9th January 2009
Mr. David Begg
Irish Congress of Trade Unions
31/32 Parnell Square
It now appears that the attempt by officers of ICTU to facilitate a settlement in the BATU dispute will come to nothing. This means that the strike has now entered its ninth month with very little prospect of an early resolution.
The responsibility for the failure of the ICTU mediation rests solely with the General Secretary of BATU, Paddy O’Shaughnessey, and his fellow strikebreakers. With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that they never had any intention of reaching a settlement. They were simply going through the motions of co-operation with the process in order to forestall moves to suspend or expel BATU from Congress.
On behalf of all the Unite members currently on strike at BATU, we would like to thank the officers of Congress for putting the time aside to attempt to resolve this dispute. As the report by the Vice-President (Jack O’Connor) and General Secretary of Congress on the negotiations will no doubt confirm, we participated in these talks in good faith. We were prepared to reach a settlement that would have ended the dispute, and would have done so despite our deep misgivings about some of the proposals that were tabled.
We were unhappy that the deal proposed by Congress in effect accepted the decision of BATU to sack workers for going on strike. It was at the insistence of Congress that the discussions with us were limited to the nature of a severance package whereas we had made clear all along that the strike was about getting all six strikers back to work with our union rights guaranteed.
The discussions, from the outset, were therefore on the terms set out by the BATU strikebreakers and not on our terms. Despite this, and despite our reservations about the details of the package that was eventually recommended by Congress, we participated fully in the process and ultimately indicated that we would accept what was on offer.
We did so fully aware that the BATU had insisted on strings to the package that were deliberately designed to give them an excuse to scupper the deal. These concerned the return of items of BATU property, – namely the union banner, some computers and a number of files, – which had been allegedly removed from the building during the occupation of BATU head office. BATU insisted that this property be returned as a condition of any settlement and, unfortunately, this was made part of the final recommended deal.
The strikers made clear during the negotiations that it was not in our gift to return any of the goods that, allegedly, had been removed from the building. We could not do so because we did not remove this material and none of it was or is in our possession.
What has been alleged is not that the strikers removed this material but that it was taken by BATU members who occupied the building at one point during the strike. The strikers were not involved in this occupation, either in its planning or its conception. It was carried out by BATU members who have their own grievances about the way that the General Secretary and some other senior officers have run the union.
The dispute between BATU members and the current leadership of their union and the strike by Unite members who are employees of BATU are two quite separate issues. Despite the fact that BATU made the return of property the key to resolving the dispute, they refused point blank to discuss or give any commitments to those BATU members who may have been able to assist them in this.
To decide that the resolution of one becomes a pre-condition for resolving the other is effectively to ensure that there can be no resolution of the strike. BATU were well aware of this when they pressed Congress to add this condition to the proposed deal.
During the negotiations the strikers warned that these strings would be used by Paddy O’Shaughnessey as a get out clause to scuttle the whole deal. As we were not in possession of any of the material that is allegedly missing we could not guarantee its return. We gave the only commitment we could – to ask those involved in the occupation – and who might have this material – to return it. We have done this, and Unite officials have also made similar requests on our behalf, but the missing material – if it exists – has not been returned.
If this process has demonstrated anything it is that the BATU have no intention of coming to a settlement. They have, in effect, put two fingers up to the best efforts of the trade union movement as a whole to resolve this damaging dispute.
This brings us back to where we were before the mediation process began. The current BATU leadership have besmirched the fighting traditions laid down by BATU members and have brought disgrace on the entire trade union movement.
Prior to the talks process the BATU strikers issued a call for Paddy O’Shaughnessey to be removed from the ICTU Executive, and for BATU, until such times as it repudiates his actions, to be suspended from ICTU membership. We now reiterate this call as the only way forward.
Our grounds for making this call are as before:
That Paddy O’Shaughnessey refused BATU staff proper trade union rights and recognition
That he, and three fellow scabs, have crossed an official picket line on a daily basis since the start of this dispute and once inside the building are carrying out the work of strikers.
That he has brought in scab labour to do the work of striking Unite members.
That he has sacked four trade union members for taking part in lawful and official strike action.
That he physically assaulted a female striker. This act alone is grounds for Paddy O’Shaughnessy’s removal – otherwise the trade union movement could, as with other institutions in this state, stand accused of brushing such instances of physical abuse under the carpet.
Under the stewardship of a General Secretary whose behaviour is in the William Martin Murphy tradition, not that of trade unionism, BATU has degenerated beyond recognition. An organisation led by people who routinely flaunt basic trade union principles can no longer be regarded as a trade union. BATU, which once proudly fought on behalf of construction workers, has been reduced to little more than a pension fund for strike breakers.
BATU, under its present leadership, is a stain on the trade union movement. The only way to remove this stain is to remove BATU from ICTU. BATU’s presence in ICTU denies carpenters and bricklayers the right to the effective trade union organisation that they need in these difficult economic times. Suspending BATU from ICTU would allow carpenters and bricklayers the choice of a struggle to reclaim BATU or else to work out an alternative way to provide genuine trade union representation to all construction workers.
Paddy O’Shaughnessy’s refusal to enter any constructive negotiations means that our dispute will continue. The cases that are pending against BATU, including the assault charge against Paddy O’Shaughnessey, will go ahead. We thank all those trade unions and trade union members who have given us the support that has kept us going this far and ask that you continue with this support.
Above all we ask all trade unions to pass motions backing our call for the immediate removal of Paddy O’Shaughnessey from the ICTU Executive and for the suspension of BATU from Congress membership until such times as the BATU Executive disassociate itself from the disgraceful anti trade union actions of its General Secretary. The implementation of this motion would be the most effective way to help construction workers achieve proper trade union recognition and to help us to win this important dispute.
The BATU Strikers