Friday, 23 October 2009

Irish union leaders' pay, and striking for the teachers

With all the posturing by union leaders on the subject of impending pay cuts for their members, it’s quite shocking – I think – to note the income disparity between the union heads and the majority of workers. It also asks the question: how out of touch with reality are union leaders with ordinary people, especially after years of “social partnership” and hob-nobbing it with TDs?

There’s also, of course, the glaring absence of a union presence where it should be: in the low-paid and exploitative regions of the private sector... the very workers the union bosses should have organised and signed up during the boom years. They chose, instead, to ride the gravy train - sticking to the cosy option of pursuing public service benchmarking.

Now it’s all “workers unite – private and public!” if you listen to them. But am I – or any other poor sap in the private sector - going to walk out of my precarious job to march shoulder-to-shoulder with a phalanx of pampered teachers, whingeing about taking a moderate pay cut? My arse I am. Let alone the fact that I’ve always hated the bastards. Formative reasons for that, I suppose.

But I digress. Of 16 unions contacted by The Irish Times on the subject of their leaders’ nemuneration, seven refused to disclose any details. Teachers’ union boss, John Carr, was found to be the highest-paid of those who fessed up, chalking up €172,000 a year, while IMPACT’s Peter McLoone banked €171,000.

Three national executive officers of SIPTU were paid €125,000 last year; and John White of ASTI, Peter McMenamin of the TUI, and ICTU general secretary David Begg were paid €144,000, “between €132,000-€150,000”, and €137,000 respectively.

We need a revolution in Ireland, but I think it’s highly unlikely it will come about through any form of anarcho-syndicalism.

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Anonymous said...

But does this not just go to show:

UNION = Big Pay and protection
NO UNION = Shit pay and the sack

The Gombeen Man said...

I'd like that to be the case, Anon, but I don't think it is. I think the unions are just concentrated in the better-paid, protected sectors. It's easier.

Otherwise, any poor sod in a shitty, minimum-wage job would only have to join a union to enjoy the benefits of teachers, coppers and the like. Nevertheless, I think unions should be bending over backwards to recruit such workers, and try to better their lot. How come too, after all the years of sipping tea in the Dail, our union leaders allowed so many US multis to remain union-free zones? Surely they had bargaining power to organise these areas?

By the way, I'm in a union, and I am in agreement with the original principles of trade unions. I just don't think our union leaders are, certainly in some areas, true to those principles... I think they are just there to milk it :-(

Anonymous said...

Sorry GM

You've got this one totally wrong.

Unions are there to protect their workers. Teachers seem fairly well protected to me, egro their Union has done its job, ergo they get well paid. This is how the world works.

Those who don't find themselves in similar circumstances need to say 'Hey.. why don't we get organised and get some of that' not 'Let's get angry and smash it all to bits'

The Gombeen Man said...

Don't agree with you there, mate. That's a bit like saying "playing basketball makes you tall".

Teachers are well paid and in secure jobs because they are teachers working in the public sector.

Come on... otherwise all a person working on a minimum wage as a cleaner, for instance, has to do is join a union to get the same pay and holidays as a teacher. Don't think so.

That said, I think union bosses should be doing all in their power to recruit and represent exploited workers, rather than supping brew with the Establishment.

Anonymous said...

Just to add my tuppence worth. I think your barking up the wrong tree on this one. To continue with analogies: To say that "Teachers are well paid and in secure jobs because they are teachers working in the public sector." is a bit like saying "Mountains exist because they exist."

Workers in the public sector have been unionised for years and have built up their pay and conditions through lots of sustained and incremental gains. If cleaners join a union tomorrow they will not get the same pay as teachers, but if they remain in a union and makes gains over a long period of time, then cleaners will be in a much better position in 10, 20 or 30 years than they are now.

The Gombeen Man said...

Sorry, I simply cannot accept that teachers are well-paid and have secure jobs because they are in trade unions. The public sector is an intrinscially protected sector - full stop.

My point is the union leaders - and I am a trade unionist - should be recruiting and organising workers who actually need protection and representation to combat exploitative employers. But that's too much like hard work for them.

But private sector workers, even in unions, will never, ever, enjoy the same conditions and job security as their counterparts in the public sector.

Bernd said...

You are making a very valid point here, Gombeeno - US multinationals for instance can simply ignore unions and that's it. And the unions? Well, let me tell you a story:

While working for one of those multinationals in a former life, I contacted several unions with a view to discuss a possible "intrusion". The unanimous answer was "Yes, it would be great if you could join, but as you know we cannot do anything for you!" (Okay, insert a shitload of waffle in-between.) My response was that in that case joining would make no sense and only cause aggro ...

... would you believe that I had several callbacks later on, stressing the point that the union could not represent us, but wouldn't it be great just to be part of the workers' movement?

Do those union officials get a bonus if they recruit new members?

The Gombeen Man said...

That says it all, Bernd.

Anonymous said...

GM & Bernd

You appear to be arguing that unions focus attention on sectors where they are not needed and ignore the sectors where they are?

Firstly, I'd say there are no sectors where they are not needed. Perhaps the public sector is an easy one to unionise but being hard on them is a bit like being hard on French wine growers just because they have nice weather and wine making is easy in France.

The real point surely is that some sectors are hard to unionise, sometimes perhaps because unions don't try enough but more often because employers resist.

Bernd's experience is unfortunate but surely most of the blame lies with the US multinationals, not the unions.

The original article appears off the mark to me as it gleans most of its energy from envy of well paid teachers and directs its attention to their unions in a way that goes to undermine the efforts of unions in general.

The Gombeen Man said...

"The original article appears off the mark to me as it gleans most of its energy from envy of well paid teachers and directs its attention to their unions in a way that goes to undermine the efforts of unions in general."

Substantiate your accusation of "envy". I find it quite insulting, to be honest.

I simply said that the union leaders do not seem to be making enough efforts to organise workers who most need representation, and that they are out of touch with ordinary people, who should be their natural constituency. My reference to teachers - and the disproportionate amount of whingeing coming from that quarter - was in this context.

This is more amazing, give that union membership is in steep decline - and nowhere more so than in the private sector, which they are plainly neglecting. Bernd's post would seem to back that contention up.

In fact, you seem to accept this when you say that "The real point surely is that some sectors are hard to unionise, sometimes perhaps because unions don't try enough enough but more often because employers resist."

Of course employers resist - that is to be expected. That certainly does not mean the union leaders should give up on workers who most need representation. What did they say at the zenith of the "Partnership" era, when they had leverage and the Government's ear? "Oh, it's a multinational, let's not bother - and let's not upset the apple cart by unionising those multis".

Bernd's experience is worse than "unfortunate", it's damn well disgraceful.

Anonymous said...


I’m intrigued to know how you imagine the negotiations between the unions and US multinationals proceeding.

What exactly do the unions say at the point where the US multinationals say

‘…OK so, we’ll set up in Malaysia instead.’

Having a non-union shop has not come about as a result of some silly oversight or slip-up by the unions. It is absolute top line non-negotiable deal breaker stuff.

It is disgraceful. I agree. But lets lay the blame where it belongs, at the door of the US multinationals.

The Gombeen Man said...

Morning Anon. It would be nice if I had a name to you? Gets confusing with all the Anons, but I know you're a regular enough visitor.

The multinationals are here because they can use the country as a tax-laundering centre for their world operations, thanks to Irish Government incentives, low corporate tax, and successive administrations in the US that have ignored the flight of domestic tax revenue for ideological reasons. The fact that we are a portal for Europe and are English speaking are further plusses. If recognising a trade union was a "deal-breaker" we'd have to question why we should tolerate that.

My view is the multinationals will migrate within the next decade or so, as other countries copy Ireland's trick - but it will be for purely financial reasons.

Anonymous said...

what about some union presidents being paid by the government organisation they work for while on paid leave for up to 2 years and depriving someone else of a job-- how can we trust what they say, they cannot have an objective view-- conflict of interest-- they get very well paid to stir up trouble and raise their own profile