Review: Trade unionism's dark soul

Portraits of a Partnership
by Des Derwin, Mary Muldowney and Eddie Conlon
£2.00 (inc. postage) from
The Montague Press, 10 Comyn Place, Dublin 9.


PEOPLE WITH A radical perspective on trade unionism have always argued that the trade union movement has two souls. The first derives from the activities of members to improve their lot and control their unions. It is focused on struggles and campaigns not only against employers but also against union leaders.

The second is the dark soul consisting of the activities of leaders whose only concern is to maintain industrial peace and harmony, often at the expense of 'their' members. Since 1987 workers in the 26 counties have been tied to 'social partnership' deals; which are agreements between employers, government and the unions.

This is a readable pamphlet, written by three shop stewards, which makes a case that the national plans of the last decade have reflected that dark soul. Through use of reasoned arguments, backed up with facts & figures, the authors demonstrate that little has been won for workers at a time of soaring profits and economic growth. Instead we have been locked into a strategy of collaboration with our bosses; and have watched our unions become advocates of wage restraint and 'industrial peace'.

This pamphlet is a rejection of the ICTU leaders' ideas, and a call for democracy in our unions. With the growth of discontent, as graphically seen in 42% vote won by Carolann Duggan in the SIPTU Presidential election, 'Portraits of a Partnership' is an excellent contribution to the debate about what sort of trade unionism we need.