders, including ours, who negotiated the terms of P2000 ( 2.5% this year!). Those same leaders now want us to enter talks for another partnership deal. It is time all our members as well as the nurses, the busworkers, the scaffolders, the cranedrivers, had the freedom to seek substantial claims.

Partnership! What a laugh. Rich criminals robbing at will the money to pay for closed hospital beds while two building workers are jailed for fighting to pay PAYE taxes. Partnership! With the Union trembling because of the 1990 Industrial Relations Act and calling off an official strike at Irish Ferries because solicitors wave it. Partnership! Its killing our unions. Trade union density, the proportion of trade union members to workers, is down. Some of our AGMs could fit into the two lifts in Liberty Hall.

Lets leave social partnership behind, like so many other nightmares of the 20th century.

the campaign for another deal

For weeks the government and the media have been bombarding us with the same message: the current crop of claims will wreck social partnership which has given us the economic boom, and if partnership ends prosperity will go and we'll end up back in 'the bad old days'. Its not so much the cost of the nurses claim they fear as its threat to another deal: like saying, don't rescue your stolen video, the burglar might be taken away! (These arguments we consider elsewhere.) Congress, rather than backing the nurses, are straining to keep their struggle within the parameters of social partnership (even though they have already driven 'a coach and four' through it) to stop other workers getting more too, and to ensure that the nurses and all workers can be tied down by another partnership deal. The SIPTU leadership have a kite flying, a mixture of national and local bargaining. Don't be fooled. Either there's a national ceiling or there's not. If not fine. Then lets go for Free Collective Bargaining! The landslide at Killarney to go for talks is far from the final word. The rank and file are not so wedded to partnership. The great survey unveiled was taken among one per cent of the membership. Still it showed only 32% for pure national bargaining, for another P2000! Will we fall for a fifth national partnership contrick?! The Motions to the Killarney Conference from the Docks Marine, the Electronics and the Education Branches, calling for an end to these deals, should be supported and passed.

the campaign against another deal

On 25th September in Dublin the Campaign Against a Partnership Deal (CAPD) was inaugurated. On 28th a 'Cork against Partnership' group was launched. CAPD held a fringe meeting for SIPTU Conference delegates on 5th October in Killarney. Speaking on 'the Alternative to Partnership" were Des Derwin (VP, Electronics), Carolann Duggan (VP Waterford), John Finnie (President, Docks Marine) and Marnie Holborow (President, Education). As agreed at a second meeting of delegates, SIPTU supporters of CAPD have called a meeting to form a SIPTU group to campaign against another deal, for Saturday 20th November in Dublin. Keep it free.

Local partnership in the workplace: the biggest lie

Partnership. Who could be against partnership? Its like apple pie and peace. However there is no evenly matched association - and anything else is not partnership - between employers and workers, between the rich and the poor. The experience of many workers of their employers over the years of partnerships has been more of the relationship of the loin to its prey. Saying to workers that their bosses are their partners is to say that they should not regard themselves as in conflict with their bosses, and that is what is explicitly said when we are told that 'adversarial trade unionism' is a thing of the past.

You don't have to look too closely at workplace partnership to see the fraud that's being drummed into us by 'suits' with high salaries. During the past decade workplace after workplace has undergone downsizing, new starting rates, speed-ups, undermining of shop-floor trade union organisation, annualised hours, loss of conditions or benefits, etc., -often introduced under threat of closure. Where is the partnership? A string of household names supplements the question: Apple?, Packard?, Fruit of the Loom?, Semperit? Cramptons? Dunnes Stores?, Fulflex?, the Department of Health?, Bewleys?, CRH?, CIE? What shop stewards know from bitter experience, and newspaper readers from a glance at the main stories, has now been scientifically confirmed in a study, 'Collaborative Production and the Irish Boom', by John Geary and Bill Roche of UCD. The examination of 450 workplaces shows, according to the 'Irish Times' (19 Feb 99), that 'portrayals of Irish industry as a dynamic pioneer of partnership in the workplace are "fanciful"', and that 'the close working relationship between employers and unions at national level is not being replicated in the workplace.' Where did you hear that last bit before?!

"Partnership" is increasingly used as another word for the old idea of industrial democracy, for participation, for consultation, even for negotiation. 'Partnership' is frequently pronounced to describe gains and advances that would have been made, and were made, in the ordinary course of trade union negotiation and pressure. Some shop stewards are beginning to view and speak of a situation of normal procedural industrial relations, even if backed up by strong shop floor organisation, as 'partnership'.

Paul Sweeney, SIPTU economist, said last year, "I don't like the term partnership, I prefer employee participation or involvement" ('Marxism 98' debate, 'Socialist Worker', 5 Jan.'99). We agree, and we propose the Union stop using 'partnership' when 'involvement' or negotiation is what is happening. But Paul Sweeney has a deeper objection than misnaming 'participation' as 'partnership'. He doesn't, nor do we, think that there is a partnership at all between workers and bosses. He says, "The reason is that partnership generally involves an equal relationship and the relationship between capital and labour is not an equal one. We don't have rights over investments. We don't oversee spending on the health services or over taxation policies or over the laws over trade union recognition, We can argue for some things and indeed we are more involved than we were in the past, but we don' have control".

The essence of the case, radically and admirably put. We strongly agree - except that the general members are less involved than before; and, as well as argue, the trade unions need to fight for things.

On the other hand, however, 'partnership' is also used as a cover for cuts and 'restructuring': negotiating-in cutbacks, co-operation with redundancies, downsizing and new work practices as a "partnership process". This is the story at the ESB and Telecomm Eireann, with thousands of job losses and privatisation as part of the process. At RTE, in an exercise in pure cynicism, a new Partnership agreement was introduced in tandem with proposed cuts and 'rationalisation'.

'Workplace partnership', and the instruments to persuade the members of its merits, such as the National Centre for Partnership and SIPTU's Partnership and Reorganisation unit, had best be moved to the archives of the 20th Century.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Between I987 and I997 during which national wealth nearly doubled, increasing by £20 billion, corporate profits increased by 267%, self employed income by 169% and wages by 104%. Over the period of national agreements labour's share of income has declined by over 13% while profits increased by 46% as a percentage of the national wealth. Tax cuts gave a single high earner 36.1% and a single low earner 18.8% . The UN ranks Ireland second in the industrialised world in the level of extreme poverty.

Source: A New Agenda for Economic Power Sharing, ATGWU, Dublin, 1999.


Whatever happened to...

Union recognition: The brave banner raised at the Ennis Conference was thrown away at Ryanair and then dropped fifteen floors from the High Level Group. The HLG report does not deliver trade union recognition, it gives Labour Court regulation without recognition, without organisation on the ground. It seeks strike restrictions . The National Minimum Wage: the government are being allowed delay it until April 2000; the Bill hasn't even been introduced into the Dail. The figure of £4.40 per hour is still constantly being used, although we demanded £5 and the Commission recommended two-thirds the median wage - £4.40 in April 1997 .

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