Sunday 18 March 2018

SIPTU rejects move to axe link to Labour Party - but members vote for full review of its political fund

SIPTU President Jack O'Connor
SIPTU President Jack O'Connor
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

IRELAND’S largest trade union, SIPTU, rejected a move to axe its 103 year old link with the Labour Party.

However, the 200,000 member union overwhelmingly backed a proposal for a full review of the operation of its political fund including contributions to the Labour Party and individual Labour electoral candidates.

A special report on the political fund, which is worth around €200,000, will now be compiled for the 2017 SIPTU biennial conference.

The review was proposed by SIPTU's national executive council and tabled by Ann Ryan and Phelim Jennings.

Siptu president Jack O’Connor
Siptu president Jack O’Connor

SIPTU members contribute 63 cent each per year to the political fund though there is an opt-out clause.

"We need to ensure that this fund is used in the most effective way possible," Ms Ryan told the 350 delegates at the Cork conference.

However, a proposal to immediately end SIPTU's long-standing affiliation with Labour before the next general election was defeated.

The motion was tabled by Kieran Allen and Ciaran McKenna on behalf of SIPTU's education sector.

Mr Allen said Labour now needed to "earn the support of this trade union" rather than automatically be granted it.

He claimed Labour had badly let down Irish workers over the past four years of Coalition with Fine Gael and demanded that all left wing parties be treated in an equal fashion.

"When you are in an abusive relationship you have to call stop," he argued.

Mr Allen also said it was outrageous for SIPTU to contribute €25,000 in the 2014 Local Government elections to Labour Party candidates while SIPTU members such as Councillor Chris O'Leary of Sinn Fein, now the Lord Mayor of Cork, and Clare Daly of the Anti Austerity Alliance were not supported.

Under new electoral rules, SIPTU can only contribute €2,500 per year to Labour from its political fund.

However, contributions of up to €500 can also be made to individual SIPTU members who are standing for election for the Labour Party.

The review will examine whether parties such as Anti Austerity Alliance, Social Democrats, People Before Profit and others can benefit from the fund as Labour have historically.

Mr Jennings pointed out that the political fund is now largely used to support campaigns in support of specific union goals.

He pointed out that, over recent years, these have included anti-privatisation protests, anti-austerity rallies, marches in support of workers engaged in industrial action such as the Greyhound dispute and the campaign for better pay for Irish hotel and catering workers.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett argued it was wrong for the giant trade union to endorse a single political party when other groups in Ireland were now fighting for the same goals as SIPTU.

He argued that SIPTU should instead lend its support on an issue-by-issue basis politically.

SIPTU President Jack O’Connor was unapologetic before the Cork conference about his support for the Labour Party.

“I will be voting for the Labour Party, I am a member of the Labour Party and I have never considered leaving the party. I never will leave the party,” he said.

Numerous speakers yesterday opposed the motion to sever links with the Labour Party on the basis it remained the party of James Connolly and Jim Larkin.

However, Mr O'Connor admitted Ireland’s left wing parties now need to work together given the implications of any right wing government in the 32nd Dail.

“We have to build alliances on the left in Ireland. We have to work together with the independent left and any parties that believe they are on the left.”

“My concern is that that work is not sufficiently progressed enough to offer a cohesive alternative to the people in the forthcoming election.”

“Frankly, my fear is that in trying to achieve it there is a very real danger that we will allow the right in on their own.”

“I honestly believe that if the people on the left believed that they could win, they could provide a viable alternative. But I think there is a poverty of ambition on the left. There is a refusal to believe that collectively we could win.”

Online Editors

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