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Sunday 22 October 2017

ESB union boss calls for 'radical, militant action'

As the threat of power cuts looms, Ogle's speech shows he believes if workers put up a fight it could be a catalyst for major industrial unrest

KICKING OVER CHAIRS: Brendan Ogle, secretary of the ESB unions.
KICKING OVER CHAIRS: Brendan Ogle, secretary of the ESB unions.
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

Brendan Ogle, the secretary of the ESB group of unions, said two years ago that the economic crisis was an "opportunity" for "radical action" such as "militant, industrial action – no holds barred".

In what he acknowledged was a "provocative" speech, Mr Ogle told the socialist republican outfit, Eirigi, that the distribution of wealth was going to "require more than good marches, burning up cars and smashing up buildings".

He said: "It's going to require militant, industrial action – no holds barred, and, sure maybe, they'd sell us in the f***in' dark, but at least let's put it up to them.

"And in two or three years' time, or 10 years' time or 20 years' time, when I'm retired in Cuba, having my cigar and drinking my rum, enjoying the life, in 20 years' time, at least there's a movement."

In the context of a proposed privatisation of the ESB, Mr Ogle also said in May 2011 that he had "about a year and a half" to get the "ESB lads" to "put up a fight".

He warned: "There's no electricity ever went from a power station to that light bulb – so we control that."

The threat of power cuts from December 16 – the day after the Troika leave – now exists after the ESB group of unions last week decided to serve strike notice on the company in a row over a pension fund deficit.

The company, its unions, pension trustees and the Government will meet next week in an attempt to defuse the row over a €1.6bn hole in its workers' retirement fund.

The ESB unions have been accused of holding the country to ransom as the threat of blackouts in the run-up to Christmas increases. The hospitality industry has warned that restaurants and pubs would haemorrhage up to €10m a day if power was cut at a time of year when they should enjoy good profits.

The Dublin City Business Improvement District estimates that the power cuts could cost up to €150m in the capital alone if they were to continue up to Christmas.

And organisations representing older people have warned of the dire consequences of allowing power outages to take place.

Last week Mr Ogle said that hopefully it would not come to power cuts but he also warned that "potentially it could happen".

In his speech to Eirigi two years ago, which was recorded and posted on the internet, Mr Ogle provided an insight into his political views and the leverage of ESB workers.

A portion of the speech was reported before – specifically Mr Ogle's description of ESB workers as "spoilt" who enjoyed Government "gravy" in the form of perks such as after-work schemes.

Mr Ogle subsequently claimed that his comments were reported "completely out of context".

"Nevertheless," he said, "I fully appreciate that the comments were made in an inappropriate environment and manner and I sincerely apologise to all ESB staff for any hurt caused by recent reportage."

In his 2011 Eirigi speech, Mr Ogle said he usually spent an hour planning what he was going to say "and then I stand up and I say something completely different and I'm not going to make any change from that today."

* us we'll have a march.

He said he had been asked to talk about the sale of the State assets here "and that's what I'm going to do – and I'm going to do so with my trade union hat on".

He added: "I say that with much pride, because there's much in the trade union heritage and tradition to be proud of, and I say it with much shame because, unfortunately – particularly in the last 25 to 30 years – there was much to be ashamed of."

Mr Ogle said it seemed to him that "we spent, six, seven, eight hundred years getting rid of the British empire from this island and then we forgot how to fight as a nation – we forgot how to fight."

The second problem, he said, was that "we've got probably the most right-wing trade union movement.

"And we've got a Labour Party who are so right wing," he added.

He then told of the pleasure he had transporting a woman from Cuba who was in Ireland to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs. He said: "I've been to Cuba several times, so I know a little bit about the regime there and the revolution . . ."

He said that when he went to Cuba he saw citizens with few assets: "They don't have big cars, they don't have houses with two or three acres of landscaped gardens around them, they don't wear Levi jeans and Dolce & Gabbana underpants – at least the ones I met didn't. But what they have they own," he said.

In Ireland, he said, the trade union movement had "collaborated in the creation of the wealth/debt" and made sure that the "gap between those who have and those who haven't in society" grew from the Eighties until the IMF arrived.

He said the trade union movement and Labour "collaborated" in that for 25 years "and none of us done anything about it".

Mr Ogle said he was "very privileged and very lucky" to find himself representing the workers in the ESB.

"There's nothing wrong with that," he said. "There's nothing wrong with workers being privileged and lucky and looked after. It's not to be knocked at all. But they are very privileged and lucky and I'm very privileged and lucky to speak and act and represent them."

Mr Ogle then spoke of how the IMF, Fine Gael and "elements" of the Labour Party wanted to sell State assets.

In an unscripted address, he said: "There's nothing we can do to stop them. Even fighting people, like the people in Central and Latin America, couldn't stop it."

He then referred to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions: "Now we can ring up Congress and say we need something historic and they'll tel"So we'll pick a location, pick the Dail, if Congress have their way, pick the Dail when there's no one sitting in the Dail, in case one of the marchers happens to bump into one of the goons and says something inappropriate and they'll end up on the front page of the Evening Herald.

"So we'll have a march to a parliament with nobody in it, and we'll listen to speeches from the people who collaborated with Fianna Fail in the economic destruction of this country for the last 25/30 years, and then we'll go down to Doheny & Nesbitts, we'll have a few pints and we'll go home and we'll feel good about ourselves for a couple of hours and we'll wake up the next morning and everything will be just the same. We'd still be – excuse me girls – f***ed."

He added: "The Greeks had marches, fair play to them, they had great marches; they burned cars and stuff, smashed up a few buildings. They do it in London as well, regularly. I think they just do it in London for the craic."

Then came his controversial reference to ESB workers: "I'm just a trade union official and I'm very lucky because I've got a job. It's a good job, it pays relatively well, not as good a figure as you read in the paper, but I'm okay and I like it.

"I'm lucky, the people I represent are lucky, and the people I represent have power, real power. In every sense – real power, and that's an opportunity. That's a real opportunity for someone, somewhere to say stop, enough is enough.

"But I've got a problem with the people who I represent, who have power because they also have money, and they won't mind me saying this because I say it to them often enough.

"They're also spoilt because for the last 20/25 years, when they were building this and building that and building the other thing, that the right-wing Fianna Fail/ PD governments needed, once they got the unions in their back pocket, the thing that they needed the most was industrial peace and the way that they got that is to throw a bit of gravy around the place.

"A bit of overtime here, this thing in the ESB with all the after-hour schemes. It would take me an hour to explain it to you; gravy, so people who work at good jobs suddenly are in great jobs. Not only had they got the house, the mortgage was paid off, they're buying an apartment in Bulgaria and they got two or three cars, kids all maybe going to private school, universities . . ."

He said ESB workers in Donegal looked at him three years ago [2008] like he was "mad" when he told them, on the advice of a banker he knew, that the IMF was coming. "I was up there a couple of months ago and they don't look at me as if I'm mad now. They look at me as if 'How do we fight? What do we do?' because they've forgotten like we've all forgotten."

He said when he heard the IMF was coming he knew "they're going to want to sell the ESB. That's what they're going to do, and I know that's coming. I've got about a year, a year and a half now, to start explaining that to the ESB lads, and let's get the shop steward going, and let's get a situation where the lads will put up a fight.

"And if we put up a fight in the ESB – it's hard to get them to fight, but we're getting there. But if we put up a fight in the ESB, the lads will start to believe that they can actually effect change, and if they start to believe it, their mates and their brothers and their sisters, they'll say well this actually works.

"So what does having a fight in the ESB mean? The first thing is you say, 'sure we can't do it, we sold half the power stations, it won't make any difference. If we turn out the power stations, well, some other power station will . . . That's correct.

"But there's no electricity ever went from a power station to that light bulb – so we control that."

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