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NEARLY TWO months ago, Mick O'Reilly, the regional secretary of the Amalgamated and General Workers Union (ATGWU) and its Belfast organiser, Eugene McGlone were suspended by Bill Morris, the general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union (TGWU) in Britain. DERMOT CONNOLLY reports from Ireland on these developments in ATGWU, which has 50,000 members in Ireland, and is a region of the British union.
Irish Union's Democracy Under Attack
MICK O'REILLY and Eugene McGlone were called into a side room and handed letters at a union meeting in Belfast, which told them they were being put on "precautionary" suspension, while an investigation into unspecified allegations against them took place. There is no precedent in the union's history, or rules which allows such action by Morris.
They were told to leave the building immediately and not to talk to other officials, staff or the media. They are effectively banned from any union activity or defending themselves against media speculation.
They have still not been informed of the charges against them. A 240-page document has absolutely nothing to back up the charge of poor management and gross misbehaviour. Some charges are ludicrous.
There is the story of the "sexy mug", seized on by the Evening Herald. This concerned a tea cup bought for Eugene McClone, which apparently had a woman on it who stripped when hot water was poured in.
This was never taken out of its box. When a female member of staff objected to it McGlone removed it and apologised to any staff member who found it offensive.
The two are in reality facing trumped-up charges raised by a right-wing clique in the union linked to Morris who oppose Mick O'Reilly's appointment as regional secretary after winning the vote on the TGWU's national executive against Morris's wishes.
ANOTHER ISSUE is that of ILDA, the locomotive rail drivers union, who broke with SIPTU and NBRU unions in Ireland. The ATGWU took 118 of these into the union earlier this year.
The SIPTU position and that of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), was that these workers had to be forced back into SIPTU and the NBRU, to serve as a warning to other dissatisfied union members considering breaking with the union establishment.
Right-wing trade union leaders in Southern Ireland know there is massive anger at their policy of partnership and the lack of democracy and control over the unions by the membership. If they allow one group of workers to strike out in a new and militant direction, partnership and their control would be greatly undermined.
SIPTU made the unbelievable claim that 62 of the ILDA workers were SIPTU members in arrears, even though these workers left SIPTU two years ago. This claim was unsurprisingly agreed by ICTU.
This reduces union members to the position of serfs, who belong to one union baron or another and makes a mockery of workers' right to have representation of their own choice in the workplace.
Socialists support the idea of the closed shop, where if a majority of workers are unionised then all workers have to be in a union - preferably the same one. If there are different unions, the way to achieve unity is through joint shop stewards committees and joint mass meetings of the workforce to take decisions.
These basic ideas, developed over years of struggle, aimed to stop scab labour being employed and have the strongest possible position for struggling with the company.
These principles are now being turned on their head by right-wing leaders who bureaucratically police the unions on behalf of and in collusion with bosses and the state.
A struggle has now opened up between left activists and the right in the ATGWU. A meeting of the Dublin District Committee and shop stewards called for reinstatement of the suspended officials and an emergency regional committee meeting.
The chairman of the regional committee called this meeting but was overruled by the official who Morris had sent in to run the union. The boardroom in the union office was locked on the day of the meeting.
A campaign amongst the trade union movement, North and South, explaining the real issues involved - an attempt to crush all opposition to bureaucratic rule - would receive massive support.
The ATGWU left, including Mick O'Reilly and Eugene McGlone, must come out fighting now and immediately organise a series of public meetings, open to all workers, with Mick O'Reilly speaking. A move which is now being discussed by ATGWU activists.
In The Socialist 24 August 2001: