Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Crystallizing Anger

I'm very proud of my Irish roots. My Gran is Irish, A Waterford woman. When I was kid I used to go to Waterford sometimes, but I never got a chance to visit the world-famous Waterford Crystal factory in the town. But boy would I like visit it now!

Workers at the plant took matters into their own hands over the weekend when they found out by text that they were going to lose their jobs. They promptly occupied the factory. Their demand is quite simple - they want guarantees there will be another buyer, and won't shift until that guarantee is given. The Starry Plough has been raised over the factory, the flag of Irish revolutionary James Connolly and his Citizens Army.

And why, at the end of the day, would anyone want to walk away from 200 years of history because of the greed of investors and the ups and downs of fickle finance? These people are proud of their heritage and just want the basic, simple right to take home a good weekly paypacket. They don't just make a quality product, they have good quality manufacturing jobs, something many people would give their eye teeth for nowadays.

Workplace occupation may look like a drastic option, but many people are justifiably angry with the way that governments have stepped in so readily to bail out the banks, while working people are left to take their chances. And it's known to be a tactic that works. It's entirely possible that the Irish were inspired by a similar action in December of last year by workers at Republic Windows in the USA, who occupied the plant for 5 days for decent severance pay. Bank of America had withdrawn financing for the business and it stook on the brink of insolvency.

In the face of the first occupation of it's kind in the US since the 1930s, an occupation that inspired international acclaim and support, Bank of America backed down. And Republic now has a new buyer.

What's really notable is that in both cases, these actions took place with the full and unambiguous support of their Unions. In Ireland Union officials texted other workers and urged them to get to the plant in support of their workmates. In the US the UE Rank and File Union rallied support from all over the country.

It's a pity the Unions on the British mainland couldn't take a leaf out of their comrades' book. In the UK it seems, our Unions would rather bash people like the Italians, who themselves have a proud tradition of workplace occupation. The Italians, like many other nationalities around the world, are people we could probably learn a lot from. Instead we have alienated them and sown seeds of division, which is a crying shame.

You can send a message of support and donations to Unite Hall, Keyzer Street, Waterford County, Waterford, Republic of Ireland, phone +353 5187 5438, or send an email to