The merger that created IMPACT was far more successful than we imagined when the union was formed in 1991. Now it’s time to make history again, writes IMPACT general secretary SHAY CODY.
This article is about our future, but I’m going to start by taking you back a couple of decades. Bear with me; this isn’t a lengthy history lesson.
When IMPACT was created 26 years ago, the newly-merged union had 22,000 members – 15,000 from the old Local Government and Public Services Union (LGPSU), and 7,000 from the Union of Professional and Technical Civil Servants (UPTCS).
That figure grew to almost 24,000 when the Irish Municipal Employees Trade Union (still affectionately known as ‘The Muno’) joined the party later in 1991.
As a member of UPTCS staff, I was involved in the preparations for what was then a huge event in Irish trade union and political circles. The birth of a united organisation, representing so many public servants and others, seemed like a big prize at the time.
But we soon began to realise that the true achievement was far more significant. Today the union boasts a membership just shy of 60,000 – almost three times the size of the nascent IMPACT that was finding its feet in the early nineties.
We now know that the merger did much more than simply unite and consolidate the existing membership of three kindred unions. Rather, it created a platform to recruit and organise more and more workers into our organisation, which became stronger and better able to protect and advance all our members’ interests as a result.
That’s what excites me about today’s ‘new union’ project. Like the IMPACT merger of old, it would bring together three unions – IMPACT plus the CPSU and PSEU – that already share a set of values and work closely together in negotiations, campaigns and workplaces across the country.
By bringing some 80,000 workers into one trade union family – under the Fórsa name – I firmly believe it would mean better services and outcomes for our members. Not least by creating a very strong negotiating block, with members in the public service, civil service, semi-state sector, community and voluntary organisations, and even some private companies.
It would simultaneously establish one articulate – and frankly unignorable – voice, campaigning in our communities, parlaying with public representatives, and defending our members in the workplace. Employers, politicians, journalists and, indeed, other unions, would sit up and take stock.
But the biggest prize of all is the potential to organise, recruit and represent tens of thousands more members over the coming years – giving them a voice and making their lives better, while boosting the strength and influence of existing IMPACT members and the wider trade union movement.
Size matters, but only because of what it can deliver. We’ve had our setbacks and arguments, and progress sometimes comes too slow. But look what we’ve achieved since IMPACT was formed.
We’ve fought for, and won, the professionalisation of formerly-ignored groups in the health and social care professions – physiotherapists, social care workers and many more. This has resulted in decent pay scales and career structures, a measure of respect, and a model for advancing the interests of other groups like childcare and early years’ professionals.
Thousands of SNAs are now part of our family, finally getting the protection of union representation and negotiated pay scales as a result.
Despite some early anxieties, professional grades in the civil service and state agencies have survived and thrived, benefitting from the collective negotiating and campaign resources that enabled us to see off decentralisation and the privatisation of our Coillte forests.
Our clout has helped restore the minimum wage and deliver public pay deals that benefit lower paid workers most.
And we’ve had more authority to speak for public servants, who so frequently attract unfair media criticism and political scapegoating. Many clerical and admin staff are now seeing job evaluations and other prospects open up because IMPACT stayed strong.
In the worst of times, we worked together to limit salary cuts – and eventually negotiate pay restoration – while avoiding compulsory redundancies and outsourcing even during the greatest recession modern Ireland has seen.
That was delivered by members, activists, branches, staff – yes, and other unions like the PSEU and CPSU – working together with a common purpose. And in recent years we’ve had the resources to invest in new membership services, support to branches, training, communications, campaigns, and an organising team that’s helping activists convince ever more workers to join and strengthen our family.
We’ve remained strong even when large groups of loyal members – including thousands of community welfare officers and tax officials – had to leave for other unions on foot of government decisions. And all the while, others came to join us – pilots, cabin crew, FGE in the civil service, and many more – attracted by the benefits of being part of a bigger, stronger team.
Many of us had our reservations about creating IMPACT back in 1991. I acknowledged that, even though I saw it was the right thing to do for our members and our movement. Frankly, staying in our silos would have been an easier option for officials and activists alike.
But fast forward 26 years and very few people believe we made a mistake. The evidence confirms that a larger, united force has delivered for our members and the values we all support.
Now it’s time to move up another gear. To create another new union that will be the platform for better trade unionism in Ireland. To strengthen the hand and amplify the voice of civil and public servants and the vital services they provide to the people of Ireland.
And to hold out the prospect of a more prosperous and secure future for the tens of thousands we now represent, and the thousands more that need the protection of a strong, sure friend in the workplace and in our communities.
That’s why I’m urging you to create some more history by voting for a new union in the forthcoming ballot. You may think it’s a courageous thing to do. I agree. But it’s also the canny thing to do, and the correct thing to do.
Shay Cody is IMPACT’s general secretary. This article is taken from the latest edition of Work & Life magazine, which is available to subscribers and in workplaces this week. The latest edition includes news and views on the New Union project, including a comprehensive FAQ feature. You can read the magazine online HERE.