Thursday, February 02, 2012

Irish Workplace Occupations Highlight Class Tensions

Vita Cortex foam packers are determined to get redundancy pay from Jack Ronan
The Republic of Ireland was one of the original PIGS, or heavily indebted states targeted by bankers after the great crash of 2008. Under the previous Fianna Fáil government, the Irish working class was pummelled with hammer blow after hammer blow, as dictated by the international finance elite, but offered little resistance when compared with their counterparts in Portugal, Greece and Spain. To some extent, this could be attributed to the treacherous machinations of the trade union bureaucracy. But in recent weeks, with the Fine Gael administration of Enda Kelly continuing the onslaught, a small but significant section of workers have taken matters into their own hands, and occupied their workplaces.

On December 15th last year, the twenty-nine strong workforce at Lagan Bricks Ltd. in County Cavan were told they were to be immediately dismissed, with no severance pay. A company statement made it very clear that this was their punishment for refusing to accept a pay cut. In response, the staff began a constant picket of the site, with the intention of preventing equipment from being removed. At any time at least three pickets are present, and they operate on six hour shifts.

The workers and management reached an agreement with the Labour Relations Commission a fortnight ago, with the picketers allowing the release to customers of 300,000 bricks, in return for the supposedly 'independent' assessor "examin[ing] the company's books and assess[ing] the viability of continuing manufacturing at the facility". Originally, the assessor was due to report back within two weeks, but on 26th January the picketers' Facebook group reported that a new date of Monday 6th February had been set. The picket has now been in place for seven weeks, including over the Christmas period.

Former La Senza workers have been occupying for the basic pay they are owed
Thirty-two Vita Cortex foam packers were sacked in the same week, and have been fully occupying their factory ever since, in protest at management's claims that there was "no money" for any redundancy payments. Vita Cortex is just one of a twenty-nine businesses owned by Tipperary entrepreneur Jack Ronan, who has fingers in pies of the retail park, stud farms, fertiliser and even supermarket industries, and whose personal wealth is estimated at many millions.

This morning, the Vita Cortex occupation blog announced that they had been given assurances by the Department of Social Protection that the workers would start receiving their entitlement next Monday. This is a great victory considering Ronan would have left them with nothing, but they are wisely determined to remain in occupation until they are sure of a "full and just settlement".

Meanwhile, sacked staff from a Dublin branch of the La Senza lingerie chain are still waiting for the €800 in wages they were promised by the stricken company's administrators, KPMG. The 'deal' was made three weeks ago, following an occupation of the store by workers from three different branches. But as the La Senza sit-in Facebook group posted this morning:
"3 weeks on from our agreement with KPMG and STILL no money and no answers! Not being paid in the first place was bad enough but to be lied to AGAIN and break a written and verbal agreement is beyond disgraceful. Many of the La Senza employees have families and need the money(which they earned) asap but KPMG continue to ignore the basic needs of hard working individuals who trusted them when they made empty promises. We will not go away until we get paid!!!"
There has been practical solidarity between the three struggles, and in particular between Vita Cortex and La Senza occupiers. Taken together, these flashpoints show that Irish workers - utterly abandoned by trade union tops complicit in the austerity agenda - are rediscovering class war methods better known to previous generations. The tide is starting to turn in Ireland, but a widening of participation and a deepening of perspective will be needed to inflict serious defeats on the ruling class and their agents.
Post a Comment

Disqus for Infantile Disorder