ICTU's silence failed members
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions had a decision to make yesterday. It failed to make one.
The reason was all too clear and simple. Three member-unions had already come out against the European fiscal pact, and the ICTU leadership took the easy course in the hope of preventing any more divisions.
By refusing to advise their members on how to vote in the May 31 referendum, they closed their eyes to the most salient fact in the debate now in progress in Ireland and throughout the European Union.
Jack O'Connor of SIPTU pointed it out. The treaty provides for budgetary discipline, which -- as its critics never tire of arguing -- requires austerity measures.
But there is another side, which the ICTU ignored.
Across Europe, there has been a dramatic groundswell of opinion in favour of an enlarged treaty which also includes measures to stimulate growth and employment.
Yesterday the favourite to win the French presidency, Francois Hollande, expanded on his earlier call for a renegotiation of the pact.
He wants eurobonds, not to pool EU countries' debts -- the usual reason given by their advocates -- but to finance infrastructural projects.
His other proposals include a tax on financial transactions and an expanded role for the European Investment Bank.
Hardly had he listed these measures than his rival, President Nicolas Sarkozy, rushed to say that if re-elected he would renegotiate the pact.
Not the most dignified way to fight an election campaign, but a strong indication of what way the wind is blowing.
Its direction is unmistakable.
It is blowing the feelings of national populations into the ears of European elites, who are saying exactly the same things that ordinary people say when they voice their gut feelings.
The head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, says that joint measures are needed to support growth.
He thereby echoes the Italian prime minister, Mario Monti.
These two are at the heart of the establishment. Mr Hollande will join them if he wins the election on May 6. And his top adviser, Michel Sapin, sums it up: "A treaty based solely on budget discipline will drive Europe to the wall."
The most dramatic recent event, the fall of the Dutch government, played a major part in these developments. But they are also a welcome indication of the influence that populations of democratic countries can wield.
All the more regrettable, then, that the ICTU leadership has chosen to sit this one out. The Government, for its part, cannot sit it out. It needs a Yes vote on May 31, and to secure that it needs to be able to tell us, truthfully, that we are voting for recovery as well as discipline.
Truthfully -- and persuasively.