Sunday 8 December 2019

Lise Hand: Comrade sees red over ICTU's plan to circle the union wagons

Lise Hand

UH-OH. For three minutes yesterday, ICTU stood for Irate Comrade's Tirade Unleashed. And it had all been going so harmoniously at the trade union conference up to the point when delegate Sinead McKenna popped up onstage and let fly at the top table where sat a line of trade union poobahs such as ICTU's David Begg and Jack O'Connor and SIPTU's Patricia King and Joe O'Flynn.

Dundalk-based Sinead, a member of the Civil Public and Services Union (CPSU), began mildly enough by explaining to delegates that she almost hadn't bothered making the trek to the gathering in Killarney as she's still on maternity leave. But then, without warning, she left the room in no doubt as to how she felt about their "better, fairer way" approach to negotiating for the membership.

"I think they should call it what it is -- an even more placid, quieter way. I got excited when I saw an ICTU document, entitled 'A Call to Action', but after reading it I realised it is in short a call to circle the wagons when really we should be coming out shooting at this stage," she declared to the rustle of delegates sitting bolt-upright in shock at the unexpected ambush.

"So the reason I'm here, members, is to call on the ICTU leadership to step down," she stated. "Your inaction has been a stranglehold and a gagging order on the Irish worker," continued Sinead, glancing at the line of leaders who sat stony-faced on the stage.

But the An Post worker wasn't rattled in the slightest by the waves of disapproval emanating from the ICTU top brass and carried on putting the boot in. "How do we get rid of a trade union leadership who've become so embedded in social partnership structures that they have apparently forgotten their original purpose?" she pondered aloud.

"I don't want to hear about the similarities between the Swedish and Japanese economic models -- I want to hear anger," she added, before finishing with one final kick: "I fear that the trade union movement is slowly going to become extinct if it carries on in this pacifist, 'Croppy Boy' manner," she concluded to more than a scattering of applause and cheering. Sinead's exit was swiftly followed by the whine of the sound barrier being broken by the CPSU's general secretary stampeding on to the stage.

Blair Horan's statement was possibly the shortest speech ever uttered into a microphone by a trade union leader. "What Sinead says doesn't represent the CPSU," he stressed, sparks all but flying out of his ears. In fairness though, Blair is well used to this sort of fist-waving hullaballoo as his union is a favourite stomping-ground of the more feisty, militant ranks of comrades who can rarely pass a barricade without being seized with the urge to storm it.

Afterwards, Sinead admitted: "It was a long way to come for three minutes, but I felt if I didn't come it would eat me up. It had to be said.

"In every movement there's a life cycle, and this ICTU leadership's is finished," she said. While the ICTU leadership would obviously beg (pardon the pun) to differ with Sinead, they forbore to start a scrap; although, while answering the various motions put to the floor during the morning session, ICTU's general secretary David Begg did remark that "anger isn't a substitute for carefully thought out policies".

And indeed even Jack O'Connor, perhaps the most pugnacious among the Band of Bearded Brothers in the trade union family, gave a more muted -- and much shorter -- address than usual at the opening of yesterday's session.

However, he did manage one attention-grabbing spot of sabre-rattling during his 30-minute speech (which is Beckett-like in its brevity by the outgoing president of ICTU's normal standards).

He was in full flow, fulminating against the nation's favourite new bete noire, the IMF/EU/ECB troika, and how our bum deal can be re-negotiated, when there was the audible rasp of a sabre being semi-drawn from its scabbard.

JACK invoked the dreaded D-word. "Opinion is divided as to the potential consequences of threatening default and we have not, thus far, supported the call," he hinted. "We may well come to do so."

Golly. But despite Jack's veiled threat, the loudest element in the conference room was the eye-watering hue of the stage backdrop, which was surely a homage to that doughty supporter of trade unionism, Michael O'Leary, as it was the same bright yellow to be found on Ryanair planes.

There was even a bit of a tribute to Jack who steps down as ICTU president (but not from his position in SIPTU) today. Patricia McKeown from UNISON deplored "the obscene personal attacks on our president of our Congress -- this good decent committed man, how dare they attack Jack," she thundered to approving applause.

It was all quite jolly, and all that was missing was a lassie springing out of a big cake. But alas and alack for Jack, along came Sinead of the CPSU hurling her freshly-baked mud pie instead.

Irish Independent

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