Consider this: An organisation with branches in every county and industry in the country, well organised and funded by its members, and with a clear ideological agenda. That’s ICTU. Imagine the effect of them deciding to take the final step. Screw your marches and your days of action, we’re taking over! Could they do it?
There are very good reasons against. At the moment, ICTU has good but strained relations with FF, and has the Labour Party like one of those kids from a 1950s American movie who runs behind his big brother absolutely adoring him: “That’s swell, Jimmy! Want gum, Jimmy? Will we go to the ball park Jimmy? Whadd’ll we do now Jimmy?” . That would all change if ICTU went into direct electoral competition with them. Then the gloves would come off.
But would they win any seats? It’s not unreasonable to think that they could win 10-15% of the vote, and maybe 15-20 seats, which could give them some power. But the effect on other parties would be the interesting factor. FF would struggle to win back those votes and run the country at the same time, and would almost certainly become paralysed with indecision. Fine Gael would probably just get stuck in, with IBEC, ISME and the SFA flocking to them as the “antidote” party, and Labour would look like a shattered wife who’s just seen her husband run off with the aupair, although the effect on the party, losing its public sector wing, may finally force it to confront merger with FG into a US-style Democratic Party.
But this is all just political erotica anyway, because there’s a good reason why ICTU will never do this: Because even if they did extraordinarily well, and won, say, 35% of the vote, it would confirm that they speak for a minority of Irish workers. Far better to keep up the pretence than ever actually test it.