A socialist analysis of social partnership in Ireland, by Joe Craig of Socialist Democracy

Part of the Good Friday Agreement was the creation of the Council of the Islands. This provides the ruling classes of these islands with a forum to discuss their more effective political control. However, whatever political differences still remain, there is remarkable cross-nation agreement on the need for state/employer/ trade union partnerships. Furthermore, go to any all-islands, UK, British, Irish or Scottish trade union conference and you will see that the other national General Secretaries and officials and office bearers have usually been invited. Now, whilst many rank and file trade union members believe these people are only there for the free-flowing drink and restaurant meals, real discussion does also take place. The most likely topic is the promotion of the idea of partnership. This was first pioneered in Ireland. John Nixon, a writer for Fourthwrite, reviews the first book to analyse the Irish experience from a socialist viewpoint.

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has just netted a cool £30 million after selling seven million shares in Ryanair. He still holds 44 million shares, 6% of the company valued at £194 million. Big money. O’Leary’s profits come on top of a £17 million bonus he pocketed on the day a major strike for better pay by Ryanair baggage workers ended in March 1998. Ryanair is known for its contempt and non-recognition of unions and its despicable treatment of workers and arrogant disregard for any arbitration, whether High Court or otherwise. The story of Ryanair’s baggage workers’ strike of 1997 and the Irish nurses strike of 1999, when 10,000 nurses marched through the streets of Dublin, and the ramifications for workers, unions and social partners is well documented and debated in a gem of a book written by Joe Craig and published by Socialist Democracy.

Prisoners of Social Partnership questions the role and policy of social partnership and presents a formidable argument that, if anything, social partnership does little to advance the conditions of the underprivileged or redress the acute social, cultural and economic imbalances thrown up by the Celtic Tiger economy.

The book is not just a tale of two strikes but of two peoples; the haves and the have nots. There are fundamental lessons here for all those who claim that the cause of labour is the cause of Ireland and who want a more just and equitable society.

Joe Craig is well versed and experienced in fighting for workers’ rights and has faced the wrath of those who oppose them. The book aims to stimulate debate among ordinary workers angry that their organisations no longer seem to belong to them in any real sense and in fact more and more appear to be positive obstacles in the way of their defending themselves both inside and outside the workplace. In effect the organisations and individuals charged with defending their cause have been duped into becoming part of the oppressive apparatus which constitutes the state.

The disparities created by the Celtic Tiger economy may well prove to be the Achille’s heel in that when the boom becomes bust, the only people who will have anything to show for it will be the greedy Chief Executives, their lackeys, corrupt politicians and public reps.

The arguments in the book are set out clearly and the absence of heavy jargon is an asset. One salient fact emerges; the need for wider debate and cohesive action within militant socialism. This can only come about through the regeneration of political debate on the left and a renewed hunger for political ideas… unless a developed political programme is married tothe workers’ movement the latter will ultimately fail to significantly alter the injustice and inequality of present society.

Given the results of the recent election in the south the only thing that the underprivileged can expect is more of the same. Time for action is now. This book points the way forward.