Judging by the video released by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) on May Day, the union bureaucrats are stuck in the same 1930s time warp as the rest of the Irish left.
A soap opera actor stands in front of devout Catholic Big Jim Larkin, who supported the May Day protest in 1951 that brought 150,000 Dublin workers onto the streets in support of Cardinal Mindszenty of Hungary, but she spouts about fighting fascism in Spain.
This has nothing whatsoever to do with events 90 years later nor has it anything to do with the ICTU whose predecessor the Irish Trade Union Congress refused to support the Communist side in that conflict. In taking that position they were reflecting the views of the vast bulk of their own members, as well as the vast bulk of people who supported the affiliated Labour Party and the republican movement.
The Wikipedia page on Irish involvement in the Spanish Civil War refers to International Brigade members who were members of “underground unions.” What, like coalminers? Gold mining dwarves? If it is meant as a reference to illegal trade unions in Ireland in the 1930s, then there were none.
The only unofficial unions were those like the Irish Mines and Quarry Workers Union in Castlecomer which was established by the Communists in opposition to the ITGWU because the Stalinists regarded the regular unions as “social fascists.” They don’t care much for that history, or any other history that isn’t based on makey-up stuff.
The actor in the video also claims that unions were founded to “fight racism and fascism.” Eh, no they were not. Apart from the fact that fascism did not exist at the time trade unions began to be formed – and that European trade union syndicalism was a not unimportant intellectual influence on Italian fascism – one of the raisons d’etre of early trade unionism was to protect “native” workers from their jobs being taken or their wages lowered by immigrants. That would probably would be defined as ‘racism’ these days.
As for the ICTU being part of some project to “build worker’s power,” where would you even begin? As Seán Lemass once said of the official partners of the trade union leadership in the Irish Labour Party when someone in Fine Gael ludicrously accused them of being communists, he couldn’t think of “a more harmless bunch of men.” And so they remain to this day.
More to the present point, the actor claims that “The far right does not represent working people, trade unions do.” Let us look at that one shall we. (Never mind the reference to the “far right” which largely exists in the imaginations of people who earn good money emoting about it.) I mean the claim that trade unions “represent working people.”
It was, to a great extent, true of trade unions here over the period from the 1940s to the 1980s when union membership as a proportion of the workforce rose from 42% in 1955 to 55% in 1985. Much of that strength was built initially on successful native enterprises, both state and private sector, and the close relationship of the trade union leadership with the state, and in particular with the Fianna Fáil party, ensured that membership was further boosted by the influx of foreign multinationals who were by an large let know by Ministers that the unions were part of the deal.
By 2003, however, the most commonly quoted figure for trade union membership was 38.5%, which had fallen further to 35% in 2009. It all becomes a bit vague after that. So while the Irish Congress of Trade Unions claimed recently, according to its Wikipedia entry anyway, to represent 602,000 workers in the Republic of Ireland, that would appear now to be either greatly outdated, or exaggerated.
The actual membership of affiliated ICTU unions, according to the report on the 2021 Congress held in Belfast, is just 521,004. The Central Statistics Office (CSO) gave a total figure for the number of people in employment in the 26 counties as 2,574,000 for the last quarter of 2021. That means that ICTU affiliated unions only account for 20% of the workforce.
So much for them representing the workers. Not only that, but over half of the membership of ICTU unions are public sector workers, 100% of whom are unionised, including those who are members of the Garda representative bodies who are outside of Congress. Which means that outside of those 300,000 state employees, that less than 12% of workers in the private sector are members of a trade union.
That is a pretty incredible indication of not only the myth that the Irish trade unions are “building workers power,” or representing workers rather than their mythical bogeyman of the For Roysh; but also of their increasing irrelevance outside of the public sector where membership is pretty much mandatory. And in fairness worthwhile as public sector workers do well when it comes to wage agreements and so on.
The reason that membership has declined so dramatically from the halcyon days of partnership with Fianna Fáil in its republican plebian proletarian prime, is that unions are pretty much impotent when it comes to looking after the interests even of its own members, let alone attracting workers who couldn’t be bothered joining a union.
It can validly be argued that workers in higher paid and “better” jobs such as those in the technological sector see no need to be represented by a union, and the unions no longer have the backing of the state, as they once did, in ensuring that most people employed by the multinationals who came here in the 1960s and 70s joined a union.
Woke corporations like Microsoft and Apple and the rest are non-union and indeed anti-union. They are also on the same page and sing from the same Woke script as the union bureaucracy across the West. The Woke tech corporations, above all others, benefit from the mass immigration and “free movement of labour and capital.”
This was something which the Left in the 1980s briefly decried as “neoliberalism” before they became so strung out on Foundation dollars that “neoliberalism” and the “race to the bottom” suddenly became transmogrified into diversity and multiculturalism.
And, therefore, anyone who questioned this including the “working class” who take the consequences of their communities being turned upside down, had to be relabelled not as fighters against Big Capital but as For Roysh.
Everything else is soap opera.