by Michael Hall
TWO OF Ireland's biggest trade unions are to discuss a joint effort to help the election of a left-wing Irish coalition government.
The revelation came after an announcement by the Irish division of Amalgamated Transport and General Workers' Union (ATGWU) and the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union (Siptu) that the two unions were entering a co-operation agreement designed to strength organised labour on the island.
The May Day announcement by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) signalled a warming of relations between the two powerful unions, which have differed sharply over the years, particularly over so called social partnership talks with employers and the government. The ATGWU has rejected such talks as a means of moving labour interests forward within the southern state and has favoured instead free collective bargaining.
The new initiative will focus on delivering a collective strategy of organising workers and sharing research and statistical information.
ATGWU regional secretary Mick O'Reilly told the Irish Democrat that his union would also probe the possibility of the two unions jointly pushing for the election of a left-wing alternative government.
"We may be more politically ambitious than Siptu at the moment. Relations between the two unions have been cool during the past five years and it will take a while for trust and confidence to be built. "When we reach that stage, we intend to push the idea of a collective drive to elect a left-wing, progressive government, without Fianna Fáil. Labour, Sinn Féin and the independents would certainly form part of that vision," he said.
Siptu president Jack O'Connor told the Irish Democrat his union was on record as being prepared to support "a centre-left government" but that it preferred Fianna Fáil to be included.
"The difficulty is Fianna Fáil has aligned itself with the Progressive Democrats, so that may not be possible.The ATGWU's preference would obviously be with the independent TDs, while we are both affiliated with the Labour Party. In the end, any potential support Siptu gives will be subject to what is in the pre-election programme," he said.
The move by the two unions is expected to increase the political clout of the trade union movement generally, increase membership and focus resources on countering what many members see as a sustained attack by employers in the Republic on workers' living standards.
Mr O'Connor said:
"The two unions organise in every sector of the Irish economy. For too long now, we have wasted energy sniping and competing against each other. This mutual agreement must be seen against the background of a changing labour market, where the challenge of organising workers to improve terms and conditions of employment is greater than ever."
He said although his union and the ATGWU still differed significantly on the social partnership process, the engagement between the unions would "enhance the quality of the debate".
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Copyright © 2006 Michael Hall