SIPTU General President Jack O’Connor thanked Waterford City Council for affording the Union a civic reception to mark its 100th anniversary at City Hall on Monday evening.
Speaking to The Munster Express, Mr O’Connor commented on the economic problems facing the country, how his union is doing its utmost to protect workers and why he isn’t married to social partnership.
“It’s humbling that our union has been honoured in such a manner by Waterford City Council,” he said.
“And it was entirely fitting that Waterford has honoured our first 100 years given that Waterford representatives were present in the Trades Hall in Dublin on December 28th 1908, when the ITGWU was founded.”
The union was renamed SIPTU in 1990 following the ITGWU/FWUI merger and currently boasts 200,000 members.
Proposing the motion to recognise SIPTU’s role to the socio-political life of Ireland, Councillor David Cullinane saluted the union’s invaluable contribution since it was officially registered by Jim Larkin on January 4th 1909.
“It is interesting to note that the first branch of the union in Waterford was set up within months of this date and began with almost 400 members,” said Cllr Cullinane.
“Jim Larkin attended the meeting, which took place here in City Hall and an account of the meeting notes that a disturbance was organised by a man named Cullen in which the police had to be called.”
He added: “[SIPTU] is organised throughout the 32 Counties and as the flags and banners of your great Union proclaim – ‘SIPTU is organising for fairness and justice in the workplace’ and indeed in our society at large.”
Mr O’Connor said the role of trade unions was particularly relevant at present and carried a great resonance for most of the working population, along with those who have recently lost their jobs.
“It’s fair to say that we haven’t experienced challenges like this since the Second World War,” he stated.
“And I hope that it’s still possible that we as a country can step up to face the challenges of today in a united way, to create a social dividend to the benefit of all workers and put an end to social cannibalism.”
Referencing the plight of Waterford Crystal workers, Jack O’Connor stated: “Going forward we need to build a platform which includes a social dividend to face the pain that’s coming down the road.
“The kind of agreement that’s now required must, for example, include pension protection measures so that we do not have a repeat of the inexcusable situation where Waterford Crystal workers remain without any guarantees about when, or if they will collect.”
Calling for the provision of a €1 billion fund training fund to assist those made recently redundant, Mr O’Connor said that a brighter future didn’t necessarily depend on a new national pay deal.
“I was never wed to the idea that the people of Ireland lived or died by social partnership,” he said. “And it’s certainly not something that I am going to die for…
“We must do our best to protect working people given the challenges that they have to contend with. That was, is and will always remain one of our union’s most important and vital roles.”
Commenting on Jack O’Connor’s many attributes, Cllr Cullinane told colleagues:
“Jack’s greatest leadership quality is his ability to know when it is time to be radical and know when it is time to be pragmatic.”
And those very qualities look set to be called upon with increasing regularity over the next 12 months as Mr O’Connor seeks to protect the rights of his union’s members.