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Employees owe much to unions

Sir -- Shane Ross (Sunday Independent, February 20, 2011), should remember that when he talks of "the bearded ones" he talks of the public voice of many workers in this country -- including the NUJ.

His memory is very short, or perhaps selectively so. The unions were formed to protect the rights of workers against the interests of self-serving owners who had no regard for their employees' conditions or safety. They achieved that aim, and all of us who enjoy decent rights as employees today owe that to the union movement (whether we work in a unionised environment or not).

Union means no more than people standing together to pursue a common goal while protecting against intimidation of the individual: strength in numbers.

The argument that unions are no longer needed because of favourable conditions in non-unionised companies does not hold water.

Employees of the non-unionised Intels, Ryanairs and Googles of this world enjoy good employment conditions precisely because of the threat of unions -- they benefit without even paying a sub!

If you feel the need for unions is over, just take a look at recent moves by some hotels to reduce the minimum wage for workers under threat of dismissal.

I have no illusions about certain aspects of unions and union leaders: I wish that Siptu had a more moderate public face; I don't agree with militancy for militancy's sake; I don't agree with demarcation, inflexibility or restrictive work practices; I shudder at the pay and perks of top union leaders; and I dislike mouthy individuals who hijack union roles to grind their own personal axe.

But that is not to say that unions are wrong -- and I'm sure I could compile a similar list if I considered the management structures that I have seen in various companies over the years. It would be naive to expect unions to be an different.

While I enjoy Shane Ross's rants at times, he has many of the hallmarks of the mouthy, chippy shop steward himself and carries a lot of baggage when it comes to unions.

Jim Chambers,

Ennis, Co Clare

Sunday Indo Business