Report from 2006 Independent Workers Union conference


An anarchist reports from the conference of the Independent Workers Union held Saturday in Dublin. The IWU broke away from the ATGWU (another general union that admits all workers) in 2002 .

he IWU is a new small union which stands outside the partnership consensus and is attempting to build a new radical trade union – no easy task in today’s world. Much of its work is aimed at recruiting and organising people in ‘precarious employment’. This often happens in terms of taking cases for people to Labour Court, Employment Appeals Tribunal, Rights Commissioners etc. – work that is far from glamorous but is of crucial importance for the individuals involved. The people involved in the union want to recruit workplaces and want to re-build a radical fighting trade union spirit. This can’t be done by a clicking of the fingers but takes a hell of a lot of work.

I would encourage all revolutionaries, radicals, anarchists and libertarians to join the IWU and help in the task of building what can become a new radical voice for workers.

This is my brief – unofficial – report of what happened at the Conference on Saturday. Maybe others reading this who were present could add their observations.

The conference was attended by about 50 people. It opened with fraternal greetings from the National committee of all Polish trade union workers’ initiatives.

The General Secretary (Noel Murphy)’s report included the information that the IWU now has over 1,000 members, 7 branches and 3 offices – in Cork, Dublin and Monaghan. Noel’s report covered a wide range of issues but the one which excited most reaction from members present was the information that the IWU has been approached by the ATGWU about a possible merger or some type of federal alliance. All speakers who responded to the report did so on this topic. One speaker said that we should listen to what the AT was offering but all others spoke against the idea of any merger. Responding, Noel Murphy said the reaction was such that ‘nothing substantial is likely to happen for a long time’.

Next up was a fraternal address by none other than Mick O’Reilly of the ATGWU. Having been warned of the hostile reaction to his marriage proposals, Mick referred much more to ‘finding ways of working together’ and ‘sharing resources and knowledge’. He referred to the T&G being in the process of merging with Amicus and GMB which will give them something like 2½ million members between Britain and Ireland and 130,000 members in Ireland. He was very much subscribing to the ‘big is beautiful’ school of thought and seemed to be attempting to win people over to the idea that an alliance of some sort would give the IWU greater muscle and access to resources. He was also disarmingly honest in stating that the AT is ‘trying to become an organising union after 80 years of being a servicing union’ and that basically they didn’t really know how to do so.

Under the ‘Labour legislation’ section of the agenda motions were passed on
· the Unfair Dismissals Act,
· Industrial Relations (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act,
· Department of Labour affairs,
· difficulties with people getting their P45s,
· problems with workers being left off rosters,
· bullying in the workplace,
· trade union recognition.

2 motions were passed in relation to Housing – both relating to the lack of social housing.

Next up was a fraternal address by Aengus O Snodaigh TD of Sinn Fein who talked about SF’s commitment to workers’ rights and to working closely with trade unions – especially the IWU! He focussed particularly on the EU Services Directive and spoke of the need for trade unions to get more militant.

A number of motions were passed during the Public service part of the agenda – motions which
· called for An Post to develop a state banking service
· called for the tax take on banks to be doubled,
· called for disciplinary action to be taken against Ministers and government officials who squander public money,
· condemned outsourcing in the public service,
· called for gas, oil and mineral resources to be taken back into public ownership,
· looked for legislation to ‘place responsibility for the ethical production of goods and materials sold on their premises,
· looked for government funding for independent broadcasters and media

A very detailed Financial report was presented and this was followed by a Development report from Noel Murphy. Nothing controversial emerged from either.

The Organisation section of the agenda passed motions on
· publication of a ‘dirty rotten scoundrels’ list of employers who rip off workers
· branch organisation, branch representation on the National Executive and employment of full-timers
· establishment of self-organised groups by members of ethnic minorities
· condemning the Sunday Times for their libellous claim that the IWU was behind the recent Dublin riots.

One of the Polish comrades present, Radek, then gave a presentation on problems faced by immigrant workers and the particular challenges for the trade union movement in organising workers employed through employment agencies.

I had to leave at that point but there were still motions dealing with migrant workers, campaigns, the health service, the community and voluntary sector and partnership to be dealt with.

I think the conference highlighted a number of challenges and opportunities. Firstly practically all of the motions were aspirational and tended towards a ‘calling on the government to do something’ type of politics rather than outlining the way in which the union might go about campaigning on any particular issue. In reality of course, as the article above states: “The state will always serve the interests of capital, the only way in which workers’ rights and labour standards can ever be protected is by trade unions recruiting all workers into our ranks and by fighting aggressively to defend and protect employment standards.”

The motion passed in relation to structure provides, in my view, a great opportunity for the union to develop in a democratic, open manner. The motion stated:
“1. Each member of the union will be attached to a branch and will be invited to regular branch meetings.

2. At least 50% of the National Executive Committee will be branch delegates. These delegates will be directly elected by the branches, and will be mandatable and recallable. To facilitate this, the agenda for National Executive Committee meetings will be circulated in advance in time for issues to be discussed by branches and branch delegates to be mandated.

3.The immediate and ongoing objective of all branches of the union is to recruit new members. When a branch reaches a certain size, a full-time paid official will be elected. The logistics of implementing this policy will be discussed by all branches and by the National Executive Committee over the coming period with a view to having detailed proposals for Annual Delegate Conference 2007.”

Debate on the implementation of this structure will take place at branch level in the IWU over the next year. Why not join the union and participate in that debate?

Background reading

This report was first posted as a comment on the article at