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Editorial - The strength of solidarity

History has shown, again and again, that one of the core strengths of a trade union, or indeed any group of people in a society, is their ability to support each other in times of adversity.

A unified group of workers is, in any situation, a powerful force which cannot be ignored. In this regard our own campaigns, in 1999 and 2007, secured improvements, in pay and working hours, which would never have taken place without the unity of purpose demonstrated by all members.

In contrast it can be argued that, in recent months, the required level of solidarity, within and between workers, has not been at the level sufficient to overturn the flawed policies being pursued by government. This division has been capitalised upon, by employer groups and other right wing commentators who have sought to widen the gap, and sow the seed of division, between public and private sector workers. They have, in a campaign very much assisted by the media, attacked all workers, criticised any group of workers who have secured a pay rise and repeatedly argued for pay cuts for every worker, in every workplace throughout the State.

Encouraged by the overt support, from some employers, the government introduced by law, pay cuts to apply to all public servants. This was done by dictat in the worst show of disdain for employees in the history of this country. This ended the chance for dialogue and effectively brought to an end social partnership.

Therefore it was against this background that, in mid December, a number of private hospital employers announced that they were unilaterally introducing pay cuts, affecting all of their staff including nurses and midwives. Their defence for doing this was, in reality, that they were only copying the government and if the government could do it so could they.

However, I am delighted to say that this particular group of employers, who in the past, through the services they have provided, have undoubtedly met the needs of many people in this country, completely underestimated the willingness of their workers to combine, through their respective unions, and show a solidarity of intent capable of forcing a change of approach by the employers in question.

The positive outcome, of this show of solidarity and unity by our members in these private hospitals, is covered elsewhere in this journal. It must be immediately said that the possible issues arising from the financial situation facing these hospitals continues to exist. However the show of solidarity by members has ensured that the employers involved cannot, unilaterally, impose cuts in pay and allowances upon their staff. This show of strength has demonstrated that private sector employers, unlike the government, cannot pass laws and must still respect the rights of their staff. They must still listen to the voice of that staff through their unions and they must acknowledge, observe and adhere to the laws of the land and due process.

So the lesson to be learned, even in these dark and difficult times, is that workplace solidarity, through your union, is still effective; workplace solidarity, through your union, is still the greatest protection a worker can have against exploitative employers; and workplace solidarity, through your union, undoubtedly succeeds in pursuing the interests of the members it represents.

I can only suggest that this is a lesson for all unions, and all members of unions, at this time and it is one that we should accept and follow immediately.

Liam Doran
General Secretary, INMO

Editorial - The strength of solidarity
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Irish Nurses & Midwives Organisation (Cumann Altrai agus Ban Cabhrach na hEireann). The Whitworth Building, North Brunswick Street, Dublin 7. T:0016640600 E:inmo@inmo.ie