Fighting for the many, not the few
Growing inequality is probably the most pressing issue we are facing in Irish society today. It rears its ugly head in various forms: precarious employment, poor access to decent health and child care and the inability of an increasing number of our people to have a place to call home.
We, in the trade union movement, tend to concentrate our energies on delivering pay increases for our members. This is our bread and butter but we also owe it to our members, and the people who rely on us, to use our power to close the widening gap between capital and labour.
A recent analysis of earnings within the EU shows that Ireland’s income levels are skewed at either end of the income spectrum. The lowest 10% of earners are paid below the average of their European equivalents while the top 10% of earners are paid above the European norm. This is unacceptable.
One positive development in recent times is that CEO pay is increasingly coming under the spotlight. The rate at which company executives pay themselves took off over the last 30 years. Typically, in the 1980s CEOs were paid 40 times the average worker – it is now more than 300 times. Again, unacceptable.
And it is no coincidence that the increase in income inequality has risen over a period when union density has decreased.
While income inequality has been much less pronounced in the public sector than in the private sector, society’s elite, be they in the public or private sphere, tend to justify their enormous salaries with notions of ‘aren’t we worth it?’
The great crash of 2008 proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the majority of them are not worth it.
The recent decision by the Government to lift the cap of €190,000 on the salaries of senior academics within the university sector is an insult to the thousands of low-paid and precariously-employed workers within the third level sector and, indeed, though out the wider public service family.
These decisions have been prioritised over the elimination of the discriminatory lower level entry pay for up to 60,000 new recruits.
It’s a real kick in the teeth to public service workers who have carried this country through the worst years of the economic crisis. It is also the wrong policy and the wrong focus.
Your Union’s mandate has always been about transforming society – issues of social justice must be on a par with the routine issues that we deal with daily in the workplace.
There is widespread sympathy among the public for those younger public servants who are paid at a lower level than older staff. The younger generation is getting a raw deal in today’s world – everybody sees that.
This goodwill for the stance being taken by trade unions in support of younger workers was instantly undermined with totally disproportionate RTE coverage of a motion being tabled at a civil service union seeking to double leave for legal consultation in the event of a divorce for its members. It allowed a hostile press to paint a picture of a cosseted civil service totally removed from reality.
The campaigns and the issues that we, as a trade union movement, pursue will define us. If we pursue a narrow-based vocational agenda removed from wider societal realities and concerns, we will flounder.
That is why SIPTU has been to the front of the National Homeless and Housing Coalition. It is why we are trying to reform childcare through our Big Start campaign and fighting for pay justice for Section 39 workers.
It is why SIPTU will not be party to any future public sector talks unless the two lower entry points for new employees are abolished.
As a union, we must continue to work for our members both within the workplace and in society with the same energy in order to fight the scourge of inequality; to continue to fight for the many, not the few.