FG, Labour at war over the union vote
Members are urged to back 'Left' in polls
Published 19/02/2011 | 05:00
THE country's biggest trade unions are mobilising members in a desperate bid to stop Fine Gael from forming a single-party government.
Major private and public sector unions have sent messages to members urging them to back the "Left" -- particularly the Labour Party -- in next week's general election.
The move will fuel the increasingly bitter war of words between Fine Gael and Labour ahead of Friday's ballot.
In correspondence -- seen by the Irish Independent -- the union leaders warn of the "dangers" of voting for Fine Gael, in an unprecedented intervention in an election campaign.
Although many unions have strong links to Labour and have previously urged members to vote against Fianna Fail due to ongoing industrial disputes, it is the first time they have organised a sustained campaign of opposition to Fine Gael.
It came after Fine Gael declared on its website and in election leaflets that it would take on "vested interests" such as bankers, developers and unions which it said had contributed to the current economic crisis.
Unions -- already opposed to Fine Gael's plans to transform the public sector -- reacted furiously. UNITE and the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) sent urgent messages to members yesterday to discourage a Fine Gael vote.
And the leader of the trade union movement, David Begg, threatened to "advise" the Irish Congress of Trade Unions' 600,000 members of the Fine Gael position and demanded the election material be withdrawn.
As the row escalated, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny refused to back down on his claims that the unions represented a vested interest group. Fine Gael also refused to remove the document which contains the controversial remarks from its website.
"Trade unions have often times given out about the FG party in the past. As far as I am concerned, my focus is on the people and country," he said.
The TUI responded to Mr Kenny's comments by issuing what it called a two-page "election warning" about the "serious threats" and "dangers" posed by Fine Gael.
TUI general secretary Peter MacMenamin went further than any other public sector union by asking members if they could afford to vote Fine Gael into government or allow it to get an overall majority.
"They are giving us fair warning now before the election, and if we put them into government on February 25 we cannot undo that. We must be warned now," he said in an email sent to members yesterday.
Fine Gael's policies have already set it on a collision course with unions as it has been heavily critical of social partnership "talking shops" and has vowed to slash the number of public servants by another 30,000. In contrast, unions have longstanding links with Labour, and pay annual affiliate fees of €109,000.
The move by some unions to urge their members to vote against Fine Gael is a gamble -- because there is a risk that it may be seen as interfering with their individual rights.
It could also provoke a backlash from the many private sector workers who have lost their jobs and are not represented by unions.
But Labour is hoping to recover many of the votes from the public sector unions, who were accused of getting too close to Fianna Fail during the era of social partnership-negotiated pay rises.
The largest union, SIPTU, which has more than 200,000 members, has declared itself in favour of Labour and parties that "support principles of social solidarity".
Mandate, the union for 45,000 bar and retail workers, is not a Labour Party affiliate but has encouraged members to vote for parties and independent candidates "of the left".