Irish Ferries: Exploiting workers and insulting Wilde


When Irish Ferries launched their new €50million vessel in Dublin Port on Tuesday 29th January, 400 guests from the tourism, freight and shipping sectors attended the naming ceremony. How many of them, I wonder, took a moment as they quaffed their champagne and nibbled on their canapés to ponder on the news revealed by International Transport Workers Federation inspector, Ken Fleming, that the workers who would be manning the ferry will be paid as little as €4 per hour?

Workers on the ship are virtual slaves. Just like the workers on the Irish Ferries ships which ply the Ireland – Britain route, the workers on this vessel are not allowed to leave the ships when not on shift, are not allowed to join a trade union and are paid a wage which is less than half the minimum wage in Ireland. Workers on the Ireland – Britain route are known to work 12-hour shifts seven days a week.

The company can get away with this because the ships are registered abroad and staff are supplied by an agency believed to be located in Cyprus. In 2006 Irish Ferries sacked its entire Irish workforce of 500 and replaced them with non-union super-exploited immigrant labour. 20 years of social partnership came home to roost as the trade union movement rolled over and allowed it to happen.

In what must rate as one of the sickest ironies ever, Irish Ferries have named their new ship after poet and playwright Oscar Wilde. As someone who throughout his life railed against the injustices of poverty, Wilde must be spinning furiously in his Paris grave. Wilde came from a radical pedigree and his plays satirised and parodied London upper class society. He believed that socialism was the only solution for the endemic poverty which surrounded him (there were 2 million people living in poverty in London at the time).

In 1896 he, along with George Bernard Shaw, signed a petition in support of the Haymarket martyrs (Chicago anarchist trade unionists executed for their role in the 8- hour day movement). Wilde indeed described himself as “rather more than a Socialist. I am something of an Anarchist, I believe..." In 1891 he wrote ‘The Soul of Man Under Socialism’ – a brilliant argument for socialism, writing “The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible”.

Irish Ferries may be intent on exploiting their workforce and insulting the memory of Oscar Wilde but we could all do worse than take on board Wilde’s call to not alone oppose such exploitation but to do something about it. “Disobedience,” he wrote, “in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and rebellion.”

And on the role of ‘agitators’, he wrote, “Agitators are a set of interfering, meddling people who come down to a perfectly contented class of the community and sow the seeds of discontent amongst them. That is why agitators are so absolutely necessary.”

Go sow some discontent!

From Workers Solidarity 102 the issue for March & April 2008



PDF of the Ulster edition of Workers Solidarity 102

PDF of the southern edition of Workers Solidarity 102