Well-organised unions are, or were, a positive part of Ireland’s economic evolution. Today the influence of unions is, effectively, confined to the public sector. Far too many private sector workers are denied meaningful representation.
This has created two cultures, one that imagines representation is a right, another that knows it is a privilege.
Up to 500 ambulance service staff stopped work yesterday. The National Ambulance Service Representative Association claims the HSE has refused to recognise it as a representative of ambulance workers. The HSE is right to do so as it already recognises three relevant unions.
The obligation to deal with a number of unions representing the same category of worker is one of the limiting realities of the relationship between this state and its employees.
As anyone involved in negotiations will confirm, reaching one solution can be difficult, reaching several in parallel can be almost impossible.
These multi-union settings are, ironically, hindering workers trying to secure representation. The conflict, the protracted negotiations they provoke stiffen the resolve of employers determined to keep businesses union-free.
It is time public workers recognised their privileged position and behaved in a fashion that honours the spirit trade unionism in a way that might help all workers — and, as a consequence, rejuvenate ever-more needed unions in all settings.
And the HSE should hold the line.