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Peter Hadden

Northern Ireland public services
right wing manoeuvre

(May 1986)

From Militant [UK], 30 May 1986.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

The 1986 conference agenda of the Northern Ireland Public Services Alliance has been blatantly and bureaucratically rigged by the right wing majority on the union’s council (executive committee). 104 motions are to be discussed, while 46, mainly motions from left wing branches, have been ruled out of order.

The main grounds for this manoeuvre are that these motions are said to contravene strict political guidelines drawn up by the Alliance Council during the year. These prevent the union discussing what they call party political motions or from attacking particular governments or social systems.

In practice, these guidelines allow the union leadership to rule out motions they do not like. The reason is clear. For years NIPSA conference has been moving to the left. As well as the crucial motions on pay, conditions and union democracy; motions on subjects such as South Africa, Sri Lanka, Chile, nuclear power and motions demanding clear socialist solutions to the problems of workers in Northern Ireland have all been passed.

Unable to answer the arguments which have swung past conferences on these questions, the right wing are now resorting to the bureaucratic method of stifling debate. For example, last year a motion supporting the stand of Liverpool city council was passed. This year a motion which simply opposes surcharging the councillors in Liverpool and Lambeth has been taken off the agenda. The motion is not directly party political, but it has been ruled out nonetheless.


And of course these guidelines have been used as a device to prevent discussion of the current situation in Northern Ireland. No less than seven motions calling for a trade union campaign to counter increased sectarianism as a result of the Anglo-Irish agreement have been struck off.

Perhaps the supreme twist of bureaucratic logic is the ruling out of a motion calling for a ballot to establish a political fund on the grounds that this would require a constitutional amendment. How come a similar motion has gone through many British union conferences, most recently that of the IPCS, without a constitutional amendment?

In fact the implementation of the motion would not mean the changing of the constitution this year, but next, assuming the ballot resulted in a “yes” vote. The NIPSA Broad Left is campaigning within the union against this stifling of debate. They have circulated branches and are planning a special protest meeting at the conference.

Whatever the outcome of the conference the campaign by the left will have to be stepped up. If the right wing were to get their way NIPSA would be turned into a tame union prevented from taking up wider issues which affect its members.

Every branch should join the Broad Left in its campaign to maintain NIPSA’s democratic traditions and develop a fighting union capable of protecting its members’ interests and playing its part alongside the rest of the Northern Ireland trade union movement in the fight to eliminate poverty and sectarianism.

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