The employers’ offensive - Striking back gets results

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Thomas Cooke workers refused to go quietly when they were tossed onto the dole. Cooks had made £400m profit in 2008 and their boss, Manny Fontela-Novoa, took home €7 million. This was not a failing business.With the support of their union, the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, they occupied their workplace in Dublin’s Grafton Street and defied a High Court order to get out. After four days they were arrested in a 5am garda operation that involved sealing off surrounding streets.

The support generated by their courageous stand made the Court reluctant to jail them and forced management to increase their redundancy payments by conceding an ‘ex-gratia’ payment on top of the five weeks per year already offered.

Less than a mile away, cleaners at the Department of the Environment in the Custom House won their strike against pay cuts. After a new firm won the cleaning contact they were told to do more work in fewer hours for less money. SIPTU members refused to accept this and the new bosses told the cleaners they would not be employed when the company took over the contract on July 1st.

Pickets were placed, and held firm for a month. The civil servants’ unions, CPSU and IMPACT, began balloting their members for action in support. By standing firm and building wider support they won. They went back to work victorious; with their original jobs, hours and pay.

Car workers at the recently closed Visteon plant in Belfast also saw their redundancy terms improved after a militant occupation of their workplace, as did the Calcast workers in Derry.

The strike by 10,500 electricians in July was the first big test of strength in the private sector. Although the strike only concerned the electrical contracting industry and the way pay is negotiated there, support from other private sector workers made it more than simply an electricians’ strike.

When the ICTU executive cancelled the national strike against pay cuts on March 30th, many employers saw this sign of weakness as a green light for sticking the boot in. The electrical contractors wanted to withhold an 11% increase owed for over year and add on a 10% pay cut across the board.

After a week on strike the TEEU ended up with a 4.9% pay rise recommendation from the Labour Court. It was only a partial victory, and a lot more could have been won if the strike had continued a little longer.

It was, however, a stark contrast to the ICTU leadership’s pathetic attempts to get back into talks with the Government and breathe life into the corpse of “social partnership.”

Of course it is true that if you fight you may not always win. Which side comes out on top depends on determination, combative spirit and getting enough solidarity action. We have a lot of work to do when it comes to rebuilding our unions as fighting organisations, and rebuilding the tradition of workers supporting each other.

But if you never fight you will lose every time. And every time we lose the bosses get more confidant and come back looking for even more. As employers are on an offensive to reduce our living standards, our choice is between workers’ solidarity and the “race to the bottom”.


This article is from Workers Solidarity 111 September 2009

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