There is a sad irony to the fact that, just after Joe Duffy's campaign to have James Connolly named "The Greatest Irish" person, there are growing revelations about how SIPTU have failed to live up to the legacy of one of Ireland's first and most noted socialists. That Union officials may or may not have misused public funds to go on jollies and junkets abroad is certainly depressing; what is more depressing however, is that such a revelation is not surprising.
However you view the Unions (and I, being a foaming at the mouth right-winger, am clearly no fan) there was always a certain romantic allure to the revolutionary red in which they clad themselves. That there is injustice in this world is not in question, nor can their be any doubt that the owners of capital exploit the worker, that the rich grow wealthier at the expense of the poor. What has always been in question, for me anyway, is whether socialism and stultified, regulated labour markets are the best way to combat this inequality. The Unions, rather than making the case for the organised labour, have through their actions over the last 10-15 years actively betrayed the weakest and most vulnerable in society, and developed the sort of hunger for filithy lucre usually displayed by the fat cats. They have undermined the case for the left through their hypocrisy and their aping of the actions of the elite.
Today, the sight of Jack O'Connor or David Begg before Leinster House protesting against this cut or that cut to wages or allowances is not uncommon, and the Unions seem more than ready to march or strike to protect the status quo. Yet where was this revolutionary fervour during the good times? After all, even in the days of plenty there was much to fight for - our children were being schooled in portacabins, patients were lying on hospital trolleys in our Accident and Emergency wards, and our public transport was ineffective and poorly ran. But the Unions did not strike for better conditions then - they seemed happy to settle for the wage increases the Government kept offering under social partnership.
My understanding of a Union is that it is there to better the plight of its workers - not simply raise their wages. Giving teachers better classrooms, nurses emptier casualty wards and bus workers newer, cleaner buses would lead to better conditions and a healthier working environment for all. But pay raises kept the Union membership happy, and the government were glad to pay out - after all, higher wages means more votes. And if the public at large suffered from cramped classrooms, less than hygenic hospitals and little to no public transport - too bad. Social justice wasn't in the Unions remit.
Now, the Union's stance is having a serious impact on social justice. Listen, the rich will never suffer from lack of investment in social services - they can send their kids to private schools, visit private hospital consultants, and don't need to take public transport. But there are many in Ireland who have to rely on public services, and the Union's obsession with pay over all else during the boom years is now directly hitting the most vulnerable, and those who have to depend on the state. The Government is cutting back on services because the Unions cannot countenance any reduction in the national wage bill. So the service user suffers.
Similarly, we see graduates leaving Ireland in their droves, including many newly-qualified nurses, teachers, physiotherapists and other key service workers. Because of the Union's "pull up the ladder behind us" attitude to state employment, these young people will never find work in the State. Instead, the Unions protect the rights of existing public workers over all else - and not just those state servants who do their job honestly and well. The Unions also feel that the incompetent, the lazy, the corrupt and the greedy have the right to a job for life - so long as they work for the State, and are a member of a union. So get on those planes, graduates.
The revolution is dead, and in case you need to ask - the Unions killed it.
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