The Making of NIPSA: A History of the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance: 1919-1974

Article excerpt

The Making of NIPSA: A History of the Northern Ireland

Public Service Alliance: 1919-1974

Terry Cradden, December Publications: Belfast, 1998, Paper Stg. L9.99, xiv + 215 pp.

Although Irish commentaries on the trade union and labour movement are plentiful, they tend to dominate in three areas. These are firstly biographical treatments of 'the great leaders' such as Connolly and Larkin; secondly, historical, yet contextualised treatments of formative events such as Padraig Yates's recent book on the 1913 Lock-Out, and writings in Donal Nevin's edited collections. Finally, trade union history is presented in a generic sense, such as in works by Andrew Boyd, Mary Daly, and Emmet O'Connor, although these writers often provide specialised histories as well. Terry Cradden's own contribution on the trade union movement in Northern Ireland appears in Nevin's Trade Union Century. For academic researchers and other interested parties, there are of course valuable references for both general and specialist areas in the Journal of Irish Labour History, Saothar.

Studies of individual trade unions and their histories tend to be less prevalent, although there are histories of the ICTU and its forerunner such as that by Fergus D'Arcy. Those works that do exist tend to focus on the larger unions, e.g. the Irish Transport and General Workers' and the Amalgamated, Transport and General Workers' Unions, or the Irish Women Workers' Union history written by Mary Jones. Others do exist for ship workers and other, smaller unions such as farm labourers and shop workers. Apart from Martin Maguire's recent book of the local government and public services union in the Republic however, and a few teacher union histories, the field tends to be dominated by private sector as well as general unions. Terry Cradden's contribution on this significant Northern Ireland union is therefore particularly welcome.

This informative and thoroughly-researched book provides testament to the members, activists and paid officials of the civil service and local authority trade unions and staff associations which, following a series of alliances and eventual merger, came to form the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance - NIPSA. Described as the largest and most significant of `home-grown' trade unions in Northern Ireland, NIPSA evolved from the various component organisations of public officers', local authority and civil service unions. While other trade unions in the North were to dwindle or unable to resist mergers with British or Irish based unions, NIPSA obviously flourished, being established as a federation of some 20,000 members in the mid-1970s but becoming a single union, ironically, in response to Conservative industrial relations legislation. Cradden provides us with an astonishing wealth of detail, methodically sifted primarily from archive material, union/staff association journals, minutes of meetings and annual reports. He charts the development of the constituent unions chronologically, from the partition of Ireland onwards, detailing the intra- and inter-union relations that form the background to the series of co-operative efforts between the organisations.

Several major themes are recurrent throughout the period leading up to NIPSA's formation, to which Cradden attaches significance in the shaping of the constituent unions' structures, internal organisation and activities, as they gradually adopted behaviour that was more recognisably 'unionate'. Firstly, relations with the employers influenced how the unions organised and positioned themselves in defence of pay, conditions and job security. They faced intransigence from the employers centrally, with resistance to Whitley machinery until after the Second World War, and a lack of commitment by Unionist governments to workplace democracy. Government pay restraint from the 1960s, and reorganisation of the public service functions of Northern Ireland were also significant, especially following `political disturbances' from the late 1960s. …