"We want to join a union!"
It's a time of the year for tying up loose ends and there have been several flapping around this column for some time that deserve to get knotted. One could say, if one was so inclined (and this one is), that this month we have a pot-pourri. And anyone who doesn't like it can stand over there beside Dr. Paisley. You'll recognise him by the placard he's holding - "No pot-pourri here".
Venturing into this New Year we are not virgin explorers, we have pointers from last year. For instance, some foolish optimists are already trying to figure out the cheapest passage to Spain, so elated are they by the Irish soccer team's 1980 successes. They forget, alas, that there is many a slip between Hand and Cup.
(Okay, I know, I know. Don't bug me about it. I didn't promise quality.)
A more ominous omen for 1981 is the increasing restlessness of the membership of the ITGWU, as shown in a number of court cases last year. The poor buggers went to the courts, rattling their chains and asking for emancipation. "We want to join a union!" they cried. From one factory of 54 a total of 53 set forth - and found their passage blocked by Rule 47 (d) of the Congress of Trade Unions constitution.
This paragraph says there has to be a 100 per cent vote to change unions or the union bosses can insist on retaining their members. This is democracy. The 53 wandered from one union to another like so many displaced Shahs, with their former union bosses snapping at their heels and demanding their return. What odds that this year we can expect to hear Charles Mitchel body forth with an approximation of the following?
"Gardai were today mounting roadblocks in an attempt to recapture a group of escapees from the ITGWU. ICTU tracker dogs, with IDA trained handlers, have been brought in to help in the search. The leader of the escapees, a Mr. Kunte Kinte, said today, "Give me New Liberty or give me death". This is believed to be a reference to a revered ITGWU reform group which in earlier days terrorised the overlords of the union. None of the union leaders was available for comment today, it is believed that they were attending a rally in support of free and democratic unions in Poland." Changing from one union to another is a poor substitute for changing the nature of the union you're in but when a substantial majority so decide. . .
The campaign to change Rule 47 (d) so that only a substantial majority (and not a unanimous vote) would be needed to allow workers to change unions is something we should be hearing more about in the coming months. Needless to say, the ITGWU leadership's opposition to reform is supported by Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour (to name but two), Sinn Fein The Workers Party (Official), the national press, the FUE and just about everyone else who reckons that trade union democracy is a grand thing in its proper place (i.e. Poland).
Mention of Mr. Mitchel takes me back a number of years to the warm darkness of a cinema on a Sunday afternoon. The Small Picture was on (as opposed to The Big Picture, which came after the popcorn intermission) and we weren't showing much interest. It was a British gangster film and wasn't so much a B-movie it was further back down there about O, P or Q. The tension built slowly as we waited to catch a first glimpse of Big George, the head villain. Such were the rumours being bruted about Big George that each mention of his name brought a hush over the chattering audience.
Finally, he was standing there at the end of a darkened alley, ordering a hit. And the audience burst into hysterical laughter. There, beneath the down turned brim, above the upturned collar, was the avuncular face of Mr. Mitchel. It was like seeing Bunny Carr trying to pass himself off as Atilla the Hun.
Enough of this anecdotage. We were passing from one loose end, the ITGWU leadership, to another, RTE News.
This is Charles Mitchel with the Nine O'Clock News. Over to Maurice O'Doherty.
Thank you Charles, this is Maurice O'Doherty. Hi, folks. Over to Ann Doyle.
Thank you, Maurice. Over now to our Industrial Correspondent, Pat Sweeney.
Thanks a lot, Ann, but no thanks over to our Political Correspondent, Sean Duignan.
Like to help you out, fella, but it's one of those days. Over to our Religious Correspondent, Kevin O'Kelly.
Sorry, lads, nothing doing here either. Himself didn't condemn anything today. Back to Charles Mitchel.
Well, I guess that's it, folks. We did have a lot of news, but on second thoughts it seemed to the chap in charge that most of it might be offensive to someone or other. And you don't mess with Section 31. Or, at least, we don't. Ann. . .
Thank you, Charles. Later on tonight, in Today Tonight, you can see Brian Farrell shouting at a politician. Unfortunately, Barry Cowan has had to cancel his proposed interview with the Taoiseach as Mr. Haughey was late in supplying the questions he wished to be asked. And in an exclusive poll, the programme shows that 62 per cent of the population think that the name of the show should be changed to Today Tonight The Workers Programme. Finally, over to Michael Gilligan for the weather.
Good evening. The large depression which has been hovering over RTE for the past fifteen years shows no sign of moving on. And talking of right showers. . .