Introduction

 

Des Derwin

SIPTU Electronics & Engineering Branch.


JUST AS the government and the powerful were rocked by new revelations of financial connections between politicians and big business (this time the hard-line anti-union Dunnes Stores) the trade union leaders were stepping up their efforts to enter again another 'partnership' with the government and the employers.

BEFORE the scandal broke it was Minister Lowry who had ultimate responsibility for CIE which was, as the talks got under way, refusing to pay a rise under the last Programme unless the unions accepted vicious cuts in working conditions.

AT THE same time claims by lower-paid civil servants and teachers under the previous deal remained unsatisfied, the nurses were in open revolt against the pay restrictions of the PCW, and Semperit had just closed, despite its profitability and its model record of flexibility and consensus.

AT THE talks, for another of the Programmes which have always professed to trade jobs for union moderation, the negotiators were presented with a government document projecting that unemployment would go up again in 1998 and 1999!

TIIE ICTU averted their eyes from all this, and a lot more besides, and beavered away to 'deepen and broaden' the process of partnership and consensus. The result was 'Partnership 2000 for Inclusion, Employment and Competitiveness.'

AT the back, as an appendix, is included the bulk of an early briefing paper circulated by the Campaign Against 'Partnership 2000'. This was prepared from press reports and it may show. The terms of the deal were copiously leaked yet copies of the actual pact were scarcer than taxis in Dublin as we entered the festive season. The figure for 8% growth in 1995 comes from 'Newsweek' magazine; most sources, however, put it at 7%. 'Newsweek' wouldn't exaggerate, would it? ICTU General Secretary Peter Cassels described 'Partnership 2000' when it was published as the culmination of the tax campaign of the late seventies (RTE Radio). Did it ever cross our minds, as we marched then, that when tax concessions came they would be offered to us instead of a pay rise, and to the non- PAYE sectors as benefits without 'quid pro quo'?!

LINKING the pay increase and the tax changes together and selling them as one rise delivered by 'Partnership 2000', usually citing an average post-tax increase of 14%, not only stole away the full benefit of the tax concessions (hiding a wage non-rise in the process), but rendered a common, across-the-board, increase into a varied, unequal post-tax outcome. A table issued by the ICTU to illustrate the tax benefit of the new agreement listed final changes in income at the end of three years, after the wage rises and after tax. This shows changes that vary from 8.8% up to 16.3%, depending on tax status. The self-employed on £60,000 (married couple, one earner, two children) would go up by 12.1%, while a low-rate-PRSI public servant on £9,500 (same tax status) would go up by 8.8%! (these figures are before inflation). Did someone say centralised bargaining?

WE REPRODUCE here two papers examining the experience of the three 'partnership' Programmes since 1987. They were first presented to the Trade Union Forum held on 28th September in Dublin. The Forum was organised by activists from various trade unions, as an open discussion on the programmes and how to deal with the prospects of another one. It was agreed to campaign against a fourth Programme, which led to the Campaign against Partnership 2000. As you can see the papers divide their dissection between the effects of the programmes on your pocket (Mary Muldowney) and on the state of the trade union movement (Eddie Conlon). Between the economic and the political (with a small 'p') effects, if you like; although both are just different aspects of the same animal.

THERE IS hardly any need to add anything here to either paper. As you will see both excellent papers knock the Programmes for six. While very comprehensive they do not pretend to cover all angles of the Programmes. They were written at relatively short notice, to be delivered as informal talks. They're printed here 'as is'. (End of note on style).

ANYONE with a calculator handy and the inclination to browse through Table 2 in Mary Muldowney's paper will see that the Programme for Competitiveness and Work (PCW), without the dubious inclusion of tax changes, provided a wage rise that corresponded exactly to inflation. That is, a wage rise of zilch. During that time ('94-'96) Gross Domestic Product (GDP) rose by 20%. (These are SIPTU figures). Profits and the salaries of company executives and top civil administrators also bombed ahead of the PCW.

MARY ALSO lifts the lid on the job-creation triumphalism of late 1990s. The primary stated motivation in 1987 for entering the first Programme was to respond to the crisis of mass unemployment. 'Partnership 2000', the fourth Programme, repeats that this concern is at the heart of the agreements. In that light the Programmes stand condemned. The Live Register is actually higher to-day after three Programmes than it was in 1987. Of course, the Live Register can be explained away statistically. Unfortunately the unemployed cannot.

THE FIGURES in her paper on the growth of jobs can now be updated. As she says, between 1989 and 1995 the total numbers at work rose by 143,000 and of this figure only 56,000 were full-time jobs, 28,000 were schemes and 59,000 were part-time. A Fas report, leaked in December (isn't it amazing how the advent of another Programme causes so many leaks to spring) states that the number of people at work has risen by 200,000 since 1989 ('Irish Times', 24-12-96). 41,000 of these new jobs are in Community Employment schemes (taking that number temporarily off the Live Register) and 66,000 are part-time jobs. So, 93,000 are full-time jobs.

lN THE course of his paper Eddie looks at the results of partnership at workplace level. That is, the results of national 'partnership', and its sustaining philosophy, on the workplace, as there is precious little actual social partnership at company level. Perhaps the most nauseating facet of the Programmes is how the reality in the workplace has contradicted the love-in at national level. During the last nine years workplace after workplace has undergone downsizing, new starting rates, speed-ups, undermining of shop-floor union organisation, loss of conditions or benefits, etc. - often introduced under threat of closure. Even wage cuts have returned. Who would have thought it?

The stink couldn't be disregarded indefinitely. Certainly not after Packard. ICTU leaders commencing the talks for 'Partnership-2000' picked out lack of partnership at workplace level as the major failing of the Programmes, but, in the same breath, called for a 'new type' of Programme which would have local partnership as its distinguishing feature! As if the problem was that 'partnership' had not yet reached certain local places and needed only to be extended there, rather than that the negative reality and experience at the level of the workplace and the firm (where industrial relations is actually centred) since 1987 gave the lie to partnership at national level. The workplace was the practice that contradicted the theory of consensus!

NEVERTHELESS the response to this by the architects of consensus on the union side has been the unveiling of 'partnership at the level of the enterprise'. (The kids don't believe in Santa anymore. Better get him to come right into their room next year!) This track meets up one from another direction, on which a 'local' train has been approaching for some time: 'Managing Change'. Through this 1995 policy, Congress sought the extension of national partnership into consensus in the workplace on restructuring, change and flexibility. (No more Irish Steels or TEAM Aer Lingus) Workplace consensus is now to be expanded, from 'Managing Change' specifically, to the norm for all matters. In Partnership 2000 'local partnership' and 'Managing change' are adopted side by side.

STRAIGHT -plonk!- out of 'Managing Change' (the ICTU document) comes clause 9.22 of Partnership 2000 : "The Parties to this Programme will seek to conclude a Framework Agreement within which issues relating to change and company restructuring would be dealt with." This is another milestone on the road to the ICTU's 'New Agenda', or Maastricht, and another, very crippling, millstone around the neck of shop stewards.

THE EFFECT of such a Framework Agreement is all too obvious. The employers would agree to talk on any cuts they sought and the workers would have to negotiate on what the employers were seeking. Everything is negotiable. Nothing is unacceptable in principle anymore.

Next step, even if talks get nowhere: all items are brought to the LCR and Labour Court. The Court makes a recommendation, the Union puts it to ballot, the media (if its a big concern) says the people should abide by third-party proposals (like Congress is always saying).

BEHOLD the double bind on the shop steward and local representative: he or she cannot lodge a claim against the employer for more (because of the national pay norm), but now, under the frame work agreement, the shop steward must sit down and talk on the employers claim that the members take less.

LOCAL partnership did not mean, as it never could have meant, a forlorn attempt to transform the gory reality of the shopfloor into the scented consensus of Dublin Castle. Local partnership steps forward as little more than a softening phrase for more restrictions on local bargaining.

THE GREAT1996 ESB Jobs Sale becomes the model for change and restructuring When Shannon Airport's general manager said in December, that the airport was overstaffed, the local SIPTU official responded that he hoped the changes at Shannon would be managed in the "less-painful" way that the ESB had brought about a reduction in its workforce ('Irish Times', 30-12-96). This amenability was forthcoming even though, according to the official, the union was not even aware at that time of any plans to "downsize" at the airport. Eddie Conlon's paragraph on rolling over in the face of restructuring could hardly have a neater confirmation.

Incidentally the local element of partnership didn't last very long. Local partnership is to arrive in the workplace through a centrally bargained framework!

AS EDDIE'S paper indicates, factors other than the programmes, within and without the unions, have also gone into the making of the current state of the trade union movement, to which might be added a series of heartbreaking and avoidable defeats from Pat the Baker right back to the Ranks sit-in, taking in the demobilisation of the tax marches on the way.

SINCE THESE papers were delivered, a paper by Kieran Crilly of Cork RTC concentrating on the pay and tax aspect, conclusively demolished the Programmes. It showed that between 1987 and 1995 the total in the economy (Net Domestic Product) going to profits and self-employed incomes rose by 121.2% in money terms at a much faster rate than wages, which rose by 68%, a difference of 53%. The paper is essential, though not holiday, reading and its entitled 'Nine Years of Voluntary Incomes Policies: a Critical Overview.'

FINALLY, after the usual declaration that the writers here are not speaking for their Unions, or even for the present campaign, but for themselves alone, a word on alternatives to the Programmes. A short word; there's no need to elaborate a complete alternative platform for the unions here. First, I'll point to the workers of Dunnes Stores and to the nurses. The Dunnes workers in 1995 showed that forceful and united trade union action can succeed; that solidarity and good public communications are not beyond the bounds of possibility. The nurses in 1996 showed, as they moved towards action, that their unity and determination to fight brought nearer the results blocked by the PCW. In both cases the unions recruited young people in sectors considered to be poor union material.

SECOND, I'll quote SIPTU President, Eddie Browne, from the December issue of SIPTU's 'Newsline'. Again its refreshingly simple and surprisingly 'traditional'. No need for glossy ICTU strategic studies. He said, back when it seemed the talks might fail to conclude a deal: "Union Branches have been advised to prepare claims to be processed through local bargaining."