Interview with Carmel Gates, left candidate for General Secretary of the Northern Ireland Public Services Alliance (NIPSA) union

Carmel Gates, left, with creche workers who are NIPSA members at Queens University, Belfast, who recently took strike action.

Balloting for the post of General Secretary of the Northern Ireland Public Services Alliance (NIPSA), the largest trade union in Northern Ireland, opened at the end of May. The left candidate is Carmel Gates, who has been a member of NPISA for nearly 40 years. Carmel was elected on the union’s main leadership body, the General Council, for 25 years, and has served as elected President. Currently, Carmel is Deputy General Secretary of NIPSA. 

Carmel is a lifelong socialist activist – a supporter of the Militant Left (CWI Ireland). spoke to Carmel ahead of the close of the election on 24 June.

What do you see as the key issues facing NIPSA members?

Good trade unionists fight for their members every day and I am still the same person who became a branch rep in my office in 1982. We need real improvements in living standards and to end low pay. I will fight for a reduction in retirement age and to improve pensions.

If elected I will work to ensure that all insecure forms of employment are brought to an end across the public sector. I will reinvigorate a recruitment drive in all areas including among agency staff and those in other forms of precarious employment.

Arising from lockdowns, members want ‘blended working’ and the right to flexible home/office working. Every Civil and Public Service location must be a safety-first workplace. Moreover, NIPSA members want ensured career development opportunities.

To achieve these targets, I will bring together all the strands of our resources; legal, media, campaigning and effective industrial action.

What can be done about the Stormont Assembly Executive’s paltry pay offer to civil and public servants?

We know that everything we value today has been won through struggle. Civil and public servants are facing the imposition of derisory pay rises. Despite their words of appreciation for the work of public servants, the Executive parties have once again demonstrated their contempt for workers. I believe we can make a breakthrough if we build a campaign of the members and join in a united campaign with all other unions. However, if we are to make gains a determined struggle will be necessary, including industrial action. If elected I will fight every day and will seek to build a membership-led movement for gains in pay, pensions and working conditions.

Where do you stand on the wider issues in society in the North of Ireland?

I will continue to be at the forefront of challenging sectarian division and campaigning for workers’ unity. I stand by NIPSA’s slogan, ‘No to Sectarianism, Paramilitarism, and Repression’. I am committed to the fight for women’s rights in the workplace, in our union, and in society. I am an active campaigner on issues such as the environment and against racism and homophobia. To further these aims, I will work in solidarity with unions in both the public and private sectors.

What is your vision of how NIPSA should work?

I believe that members should be at the heart of decision making in a strong, independent, democratic and united trade union. I believe that our union should be led by the membership. I want to see a growing union and a membership that democratically decides the future direction of the union. The role of the General Secretary is to implement the decisions of elected bodies and the annual conference and I promise to do so. Just as I have done with the increase in salary I received when I became Deputy General Secretary salary, I intend to donate the additional salary I receive as General Secretary to trade union causes.

What does socialist politics mean to you?

For me, socialism is about democratic control and the reorganisation of society in the interest of the many, not the few. I seek to raise arguments in favour of socialist change whenever I get a chance. Our conference, several years ago, decided to include the aim of a ‘socialist economy’ in NIPSA’s constitution.

I am in favour of the unity of working people, Catholic and Protestant. In contrast, our local politics is often about division. I personally believe workers and trade unionists would be better represented by a cross-community party based on working-class politics. I have always worked to keep sectarianism out of the workplace and my proudest moments have been when we walked out of work together in response to threats and killings. I promise you to always safeguard the unity of our union and to work for the shared interests of all working people.

For more information, visit Carmel’s campaign site:

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