Belfast Telegraph

It seems far-Left is intent on hanging Peter Bunting out to dry

By Nelson McCausland

There are rumblings at the heart of the trade union movement. Peter Bunting, assistant general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), is under fire from some trade unionists, who have called for his resignation, accusing him of being weak on austerity.

Strabane Area Trade Union Council (SATUC) urged him to quit because of ICTU's position on the Fresh Start agreement.

Michael McLaughlin, spokesman for SATUC, said the resignation of Bunting and the appointment of a replacement were necessary to avert "an all-out civil war within the trade union movement in Northern Ireland".

McLaughlin is an IRSP spokesman in Strabane and also seems to be a member of Unite the Union.

The Facebook page of Unite Community Strabane has a photograph of him and Paul Gallagher, posing with Unite official Albert Hewitt, holding a plaque of Scottish republican and socialist James Connolly.

Meanwhile Teresa Stewart, chair of SATUC, acted as election agent for independent councillor Gallagher when he was voted on to the new Derry City and Strabane Council.

Gallagher is a member of SATUC and Unite the Union and previously stood as an IRSP candidate for Strabane Council in 2011.

Harry Hutchinson, secretary of the Mid Ulster Trade Union Council and secretary of the Unite the Union branch in Cookstown, said: "I think Bunting and many in the ICTU leadership have got it wrong and are not in touch with the grassroots."

Hutchinson stood in the 2011 Assembly election under the banner of People Before Profit, an almost wholly-owned subsidiary of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), and got a paltry 243 votes.

Then Padraig Mulholland, a prominent Nipsa official, also called on members of ICTU to reject the Fresh Start deal or consider resigning. Mulholland is a member of both Nipsa and the Socialist Party.

Last year he took 44% of the vote in the election for the post of general secretary of Nipsa, but lost out.

However, the Socialist Party has a strong position within Nipsa and is able to claim that Nipsa Broad Left - which includes members of the Socialist Party - still has a majority on the union's general council, as well as the president, vice-president and treasurer positions.

On January 15, 2015, SATUC held its AGM in Strabane library, with a focus on "the impact of Stormont cuts 2015/16", and three speakers - John Douglas (Mandate), Brian Campfield (Nipsa) and Eugene McCartan (Communist Party). Campfield was there in his Nipsa role, but is also a communist.

The local trades councils are almost totally unrepresentative of the workers in those areas and are dominated by members of the SWP, Socialist Party, Communist Party, IRSP and others on the far-Left.

So, what is behind the anti-Bunting campaign? Across Northern Ireland far-Left candidates will stand in the Assembly elections and this is about them using the trade unions against the main political parties.

At one time Bunting had lined up with them against the Stormont House Agreement, but this time he accepted the Fresh Start agreement. Therefore, they are determined he has to go, and if that means civil war in the trade union movement, so be it.

Of course, the Trotskyists of the SWP and the Socialist Party aren't the only people hoping to use this to their political advantage.

In November 2015 it emerged that one of the Unite Community members who organised anti-austerity protests outside Sinn Fein and DUP offices was Ciaran Cunningham, who was once convicted of intelligence-gathering for republicans while he was working at the Royal Victoria Hospital, and has been a member of Republican Network for Unity.

Those involved in the anti-Bunting coalition are mainly drawn from the ranks of the SWP, the Socialist Party, the IRSP and Republican Network for Unity.

I just wonder who else may be part of this far-Left cabal.

  • Nelson McCausland MLA is chair of the Assembly's culture, arts and leisure committee

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