Northern Ireland: Socialist elected president of largest union in Northern Ireland

Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland) member Carmel Gates has been elected President of NIPSA, Northern Ireland’s largest trade union and the main public sector union. The election took place at NIPSA’s conference last week and Carmel won a resounding victory, polling almost 17,000 votes against 11,500 for the right wing candidate. Her vote is one of the largest ever achieved by a candidate for this post.

Another Socialist Party member, Padraig Mulholland, came within a few hundred votes of winning the Vice Presidency, standing against a former President and the strongest candidate the right wing could put up.

The Conference marked a significant shift to the left. The decision by the outgoing left executive to donate £40,000 to the fire fighters, who have been involved in months of sporadic strike action, was endorsed, with only one lone voice raised against the donation from the floor. A motion backing airport security workers who were sacked a year ago for striking against poverty wages was also passed and a donation to their hardship fund was promised.

The right wing were also defeated on a motion trying to reverse a decision by the outgoing left executive to cut the amount of travel expenses paid for various union executive meetings. The point was made that the same people who wanted to increase the amount of money paid to themselves in expenses had voted against paying strike pay to social workers that are currently taking industrial action across the North.

Socialist solution to Middle East

In the debate on international issues, a motion on the Middle East, which called for a socialist federation of the region, was passed unanimously. This from a union that purports to he non-political!

A very successful Socialist Party fringe meeting was held with Jim Barbour, Executive member of the fire-fighters union, the FBU, Gordon McNeill, sacked airport shop steward, and Peter Hadden of the Socialist Party speaking.

Unfortunately elections to the General Council (Executive) held in January this year had given the right wing a majority. A key task now is to use the position of Carmel as President and the five other Socialist Party members on the General Council to rebuild the left in the union so that it can win a majority in next year’s election.

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June 2003