More than 150 trade unionists have signed a declaration calling on the labour movement to advocate for a united Ireland and a new all-Ireland constitution with workers’ rights at the heart of it.
Despite the two causes once being almost synonymous, the trade union movement in Ireland has in recent decades stayed on the sidelines of the struggle for Irish liberation and reunification.
But that could be in the past. A declaration signed on Monday said it was “critically important that the interests of workers and working families are put at the heart of a new Ireland, which should be a united Ireland”.
“This must be a new Ireland that puts workers’ rights, economic rights, gender rights, as well as universal human rights front and centre in a new all-Ireland constitution,” the document added.
The new movement called ‘Trade Unionists for a New and United Ireland’ or TUNUI, includes a number of union general secretaries from across the island, and Liz Deasy and Karen Gearon, veterans of the Dunnes Stores anti-apartheid strike in 1984.
The signatories call on trade unionists across Ireland “to begin engaging in the debate for Irish unity”.
“Profound social and constitutional changes have taken place across this island in recent years and the debate about future arrangements has already started,” they said.
“As trade unionists working on both sides of the border, we believe it is critically important that the interests of workers and working families are put at the heart of this debate. If there is to be a united Ireland, it must be a new Ireland that puts workers’ rights, economic rights, gender rights, as well as Universal Human rights front and centre in a new all-Ireland constitution,” the declaration states.
Spokesman and trade union official Ruairí Creaney said: “The debate on the future of Ireland north and south has been escalating significantly against the backdrop of Brexit and the rise of populist right-wing, and borderline fascist, movements in the United States and in a number of EU member states. It is now time to get it out in the open, and to ensure that the voice of trade unionism is to the forefront.”
Mr Creaney said the new initiative had secured the support of trade unionists from across the island with many differing political views.
“We are all united in recognising that the partition of Ireland has been disastrous for workers’ rights and progressive politics in this country,” he said.
He said the aim of the new movement was “to put forward a new vision of what a fairer and more socially just Ireland would look like in the event of reunification”.
“We want to see a new Ireland – a united Ireland – with a new constitution that promotes workers’ rights, economic equality and social justice.”
A conference entitled Uniting Workers – Uniting Ireland will be held at the Communications Workers’ Union headquarters in Dublin on Saturday, April 27th, with speakers from across the trade union movement and other organisations. The theme will be “uniting workers north and south within a vision of Irish unity, and what this means for workers’ rights”.
Sinn Féin National Chairperson Declan Kearney welcomed the initiative. Commenting after attending the Belfast launch of the initiative in the Linenhall Library, the Sinn Féin spokesperson on Workers Rights said: “An opportunity is now opening up to reshape Ireland and Irish society for this and future generations.
“The Labour movement in Ireland should be central to that process by asserting workers, citizens and democratic rights. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions should bring the full weight of its resources and influence to this debate.”
“The Labour movement will only successfully put its mark on the Irish unity debate by asserting the primacy of economic democracy, and a rights-based society in a new Ireland.
“That will require Irish trade unionists to take strategic positions on supporting calls for an Irish unity referendum, and then to campaign positively for constitutional change.
“The Irish Labour movement should immediately set about introducing a progressive Labour agenda to the Irish unity debate, and to the unfolding discourse on future constitutional and political change. Labour should not wait.”