Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Exploitation of workers must end

18 February, 2006

Cllr Larry O'Toole of the Cole/Colley cumann, Dublin North East, speaking in support of motions 152 through to 155.

A chairde, the Irish Ferries dispute of last winter was a wake-up call for a lot of people in this country. Sinn Féin has argued consistently for a number of years that the Social Partnership process was simply a charade that allowed employers to exploit workers with the blessing of the government.

When Irish Ferries announced they were going to remove 543 trade union members and replace them with agency workers who would be paid a pittance, many people turned to the government for protection. But Fianna Fáil stood idly by, as they have a tendency to do when people call on them to stand up for workers and citizens. Irish Ferries felt they had a blank cheque for their actions.

And so, in the early hours of the morning of Friday the 25th of November Irish Ferries brought in mercenaries, armed thugs, to attempt to seize control of vessels from the crew in what was nothing less than a declaration of industrial war.

The Irish people could see the hypocrisy of a corporate thug like Eamon Rothwell on a salary of in excess of €300,000 demanding that Irish workers, who contribute through their sweat and labour to his enormous pay cheque each year, take a massive pay cut or face redundancy so that he can accumulate even more wealth.

It was an obscenity.

The campaign exposed the serious strategic mistake Irish Government made to privatise Irish Continental Lines and B&I, which now comprise Irish Ferries. The actions of company management resulted in industrial action that interfered with the ability of Irish businesses to import and export. Sinn Féin has called for the nationalisation of Irish Ferries or alternatively the establishment of a new state ferry company and I support that proposal in Motion 154.

But perhaps the most encouraging thing to take from that fight was that it exposed the myth that the Irish trade union movement was dead. When 150,000 people took to the streets of the towns and cities of this country to show their support for those workers we sent a message that rank and file workers in the trade union movement are ready and willing to start fighting.

Unions from Scotland and England marched with unions from Belfast and Dublin. Workers from Poland and Lithuania marched with workers from Darndale and Tallaght.

The American trade union organiser Joe Hill once wrote:

"If the workers took a notion they could stop all speeding trains; Every ship upon the ocean they can tie with mighty chains. Every wheel in the creation, every mine and every mill; Fleets and armies of the nation, will at their command stand still."

Last December Irish workers showed we have the strength to do what Joe Hill wrote about. It is simply a question of having the will to fight and wherever workers stand up for the rights Sinn Féin must stand with them.

One such worker is with us here today. Joanne Delaney is a Mandate Shop Steward fired for wearing her union badge by Dunnes Stores, but in reality fired because she was successfully organising for her union in the Crumlin store and standing up for her co-workers. I want to take this opportunity to formally welcome to our Ard Fhéis a woman standing up for her rights and ask the Ard Fhéis to give her a warm welcome.

Whether it's Irish Ferries or a courageous young woman like Joanne Delaney in Dunnes Stores, when workers stand up, Sinn Féin must stand with them.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

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