Trade Unions to Celebrate May Day across Ireland

30 Apr 2021

MAY DAY 2

May the 1st is recognised internationally as the day to commemorate the historic struggles and gains made by workers and the labour movement around the world.

To mark the day ICTU General Secretary Patricia King and ICTU Assistant General Secretary Owen Reidy said:

“We have lived through unprecedented times, however, we can be confident that the process has started North and South for a gradual easing of restrictions imposed during the lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19.

The trade union movement has provided strong leadership in forums and workplaces in every economic sector and in both jurisdictions, doing everything possible to protect workers throughout this pandemic.

Workers have experienced a year of uncertainty, some have lost their jobs, others have seen their incomes reduced. Nearly 5,000 people have lost their lives, a figure which includes several front-line medical practitioners, transport workers, retail staff, and other workers deemed as being ‘essential’.

But they always were ‘essential’ – it’s just that they were ‘undervalued’.

That is a single symptom of the underlying problems we have and a reminder that there can be No Going Back to the consensus of working life before the pandemic.

The gradual rollout of the vaccine will bring more certainty to our lives and eventually see the phased re-opening of the country. And then what? If we can secure the jabs, then we can secure the jobs.

Thousands of low-paid and insecure workers, especially the young, are being faced with the Bill for the pandemic. That is not fair.

Nor is it fair for those who have been working from home to have to balance feeling safer and enjoying more time for family life, with the pressures of an ‘always-on' culture and managers who want to text and email staff at any time. ICTU was first to call for legislation to oblige employers to give requests for flexible working arrangements serious consideration

Congress played a key role last year in persuading the Irish Government to roll out the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, a vital safety net for hundreds of thousands of workers.

In Northern Ireland, Congress-led the calls for an Engagement Forum involving unions, employers, and the NI Executive to craft and deliver safer working environments, especially for ‘front-line’ staff in schools, food processors, and health and social care.

These are new ways of working that are not compatible with ‘Business As Usual’.

As we spelled out previously in our document ‘No Going Back’ A New Deal Towards a Safe and Secure Future for All, “the response to this crisis has to be different this time. Austerity is neither socially acceptable nor economically necessary. We believe that the length and depth of the recession will be determined, at least in part, by the policies we choose and values that guide us”.

Congress continues to demand affordable homes to buy or rent and the provision of more public housing in both jurisdictions. We need a Just Transition for a new lower carbon-intensive economy that builds upon an emerging blended work model.

We also need to challenge the orthodoxy that the Market is the font of wisdom. The global response to the pandemic has seen the greatest expansion of the state as the driver of economies since wartime. The example of America under President Biden is as instructive as it is startling.

Business can and must play its part in re-creating wealth and innovation, but business must shoulder its responsibilities as well. There is no room for the corporate welfare of contracts to cronies, selective tax breaks, and bespoke offshore arrangements.

There is a perfect storm ongoing, and it is no spent force. The cost of the pandemic will take years to rebalance. We cannot neglect the slow-motion train wreck that is Brexit, where the UK has decided to impose economic sanctions on itself, with immediate consequences for that ‘shared space’ between the UK and the EU, Northern Ireland.

This means that there are no easy choices for trade unionists on any part of this island. We must be active in our workplaces, even virtual spaces, for fair pay and decent working terms, and safer conditions. 

Trade Unionists must resist the siren calls of populism, from ill-informed super-spreaders of misinformation about viruses or professional stirrers of the toxic brews of racism and sectarianism.

Trade Unionists must ensure that the debates on how we live our daily lives after Covid are not skewed into accepting the old formulas of austerity and punishing the poor.

There will be No Going Back, not on this May Day or future May Days.