ICTU to launch ‘Year of Enterprise’ in 2018

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has pledged to launch a ‘Year of Enterprise’ next year. Building on the work of the trade-union supported Nevin Economic Research Institute (NERI), the initiative is designed to develop trade union analysis and policy on innovation, enterprise and industrial policy.

Speaking at the ICTU biennial delegate conference in Belfast this morning (Wednesday) Congress vice president Kevin Callinan welcomed the contribution of multinational companies to Ireland’s economic development, but said workers were vulnerable in the face of Brexit, changing global markets, and aggressive nationalist chauvinism.

He said unions needed to put themselves at the centre of industrial policy debates to ensure that working people shared in the fruits of innovation and improved productivity “The fruits of Belfast’s first industrial revolution were not evenly spread. The fourth industrial revolution must be different. The Year of Enterprise 2018 will focus on ensuring that the new industrial strategy forms one strong thread in a tightly woven social fabric,” he said.

The ICTU Year of Enterprise would “identify areas for progress in relation to innovation, employee participation, and skills at local, regional, national and European legislation,” according to a motion sponsored by the ICTU Executive Committee.

In the context of Brexit, Mr Callinan said Irish unions would collaborate with sister organisations in England, Scotland, Wales and the wider  EU to defend and advance European social protections. “In responding to Brexit, the new industrial strategy must take its cue from this legacy of lasting partnership. And it must forge new ones too with workers and employers, north and south, EU and UK. We cannot follow the emergent isolationist trend. Now is not a time to batten down the hatches or abandon ship,” he said.

The ICTU biennial conference is taking place in Belfast this week.


SPEECH TEXT:

Kevin Callinan, ICTU vice president and IMPACT deputy general secretary, calling for an ICTU ‘Year of Enterprise’ campaign in 2018.

ICTU Biennial Delegate Conference, Wednesday 5th July 2017

 ‘A strong, outward-looking, high-productivity indigenous enterprise sector. ‘That’s Belfast’s story. This is a city built on linen and ships. At one point, Belfast was home to the world’s largest shipyard and to its biggest linen mill.

This history, this experience of the first industrial revolution is instructive as we enter the fourth. The new industrial strategy for the island of Ireland is drafted in the context of the contrary gale that is Brexit. The first lesson of Belfast’s industrial past is that tension is potential energy. There’s no doubt but that these are tense times.

Belfast is no stranger to tension. In fact, it’s proof of the productive energy of that tension. To weave linen, you need tension on the loom. To sail a ship, you need tension on the rig. Storms happen. Brexit looms. We need to follow Belfast’s example and harness the tension, adjust the sails and spot the opportunity. The wind always blows in favour of the best navigators.

Take, for example, Samson and Goliath – the twin gantry cranes at Harland and Wolff. They are now listed as historical monuments. They no longer build ships there. Instead, Harland and Wolff today build offshore wind farms. They re-tuned the loom. Adjusted the sails. They found a new way to harness the wind; to weather the storm. To spot the opportunity.

The history of industry in Belfast is as much about partnership building as it is about shipbuilding. In a city famous for its divisions, the history of Belfast industry is a history of cooperation, of famous and lasting partnerships: Harland and Wolff, Samson and Goliath, Mulholland and Hind, warp and weft.

In responding to Brexit, the new industrial strategy must take its cue from this legacy of lasting partnership. And it must forge new ones too, worker and employer, North and South, EU and UK. We cannot follow the emergent isolationist trend. Now is not a time to batten down the hatches, nor to abandon ship. We need all hands on deck. And now is a time to point the bow face-on into the wind and sail.

Belfast’s industrial past provides warnings too. The fruits of Belfast’s first industrial revolution were not evenly spread. The linen mills and shipyards were hostile places to many. The fourth industrial revolution must be different.

The year of enterprise 2018 will focus on ensuring that the new industrial strategy forms one strong thread in a tightly woven social fabric. And as we set a new course sand take a new tack, we must ensure that nobody falls overboard. The world has lurched to the right. Brexit and Trump were shots across our bow.

It’s time to stem that tide to stop the unravelling. Keeping an even keel in rough seas won’t be easy. But workers need an ark in this flood, a port in this storm. A steady hand on the tiller. That’s the work of this movement.
We must act as an anchor and as a beacon as an anchor – to stop the rightwards drift and as a beacon to provide a guide to those at sea. Enterprise is always joint enterprise. The year of enterprise 2018 must be about workers first.