Since McLoone took over the top job in Impact almost 10 years ago, he has built the union up to become a powerful and influential voice among the social partners.
A strong proponent of partnership, McLoone is having increasing difficulty persuading his members to stay with partnership when that could mean a cut rather than the increases his largely professional members have been used to.So far, McLoone's public line has been no cuts in pay, pensions or forced job cuts – or else! But in a 'reality check' for his members, McLoone said in a 'confidential' letter last week that the alternative was "a significant reduction in public service numbers over the next three to four years".
If it can be described as a fault, Siptu president Jack O'Connor can at times be too concerned about his members' interests. A member of the Labour Party executive committee, O'Connor tends to be influenced by powerful factions within the union. A pragmatist, O'Connor is under no illusion as to the gravity of the situation but, to date, he has refused to spell out which of his members can take what amount of medicine. O'Connor is not seduced by the power it brings which means he cannot be plámásed into signing anything. The government knows a deal without O'Connor's signature is useless.
Doran also heads up what can best be described as the 'military wing' of the public service unions' battle against pay cuts. He is a leader of the Frontline Service Alliance which includes nurses, gardaí, firefighters, prison officer, ambulance personnel. It was formed to protect their allowances, shift, unsocial hours payments and overtime, which forms a considerable part of emergency workers' income – a third of a garda's pay, for example. While this has been portrayed as a split in the public sector unions between them and the desk-bound '9 to 5' staff, the suspicion is that the alliance is being used to bare the unions' teeth to Lenihan.
Though repeatedly wheeled out to the media as union spokesman, Ictu general secretary Dave Begg has no authority to order strike or industrial action and indeed has none of the normal powers of a trade union leader.
Hence last Friday's protest march organised by Ictu was just that – a protest march, not industrial action. Workers were invited by Ictu, not ordered, to participate. Accordingly, Begg has assumed the role as the 'social conscience' of the trade union movement concentrating on wider social and economic issues such as poverty, social welfare and justice.
Geraghty has some act to follow having taken over as head of the union earlier this year from the legendary Dan Murphy, who had quietly been at the helm of this low-key but influential union for the last 40 years. A nephew of the former Siptu leader Des Geraghty, the new Pseu leader has continued Murphy's 'beneath the radar' style approach to what has been dubbed the 'black art' of public service pay negotiations. The Pseu represents middle management in the civil and public service and sets the pay rates for virtually all other public servants like gardaí, nurses and teachers. As such the Pseu is a key piece on the public sector pay chessboard and finance minister Brian Lenihan and his officials keep a close eye.
Horan represents the lower paid and the most militant of the '9 to 5' public servants gearing up for battle. The CPSU has been riven by small, but vociferous, cabals of Trotskyites and hardline socialists who use the union as a platform to attack whatever government is in power.
Horan has managed to control these often warring factions, frequently to his advantage by slackening the reins on the 'Trots' in order to frighten Finance into concessions. Last April, Horan managed to extract some concessions on the pensions levy for his low-paid members.
As head of the electricians union whose members in the construction sector have been decimated by the downturn, Devoy is effective head of the private-sector wing of Ictu though he also has members in the public sector. While trade unionists deny any question of a spilt between public and private-sector workers, up until fairly recently Congress had a powerful internal public service committee, but no equivalent private-sector committee. Devoy changed that, though the Ictu private-sector committee, which he heads, remains nowhere near as powerful as the public-service committee.The tough-talking Devoy is the last trade union leader to head a successful strike over pay.
Perhaps the wiliest of all the public-service union leaders, the Donegal man has built up the primary teachers union into the most powerful of the three teaching unions who are themselves the most powerful of all unions. Like Tom Geraghty of the Pseu, Carr had a hard act to follow replacing the silver-tongued senator, Joe O'Toole. But Carr has been a more effective representative, mounting a series of successful campaigns to appoint even more teachers and reduce class sizes. It's not down to the government's generosity that teachers in Ireland remain among the highest paid in the world.