Croke Park talks are a farce - unions have no mandate to enter negotiations

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According to RTE (Monday 14th Jan), “The opening negotiations on a new public service agreement have ended after a meeting between management and unions.”  It’s tempting to ask whether anyone on either side of the talks has even a basic idea of what the word “negotiations” means.  Even in a hostage situation, if the police open “negotiations” with the hostage takers, it’s usually with a tacit understanding that there will have to be some concessions made in order to secure the release of the hostages.  In this case however, it’s akin to the police negotiator discussing with the hostage taker whether the hostages are to be killed by gunshot, stabbing or poisoning.  The notion that the role of the negotiator is to secure the release of the hostages has been ditched.

By entering the talks, union leaders have accepted the government contention that a further €1billion “savings” have to be found in the public service pay bill over the next 3 years.  This comes on top of all the cuts already implemented and planned under the existing Croke Park Agreement.  These “negotiations” are about where and how these extra cuts will fall.  That a trade union leadership should even enter such talks is an absolute disgrace.  That it should do so without a mandate is hardly surprising but equally disgraceful.

If democratic procedures and the views of those who pay their salaries were to mean anything, when the union leaders received the ‘invitation’ to talks they should have held a series of special branch/district meetings to outline that 'basis for talks' to members.  Union members would then have had an opportunity to either accept or reject the invitation to enter talks - or even to table alternative proposals and say "we'll enter talks if X, Y, Z are on the agenda". Instead our 'representatives' have entered talks and we will be presented with a long and detailed document on a 'take it or leave it' basis. 

As I wrote in a piece for the INTO magazine ‘In Touch’ last November “Union members are supposed to accept as a given ‘truth’ that public spending must be slashed to pay off the gambling debts run up by international financiers and developers. And of course if we accept that ‘truth’, then we find ourselves in the position of trying to decide where the cuts should fall, and constantly find ourselves caught between the rock of pay cuts and the hard place of cuts to services such as class size increases, loss of SNAs etc.”

So here we go again - entering ‘negotiations’ where it's already pre-determined that there will be further cuts..... Is there something wrong with us? Have we forgotten what a union is supposed to be...

Words: Gregor Kerr, Chair District 14 INTO (personal capacity)

Photo by Andrew Flood  http://500px.com/AndrewFlood - Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike Creative Commons

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