Signs of Resistance to the crisis from the unions

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Amidst the myriad of austerity measures, in both the public and private sectors, there are some signs of resistance.

The Irish Nurse and Midwives Organisation (INMO) carried out a series of protests as part of a campaign designed to resist and prevent the government’s plan to phase out the payment to fourth year nursing students (described as nursing interns) by 2015. Currently these full time workers earn 80% of the salary of a newly qualified nurse in his first year of service. The Department of Health and Children’s (DOHC) plan is to reduce this 80% to 76% this year and further reductions to 60%, 50% and 40% over the coming three years, with these interns effectively becoming slave labour in 2015. This plan will further cripple the already failing health service.

Lunchtime protests were carried out at thirteen hospitals across the county on February 9th and a national rally in Dublin a week later, attended by INMO and SIPTU nurses and their supporters, attracted around three thousand people. Following on from the protests, the DOHC has agreed to review the decision. The INMO has nevertheless resolved to continue its campaign until the decision is reversed.

Elsewhere in the nursing sector, the threat of SIPTU pickets at the Mater private hospitals in Dublin and Limerick was sufficient to secure the restoration of pay scales and allowances scrapped unilaterally in January. SIPTU pickets were put in place on the Royal Hospital in Donnybrook in Dublin on January 29th following the decision to outsource the jobs of a laundry operator and a porter to a private contractor. Pickets were subsequently lifted when hospital management agreed to attend talks in the Labour Relations Commission

Just to indicate that the union bureaucracy are often as much part of the problem as employers, eight hundred delegates representing Irish National Teachers Organisation members from across the country voted overwhelmingly to reject a government scheme which would have seen unemployed teachers working for free in our schools, instructing the union’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) to issue a directive to all union members not to participate in the scheme.  The gulf between the union membership and the leadership was evident when the only delegates voting against the directive were members of the CEC.

This scheme, known as the FAS Work Placement Programme, and sold on the basis that it would give unemployed teachers ‘a chance to gain experience’, was originally announced by Minister for Education & Skills, Mary Coughlan, at the end of November.  With the announcement coming just days after the announcement of cuts of 1,200 teaching jobs, members of the union across the country were furious and expected the union’s leadership to immediately reject the scheme. The CEC instead entered talks with the Department of Education and Skills on implementation and monitoring of the scheme.

Members of the union were not willing to accept this however.  Spurred on by young members and newly qualified teachers, members organised to resist the scheme.  To ask or expect people to work for nothing was identified clearly as exploitation and an insult to basic trade union principles. With the issuing of the directive, principal teachers will refuse to have anything to do with the scheme so it will be impossible for it to proceed.
This was a massive victory for the ordinary members of the union.  It shows that when union members get together and organise in a co-ordinated and cogent manner they can prove that the union belongs to the members and not to the leadership.

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