UNI Europa Conference: Forward Through Collective Bargaining – Organising

Address by Seán McDonagh, Deputy General Secretary, CWU Ireland


At the outset, I extend the very best wishes to you all from CWU Ireland and that you stay safe in these most extraordinary dangerous and difficult times. Indeed, the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the value of workers and Unions leading the way in maintaining essential services, whilst ensuring full protections for workers and the general public alike. It has also confirmed, what my fellow countryman Mike Ryan of the World Health Organisation has said, that it is not just the virus that is killing people, it is the lack of access to healthcare by the underprivileged in a deeply inequitable society.

Our values are not confined to dealing with issues at times of crisis, and we must continue to work tirelessly to vindicate the rights of workers through collective bargaining. A fundamental right that successive Irish governments have denied its citizens. A position that was underpinned by a 2007 Supreme Court judgement known as the Ryanair case. However, I am happy to say that some progress has been made in the intervening period, including ironically, Union recognition at Ryanair, and there is scope for further optimism.

Can I also, compliment UNI Europa for proceeding with this Conference remotely, embracing and utilising technology to ensure we continue to promote our message and values, advance our cause by sharing our knowledge and experiences. Communication is key.

The theme Forward Through Collective Bargaining together with the slogan to Reinforce our Collective Bargaining Power, are timely as we prepare for a successful future post-COVID. I salute UNI leadership for promoting this event.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions, which CWU Ireland is a very active supporter of, developed a policy document entitled No Going Back-A new deal toward a safe and secure future for all. This excellent work, in summary, advocates for a fairer society in which Unions are best placed to deliver on behalf of their members. At its core is the requirement for legislation that ensures the Right to Collective Bargaining and access to workplaces to organise. It calls for an end to bogus self-employment practices, insecure work arrangements, and the right to a Living Wage. As I alluded to earlier, I am confident the hard work and the endeavour of the collective will advance our cause, and we must not rest until our objectives are achieved. We should not settle for less.

With regard to the Organising Strategy, which I fully support, we must at every level seek to defend, expand, build and rebuild. Collective Bargaining is not a panacea for all our issues, as we strive to create a strong and successful Trade Union movement. In our struggle there are two markets, employers and employees. We must win the hearts and minds of workers as the power of collective remains central to recruitment. Workplace activity is key to maintaining membership levels. Workers must see the Union as an essential presence in successfully resolving their particular problems.

Success depends on commitment, appropriate structures, and resources combined with a determined and relentless focus at all levels. Organising is a top priority, it is an obligation.

To quote Nelson Mandela “It always seems impossible until it is done”

Finally, it is appropriate to acknowledge today is International Workers Memorial Day.

Thank you.

Stay safe and stay well.