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Radical Unions in Europe and the Future of Collective Interest Representation


Edited By Heather Connolly, Lefteris Kretsos and Craig Phelan

This book analyses contemporary trends in radical unionism in Europe. It contains nine country case-studies that probe the limits and possibilities of trade union renewal with a focus on radical activity. The editors follow a broad definition of radical unionism, including trade union organisations that can be characterised as radical either in terms of ideology and political identity or in terms of organising and mobilising activity. The ongoing economic crisis and consequent austerity measures, and employers’ strategies for increasing labour market flexibility have encouraged the deregulation of capitalism in Europe. The question this book asks is whether radicalised unionism, political action and grassroots activism present opportunities for union renewal and collective interest representation in this economic context. This question is examined in nine national contexts with diverse industrial relations frameworks and trade unions. The editors assess the degree to which we are witnessing the emergence of ‘radical political unionism’ as an alternative model of trade unionism in Europe, focused on class struggle, engagement in social movement activity beyond the workplace, and politicised union strategies aligned to new left-wing political formations.
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The Independent Workers’ Union: Class, Nation and Oppositional Labour Movements in Ireland from 1900 to the Celtic Tiger



Unionist1 workmen who have so staunchly supported their leaders in the past [should] continue to bear themselves as men worthy of this great cause in which their whole future and that of the community is involved. (From a resolution passed by the Ulster Unionist Council, Belfast Newsletter July 10th 1912. Cited in Patterson, 1981 p. 89) ← 89 | 90 →

At present you spend your lives in sordid labour and have your abode in filthy slums; your children hunger and your masters say your bondage must endure forever. If you would come out of bondage yourself must forge the weapons and fight the grim battle. (James Larkin in the Irish Worker 27 May 1911)

When a group of Irish trade unionists gathered at the Victoria Hotel in Cork city on 3rd April 2004 to form the Independent Workers Union (IWU), they would be making a clear declaration about the role and purpose of trade unionism not just in Ireland but more widely. Their argument would be that trade unions have distinct interests in representing the needs of the working class, that this presumes sustained opposition to the employer and that of necessity it requires a political engagement with the state, capital and the many working class constituencies throughout both jurisdictions on the island. They were stating their determination to build a new type of labour organisation in Ireland. In fact they were identifying with what is a long, though until recently dormant, tradition...

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