Amicus/MSF's membership of ICTU under debate

In spring 2002, complications are continuing to arise from the expulsion of the UK-based trade union AEEU from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), and the former's ongoing merger with another UK-based union, MSF, to form Amicus. The national secretary of MSF in Ireland insists that it will remain an ICTU affiliate after the merger is completed, but the situation is still unclear.

In February 2002, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) expelled the UK-based union, the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union (AEEU) (IE0203201F). This followed a 1998 membership 'poaching' row with AEEU's rival Technical Engineering and Electrical Union (TEEU) over 39 electricians at a Cadburys manufacturing plant in Dublin. In an internal disputes body ruling, ICTU sided with the locally-based TEEU, ordering AEEU not to recruit the Cadburys electricians and to encourage those who sought membership to return to TEEU. However, AEEU flatly rejected the decision.

Matters have been complicated by the fact that AEEU and another UK-based union, Manufacturing Science Finance (MSF), amalgamated on 1 January 2002 to become Amicus, though the merger is not due to be completely operational until the end of 2003.

In April 2002, John Tierney, the national secretary of MSF in Ireland, insisted that the Irish branch of the Amicus MSF section will not relinquish membership of ICTU, despite the expulsion of AEEU. Speaking to the Dublin-based publication, Industrial Relations News (IRN), Mr Tierney insisted that the Amicus MSF section has 'every intention of remaining with the ICTU, regardless of what happens'. However, the prospect that the Amicus MSF section in Ireland might have to leave ICTU remains real, following AEEU's expulsion.

Several attempts by ICTU to avoid the expulsion of AEEU resulted in failure. These included a meeting between David Begg, the ICTU general secretary, and Sir Ken Jackson, the UK-based general secretary of AEEU and now Amicus. The prospect of a compromise was considered to be unlikely in view of the fact that the Republic of Ireland membership of Amicus Ireland represents a tiny proportion of the total membership of the new union.

In Britain, Amicus is made up of 750,000 AEEU members and 350,000 from MSF. However, the fact that MSF represents just under 40,000 worker in Ireland as whole and AEEU just over 20,000 – most of whom are in Northern Ireland – means that the UK head office is unlikely to alter recruitment strategy or policy that affects such a small proportion of its overall membership.

Once the formal merger is complete by the end of 2003, the simple fact is that AEEU will be outside of ICTU and, therefore, Amicus is also set to be left outside. Nonetheless, the determination of the MSF executive in Dublin to remain inside the ICTU 'tent' suggests that some way can still be found to avert a potentially damaging blow to trade union unity in Ireland.

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