Did you hear about democracy in SIPTU? Neither did we!


Ireland's biggest trade union, SIPTU, with 197,000 members, had its National Conference last October. Irish Times Industrial Correspondent, Padraig Yeates, praised it for extending democracy. Maybe he was at another conference!

Thanks to a rule change voted through, there will be a special delegate conference to consider the terms of any new national 'partnership' agreement. This means that SIPTU will be the only union to consult its members after the terms are agreed and before a vote of the membership to accept or reject. Activists certainly welcome this. If nothing else, it gives us a chance to put forward an alternative viewpoint to that of head office.

However this conference will only advise the National Executive Council - the NEC will decide what recommendation to issue. This is the same body which put its recommendation for acceptance onto the actual ballot paper a few years ago.

There was a motion to provide space in union publications for opponents of such deals to put their case. That was voted down.

Up to now every member had a vote in the NEC elections. By 200 to 159 the 'one person, one vote' system was scrapped. Now only delegates to the union's Regional Conferences will elect the NEC. This is a huge step back from democracy, it means that the union will now be governed by a tiny minority of the membership.

Elections are no longer about candidates going out and trying to convince us of their ideas. Instead only Branch Committee members will have a say.

But all this pales into insignificance when we look at the motion that never even got to conference.

More importantly, we failed to win the right of union conference to debate rule changes. What happens at present is that a small Rules Revision Committee is elected, which seeks suggestions from the branches. It then decides which suggestions it will put before the conference.

For several years a number of us have won our branches to demand that any branch can put proposals for rule changes directly to conference. Our motions have never been allowed. We may be the only union anywhere that does not allow its branches to directly propose rule changes..

Democracy in SIPTU? A nice idea but one we will have to fight for.

Joe King


Workers Solidarity

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This edition is No67 published in Nov 2001

Cover of Workers Solidarity 67

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