IT’S THAT time of year again, when we all reflect on the year that’s gone and plan for the New Year, we take stock of our struggles and achievements and learn from our defeats and mistakes.
Again 2017 was an exceptional year for Mandate Trade Union, our activists, members and their families. Mandate and our membership in Tesco Ireland Ltd were propelled into a strike beginning on Saint Valentine’s Day 14 February 2017.
While a strike is always a last resort, your union and our members in Tesco had very little option, forced as they were by an uncompromising attack on workers’ terms and conditions of employment and a company that was not prepared to accept the democratic and legal decision of Tesco workers to reject a Labour Court Recommendation.
It should recorded here the dignified manner in which all Mandate members on the picket line conducted themselves, their solidarity for each other, their belief in their just cause won overwhelming support from the shopping public. The repercussions of this dispute are still being felt by all sides involved, a situation which – if it persists – can only get worse.
We have now reached a crossroads in our relationship with Tesco. If the dispute was not about ‘Project Black’ – i.e. de-recognition of Mandate Trade Union and the silencing of a voice for workers in the workplace – then there needs to be clear confidence-building measures from both parties.
Disputes are difficult by their very nature – things are done and said which would not be considered in normal circumstances. That is why disputes are a last resort – the blame game is futile, and reprisals only plant the seeds of future discontent. The true measure of a leader is the ability to work with those who have been his enemies in the past. As Nelson Mandela famously said: “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
Mandate’s Decency at Work was centre stage during 2017. We continue to focus and commit resources to winning secure hours and certainty of income for all our members, and for all workers. Our Decency for Dunnes Workers campaign is central to achieving this objective.
Following on from the Dunnes Stores strike in 2015, Mandate launched a well-resourced campaign for the introduction of legislation that would guarantee workers fixed working schedules and secure earnings. We have met with all political parties and were instrumental in supporting both Sinn Fein and the Labour Party when introducing Banded Hours Bills in the Dail and Seanad.
Unfortunately the present Government (Fine Gael supported by Fianna Fail) has forced both Bills into a legislative cul-de-sac, favouring instead the introduction of a Government Banded Hours Bill.
Mandate Trade Union has had sight of the Government’s proposed Heads of Bill and we are seriously concerned that, if passed in its current form, it will be all but useless in protecting vulnerable workers. The Government’s Bill is so full of holes that it has the potential the make workers’ hours less secure.
That is why Mandate, our activists, members and families are maintaining a massive lobbying campaign to force the Government to repair the loopholes and give real effect to Decency and Respect at work.
Our members and families – indeed, all workers – will not forget at election time those TDs and parties who played lip service to the Dunnes Workers on the picket line while deliberately failing to support effective legislation in the Dail.
Our industrial agenda across all retailers continued throughout the year. Our national negotiating teams were successful in winning pay and benefits increases across nearly all retailers. While these increases are never enough, we will develop new tactics and strategies which will deliver for workers a living wage.
There can be no doubt that retail workers are on the frontline when it comes to the industrial agenda. They were the first to be hit in the crash and they deserve to be first to see significant gains in their pay and conditions as the economic situation improves.
It would be impossible to look back over 2017 without mentioning the housing emergency facing all our citizens. Each night more than 3,000 children are homeless – moved from pillar to post in emergency accommodation. Our shop fronts are filled by the homeless in sleeping bags – at 8pm each night, the GPO in O’Connell Street, Dublin, turns into a soup kitchen. Workers, such as retail workers, can no longer afford to buy or rent a home and our local authorities are refusing to build social housing.
All this is no accident, it is policy – the land is there, the finances are there, what is lacking is the political will.
So what does 2018 hold for workers and their families? No doubt more struggles, for that is the nature of the relationship between capital and labour. Workers (labour) are never given anything by bosses (capital), they must win all improvements by collective action and power as part of organised unions.
Mandate Trade Union and our members will continue the struggle for Decency and Respect for Retail Workers. We will defend the right of workers to have a voice at work. We will continue to campaign for certainty of income and decent jobs. We will fight for a living wage. But, we can only achieve all of these things if we organise, if we recruit new members and stand up as shop stewards and activists. The union is only as strong as its members and that is why your union, Mandate, is one of the strongest and most effective unions in Ireland – it’s because of our members, they get it!
Unity is Strength.
On behalf of the Mandate National Executive Council and all Mandate staff, we wish you, your family and your community a Very Happy Christmas and a Peaceful New Year.