On Bearded Union Leaders

With all the murmurings from Governments building about public sector pay cuts and the threats of “Mayhem” from the unions in today’s papers, if the stereotype holds true, there is one thing you can count on – Prepare to see much more angry facial hair on the nine o’clock news over the next few weeks. But how true is this stereotype of bearded union leaders and where does the trend come from? To answer the first question, I decided to do a highly scientific study of both opposing sides of the “Social Partners”, examining the level of facial hair in the members of their respective leaderships.


Jack O'Conor (SIPTU)- Standard Bearer

First up the left corner of the ring, we have SIPTU, ICTU and IMPACT. SIPTU is proudly lead by the heavily bearded Jack O’Connor (pictured), whose thick Sinn-Fein-esque face mane must be the envy of every shop-steward in the country. However, the remaining members of their board, Joe O’Flynn and Brendan Hayes have decided to go for the clean shaven look, giving SIPTU a disappointing 33% hit-rate. Over at ICTU, they only furnish one picture, that of David Begg, sporting a more dashing trimmed white beard and matching quiff. No other pictures of the leadership are available, giving ICTU the full 100%. I would give more points if I could for Mr Begg’s refined look, but I sure David would agree with me on union principles that all beard should be rewarded equally, independent of merit.


David Begg (ICTU) - The refined beard

Finally we have IMPACT, the public sector union that are going to be revving into full gear over the next few months opposing Lenihan’s plans. But are they equipped for the job? Well, General Secretary Peter McLoone is letting the side down badly, but his deputy Shay Cody makes amends with, if not the full beard at least a very impressive goatee, giving them a score of 50%. So overall, the leadership of the three main unions are going into battle with a beard ratio of 3/6 or 50%


Brendan McGinty (IBEC) and Jim Curran (ISME) - Committed capitalists or closet communists?

Over in the right corner of the ring, we have the government, IBEC, and ISME. While hardly ardent capitalists, the two Brians score full marks for the government with 0%. Heading further right, we have IBEC, and of the six men on their executive board, only Brendan McGinty is in trouble, with a dubious moustache. Not the full crime, I’ll let him off with half-marks, giving IBEC 8.3%. And finally, we have ISME. Again, six men on the executive, but Jim Curran had to go even further than Brendan with a goatee, which I will have to penalise fully. While ISME would consider themselves the true voice of free enterprise, over and above the semi-state influenced IBEC, their facial hair tells a different story, with a score of 12.5%. So no-one displays the full beard in the coalition of the government and the business bodies, but a goatee and moustache means that overall, they have a beard ratio of 1.5/14 or 11%

So the results are in. Irish union leaders are almost 5 times more likely to have a beard than their opposition in either government or the business bodies. The union beard is truly alive and well in 21st century Ireland, and will no doubt be getting bushier over the coming months. Now for the second question, where does this tradition come from and why do the union leaders persist with it?

I assume they are just copying a trend started their communist forefathers Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, and continued on by newer generations like Che and Castro right through to today. But what was the point of the original beards. Were Marx and Lenin really distinguishing themselves from the establishment with beards back in the 19th century? Hardly considering beards were much more the norm back then, for both the working man and the men at the top. However, Marx’s beard was a sensational effort, only really equalled by Charles Darwin, and of course the beard of their joint nemesis, God.

Perhaps it symbolises how the common working man might not be able to afford a fresh Gillette Mach 3 blade, and the extravagance of clean shaven faces on the union leadership would not display solidarity with their proletariat. Who knows?