Northern Ireland: Largest union shifts left

Socialist Party member elected President of NIPSA

There was a further shift to the left at the annual conference of the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA), the largest union in the North, held at the start of June. The outgoing General Council (Executive), which had a right wing majority, was defeated on a number of key issues.

Most significant was the decision of the Conference to support a motion recognising that non-payment was the only way to ensure that water charges that the government wants to impose will be defeated. The platform speaker opposed the motion but the conference gave overwhelming backing to the non-payment call.

Socialist Party member, Carmel Gates, stood down as President due to the convention that a President serves only three years. However, the hopes of the right wing that they would take back this position were dashed when Billy Lynn, also a Socialist Party member, and a long standing activist in the union, was elected in her place.

Billy won with 15,100 votes against the right-wing candidate, Amanda Allaway, who got 14,800.

As well as backing the fight against the proposed attacks on pensions, public services and jobs, the conference carried motions on wider issues, such as offering solidarity to those made homeless in Sri Lanka after the Tsunami, and agreed that the distribution of aid should be managed by local committees of workers and trade unions. Calls for NIPSA to campaign for the immediate withdrawal of all US and British occupying forces from Iraq were also backed by the conference.

On a disappointing note, calls for setting up a political fund and branch funds did not get supported. This shows the need to do more work in explaining these issues to members before next year’s conference.

Joe Higgins, Socialist Party TD (member of the Parliament in the Republic of Ireland), and the new President, Billy Lynn, were guest speakers at a successful Socialist Party fringe meeting that discussed how trade unionists can take up the fight against government attacks. This meeting was well attended, with a number of delegates at their first ever Socialist Party (SP) meeting keen to find out more about the ideas of the party.

The SP also did well in the conference elections. NIPSA has three main executives – the overall General Council, and a Civil Service and a Public Officers Executive.

Five SP members were re-elected to the Public Officers’ Executive, including Tanya Killen, who was elected as Chair, and Brian Booth, who was elected Vice-Chair. Out of the 25 members elected to the Pubic Officers’ group, 19 members, including the five SP members, are part of the left group, ‘Time for Change’.

Five Socialist Party members were also elected onto the Civil Service Executive, with Carmel Gates successfully winning the Chair position. This is an increase on previous years and, along with the increased numbers of the left elected to the General Council and the PO Executive, it is vital that the left now work together to map out a programme to return control and the democracy of the union back to the members.

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