‘No return to robber baron capitalism’ – says TEEU leader Devoy

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Dublin workers marching in defence of public services
Dublin workers marching in defence of public services

THE Irish State may need to contemplate becoming an employer of last resort to tackle unemployment, says the ICTU General Secretary David Begg.

Addressing the Technical Engineering and Electrical Union conference in Portlaoise, Begg said the Government’s 2.25 billion euros stimulus programme was welcome but was not enough to tackle unemployment, which remains stubbornly high at just under 15%.

He said congress had proposed a three year, 9bn euros stimulus programme aimed at creating 100,000 jobs over that period.

However he said that ultimately, the State must be willing to contemplate being an employer of last resort through local authorities or social employment.

He said the lessons of the great depression may have been lost but they were as valid in social terms now as they were in the 1930s.

He said no country or society could afford to regard so many of its unemployed citizens as expendable.

Earlier, the TEEU said it would seek pay rises of at least 5% in profitable enterprises where it represents staff.

Delegates at its annual conference overwhelmingly backed an emergency motion instructing the union to present significant pay claims in all profitable companies and sectors.

With 40,000 members, the TEEU is Ireland’s largest craft union and a major force in manufacturing, construction and energy.

General Secretary Eamon Devoy described recent revelations of large pension contributions for senior executives and directors as ‘sickening’.

He highlighted ESRI research showing executive directors earned on average ten times more than other company employees, but enjoyed 27 times more in pension contributions – as well as generous tax subsidies.

He said this was at a time when what he called the ‘Sword of Damocles’ was hanging over the State pension and the few fringe benefits enjoyed by older people, many of whom had no other source of income.

Devoy said it was no accident that what he called this growing and increasingly flagrant return to the worst era of robber baron capitalism had coincided with a decline in trade union organisation.

He noted that for the first time the right to workplace representation was in a Programme for Government but posed the question of whether it would be delivered.

He said it would be naive in the extreme to rely on the goodwill of the dominant partners in power, Fine Gael, and said the TEEU was going on the offensive.

He told delegates that in the process they would be demonstrating to thousands of non-unionised workers that they too needed union power to improve their lot.

Irish society must recognise the legitimacy of trade unions if we are to have a fairer society says TEEU leader Eamon Devoy.

‘A hundred years after people were batoned off the streets of Dublin for having the temerity to seek the right to collective bargaining we are still battling for that right, which is something enjoyed by citizens of 24 of the other 26 EU member states.

‘For the first time the right to workplace representation is in a programme for government, but will it be delivered?

‘We certainly hope so, but we would be naive in the extreme to rely on the goodwill of the dominant partners in power, Fine Gael.

‘As indicated by the emergency motion on pay and the motions on union recognition we intend to go on the offensive, as and from now. Every profitable enterprise where we have members will be targeted to demand a fairer slice of the cake.

‘We would be naive in the extreme to rely on the generosity of employers to do the decent thing because, if nothing else, these people have demonstrated that they do not know the meaning of the word decency.

‘In the process we will be demonstrating to thousands of unorganised workers out there that they too need union power if they are ever to improve their lot.

‘Relying on the goodwill of employers or politicians is abdicating our own responsibilities and feeding the illusion that better times are ahead if we just keep our heads down and doff our caps to our lords and masters. It never worked in the past and it certainly won’t work for us. As Jim Larkin said 100 years ago – Let Us Arise!’

However, before that militant message was heard, the conference was told by Seamus Cody, General Secretary of IMPACT, that unions favour a new corporatist Croke Park agreement.

This involved the trade unions and employers taking joint responsibility for the development of the economy under the leadership of the government.

Cody said that the Government also favoured a new agreement provided the terms were acceptable to both unions and employers.

The alternative was a return to the period before Croke Park of unilateral pay cuts by the Government and widespread industrial unrest.

The premise on which the Agreement was made was that it would reduce the cost of delivering public services with minimal impact on services themselves. 

It was ahead of target on staff reductions and payroll savings, which had already reached 3.1 billion euros and would achieve 3.8 billion euros.

It was also ahead of troika targets but reform was still mired, like the rest of the economy by the negative effect of austerity programmes across the EU.

Thus, for example, there are fewer staff to deal with the growth in numbers on social welfare, requiring Medical Cards, or seeking access to our hospitals, schools, libraries and third level colleges. 

Numbers are down 30,000 on peak levels and internal redeployments in health alone of 4,500 have been achieved. 

Annual Leave has been standardised at 22 to 30 days, working Hours increased in schools, colleges and some local authorities in line with the agreement. There are extended 8am to to 8pm daily shifts and a five over six day working week .

The Croke Park Agreement process was inevitably proving more complex than anticipated and has structural weaknesses, some of which have only become apparent with time.

It is also overshadowed, like everything else, by the scale of the fiscal problems Ireland faces. 

Reducing the size of the annual Government borrowing bill from 13.115 billion euros in 2012 to 4.95 billion euros by 2015 cannot be done solely on the back of Croke Park, said Cody.