THE LEFT has won an historic victory in elections for the executive of Northern Ireland’s largest trade union NIPSA.
In a vicious election campaign NIPSA’s old conservative leadership used black propaganda and dirty tricks.
But the left, organised in a loose alliance under the name ‘Time For Change, Time For a Fighting Democratic Union’, won 13 out of a possible 25 seats on the Executive.
Of 13 left candidates elected, six are members of the Irish Socialist Party.
The result has sent shock waves through the bureaucracy of Northern Ireland’s unions – the old failed policies of compromise and retreat from struggles are increasingly being rejected.
Union members demand a leadership that can make real gains for workers. In NIPSA the key issues have been the old leadership’s failure to support members in struggle.
The development of ‘Time for Change’ was accelerated by a rebellion in NIPSA’s ranks when the old leaders tried to sell out the struggle of term-time workers in education.
The term-time workers’ struggle defeated the union bosses, education employers and the Northern Ireland Assembly. It was a huge victory for thousands of workers.
After this victory the old leadership tried to take control of pay negotiations from the union members. Again members fought back demanding that they be consulted.
These attacks are linked with attempts to destroy union democracy by attempting to stop conference, using legal moves to rule conference motions out of order and taking the union to the government certification officer.
Members have clearly learned from these experiences and now demand a leadership that will lead a fight for improved living standards and will defend union democracy.
The implications of the left vote in these elections will very quickly impact on the Northern Ireland Assembly as the Assembly parties are preparing for the biggest attack on public services in years.
The NIPSA vote will be enough on its own to make the politicians more cautious. NIPSA is a potentially powerful union, organising workers in both the civil service and the public services.
NIPSA covers the same sections of workers as organised by UNISON and the PCS in Britain.
NIPSA has the strength to bring Northern Ireland’s public service to a halt. The real test now will be “can the new union leadership put the Assembly into full retreat?”