Irish union stalwarts take centre stage

by David Granville

TWO PROMINENT Irish trade unionists, Tony Donaghey and Gerry Doherty, have been elected to serve at the highest levels of their respective rail unions, RMT and TSSA.

The new RMT president , railway guard Tony Donaghey, has been a union activist most of his working life, including 30 years as NUR and RMT branch secretary at St Pancras station in London.

Prior to his election at the end of 2003, Donaghey also served four separate terms on the unions’ executives.

Born in Buncranna, Co. Donegal, like so many of his generation, he crossed the Irish Sea in search of work, moving first to Scotland in 1958. Shortly after getting work on the railways, he transferred to London, where he has lived and worked ever since.

Influenced politically by union activist Joe O’Connor and International Brigader and a former editor of the Irish Democrat, Jimmy Prendergast, Tony joined the Connolly Association in the mid-1960s, serving on the organisation’s executive for a decade between the mid-1970s and 80s.

“The Association’s stance of encouraging Irish workers in Britain to become involved in trade unions made a big impression on me. It was a very political time and, in those days, we used to get 20 people at central London branch meetings, which were held at the Association’s original Gray’s Inn Road office,” explained Tony.

Although union work now takes up most of his time, his is proud of his union’s stance in support of the Good Friday agreement., but expresses concern over the British government’s commitment to its full implementation in the face of unionist pressure.

Among his priorities as RMT president, a post he will hold for the next three years, are the union’s campaigns for renationalisation of the railways, the creation of a genuine integrated transport policy, travel facilities for railway workers who have joined the industry since privatisation and protection of railway workers’ pensions.

He views the Labour Party’s decision to expel one of its founding members, following a recent RMT conference, which confirmed that five branches in Scotland would be allowed to affiliate to the Scottish Socialist Party, as both regrettable and unjust.

“There’s no getting away from it, the Labour government has lost its way as a representative of working people and it’s right that part of our campaigning is about getting the Labour Party to recognise this fact and do something about it.

The RMT’s expulsion is totally unjustified, he insists:

“We’ve broken no specific Labour Party rules a it would have been thoroughly undemocratic to ignore the clear wishes of our Scottish members, who like many others throughout Britain, are deeply concerned and angered by the actions of the current government.”

Fellow Irishman Gerry Doherty was also recently elected to be the next general secretary of the Transport salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA), having secured a majority of 1,075 over nearest rival Steve Coe.

Doherty, who has worked as a manager at the union’s London headquarters for the past nine years and is a former Irish secretary of the union, starts his five-year term on 1 March. He replaces outgoing TSSA general secretary Richard Rosser, who is retiring after 37-years’ union service, including 15 as general secretary.

Doherty, widely seen as the Labour Party’s favoured candidate, has nevertheless pledged to press British transport secretary Alistair Darling over the issue of rail ownership and integration and to strengthen the union’s political activity and affiliations at grassroots level.

Despite disagreement over a number of government policies, the union will remain “affiliated and committed to the Labour Party”, he insists.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2004-04-01 23:52:07.
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