NIPSA members must be heard

By Padraig Mulholland, NIPSA President (personal capacity)
The annual conference of NIPSA, the largest trade union in Northern Ireland, takes place in Enniskillen only a matter of weeks before the world capitalist leaders assemble there for the G8 summit. For NIPSA members the issues under discussion at their conference are every bit as important as anything Obama and company will be talking about. However, while the G8 will be organising the destruction of public services, jobs and terms and conditions, NIPSA delegates will be organising the resistance.
For the first time in NIPSA’s history the conference will end with a clear set of motions calling for resistance to cuts combined with an outright Left leadership prepared to implement the decisions taken by the conference. The NIPSA Broad Left grouping, including Socialist Party members, won a majority on NIPSA’s General Council in February but it only comes into place following the conference. The tasks facing the new leadership are not easy. Over the last year NIPSA has fought well in some areas but its old right-wing leadership has meant that it has largely disappeared as an effective fighting force against the cuts.
The change in the General Council reflects the need for a clearly argued strategy for a fight back. Following the Enniskillen conference, NIPSA needs to co-ordinate its campaigns with other unions and community anti-cuts campaigns that are willing to fight the cuts. In the next year they must re-launch the fight against cuts to the Housing Executive, health service, education, local government and in the civil service.
The union will also have to take on the thorny issue of sectarianism. As the recent flare-up around flags and the press misreporting on the Marian Price motion at NIPSA conference shows the issue of sectarianism remains very strong in Northern Ireland. NIPSA members have a proud record of taking action against sectarian threats and attacks in the past. Broad Left members have already raised the issue of action, including strike action, to counter sectarianism. The incoming General Council should build on this history of struggle and seek to defend union members and the working class as a whole, against threats and attacks.
The Broad Left recognises that ultimately the union must move in a political direction and in its manifesto called for the “use all options to defend NIPSA members, including supporting the election of genuine trade union anti-sectarian, anti-cuts political representatives”. The discussion on the options for the union must include all members.
Having a majority on the General Council puts the Broad Left in a strong position to point the union in the direction of a more militant defence of members’ wages, terms and conditions in the coming year. It is the case however that the full-time apparatus of the union includes those who are opposed to any serious fightback, and who find a myriad of ways to obstruct the democracy of the union. A key task for the incoming General Council is to ensure that the members’ voices are heard and listened to.

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