The words “unique” and “unprecedented” must surely rank amongst the most overused in modern times. But as we send this Easter message to all IFUT members we are conscious of the reality that these times are like nothing any of us has lived through previously or could have envisaged.
In these days in every previous year most of us would have been looking forward, almost with a hunger, to the coming Easter break. The break would have been seen as a desperately-needed respite from all of the hard and intense work during the long term since New Year. Additionally, we would have anticipated that the break would give us one last boost of energy to help us to get to the finish line of the end of the academic year.
A new phrase has entered the public lexicon; “the new normal.” Well, our ‘new normal’ has been characterized by being confined almost totally to our homes, working and teaching on-line, seeing our streets and public spaces deserted almost to the level of eeriness, having our news media monopolized by one single topic and being physically separated from relations and friends to an extent that a matter of weeks ago we would never have thought possible.
Our pandemic emergency has had a profound effect on the work of IFUT also. We can offer only sympathy and understanding to the many distressed colleagues whose claims or grievances had been winding their torturously slow way through procedures only to see all Hearings and Adjudications in the WRC suspended indefinitely. Their anxieties are prolonged and their already over-extended patience is being pressed in to even further service. These people are in our thoughts every single day and all we can do is to solemnly promise each one of them that, as soon as these institutions open their doors again, we will be fighting might and main for the most prompt possible rescheduling.
At the same time IFUT Head Office staff (all of whom are, of course, obliged to work from home) have had to deal with a huge spike in the numbers of individual members needing urgent advice and assistance. Such cases are always the most difficult and emotionally taxing. But we take great comfort from the fact that, unlike unorganised employees in so many employments our members have a structure of supports and solidarity that they can rely on in times of crisis such as now.
And this thought brings us to the core message that we would wish you to take with you in to your well-deserved “break” (if it can be so called).
In the past few weeks our media and public discourse has featured a conversation regarding the positive consequences which may arise from this pandemic. More than once have we heard the claim that “Neo-Liberalism is dead”, that “the world will now be a better, more-caring, more-sharing place” and that “we will all have re-discovered our shared humanity and the importance of community”.
In the nature of things, such optimism may well prove to be a little too rose-tinted to withstand the tests of our post-pandemic reality. But we do not have to totally abandon our hopes for good outcomes and we can, if we insist strongly enough, stem the drift back to old ways and old messages which implicitly preached that, contrary to the wisdom of poets “each man [woman] is, in fact, an island.”
Apologies, to those of you who may think that such thoughts are too lofty in a context such as in a Trade Union newsletter or that we are guilty of one of this country’s most abhorred sins; ‘losing the run of ourselves.’ But allow us to conclude on a more simple note (albeit one no less important to state);
Our Union, IFUT, has risen massively to the challenge of supporting individual colleagues in their times of need and distress. And when we say “our Union” we do not refer only to officials in Head Office, we refer to our local representatives, our committee members, our Branch Officers and, crucially, our individual members.
There is a beautiful Irish expression “Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine,” people live in the shelter/shade of each other. By your ongoing support for and participation in our collective you, each of you, has provided shelter to your colleagues when they most needed it.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.
Please have a happy and safe Easter.