Unions - how can the 'democratic deficit' be tackled?


At the October general meeting of my union branch, Dublin City North INTO (Irish National Teachers Organisation), the district representative on the CEC (Central Executive Committee) told the members that the union leadership was in the process of lodging a claim for a pay increase to compensate for inflation. However, he said, he couldn't possibly tell us what the amount of that claim was, as this was confidential. The members were effectively being told 'don't worry your heads, your leaders will decide what's best for you.'

This was simply further proof of the 'democratic deficit' within many unions. The leaderships see themselves as a protected elite, and many union members feel powerless to do anything about it. Rulebooks are often written in such a way as to make it as difficult as possible for ordinary members to influence how decisions are arrived at.

When the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness (PPF) was being discussed earlier in the year, many unions - including the INTO - witnessed huge campaigns of propaganda by the union leaderships in favour of the deal, and attempts to silence opponents of the deal. Many union members no longer feel that the union is theirs, 'the union' is seen as a faceless group of people in 'head office' and many members feel that they are not in a position to influence what goes on.

However, the fact that 100% of the members of the CEC in the INTO campaigned for the PPF and yet it was only passed by less than 50 votes overall (50.5% to 49.5%) shows that there are people willing to take a stand. That vote came about as a result of people going to their meetings and making the arguments against the deal, not allowing themselves to be intimidated by the bullyboy tactics of the leadership.

There are a number of minor reforms which can be won, and which can have a great effect in terms of narrowing the 'democratic deficit' and taking power back into the hands of the members. A campaign across all unions for equal space to be given in union publications to both 'yes' and 'no' sides on any national vote, and a campaign for a five year limit on elected positions - both Executive members and paid officials - would be a start. They're hardly revolutionary or earth-shattering demands but if won they're the issues which can form a base for moving closer to taking back control of our unions.

Gregor Kerr
Dublin City North branch INTO
(personal capacity)


SIPTU's rukebook

Imagine a trade union where you can't put motions to your conference if you want to change the rulebook. That's what happens in Ireland's largest union, SIPTU. A Rules Revision Committee is elected, and then given the power to decide what rule changes conference (allegedly the highest decision making body) can discuss and vote on. Branches can only ask the Committee to consider their suggestions, it's up to that Committee to decide if the proposal goes any further.

When this Committee asked for suggestions the Dublin Electronics & Engineering Branch wrote off saying that Branches should be able to directly put rule changes to the union conference. Other branches are currently debating similar motions. Let's try to get a good shove behind this initiative. We will never turn our unions into anything great if we can't even change the rulebook.

Alan MacSimóin
SIPTU Education Branch
(personal capacity)


This page is from the print version of the Irish Anarchist paper '
Workers Solidarity'. We also provide a PDF file of the latest edition for you to print out and distribute locally

You can find out when new issues of the paper come out by joining the Ainriail list

This edition is No61 published in November 2000