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(en) Workers Solidarity #90 - Irish anarchist analysis of Irish Ferries strike settlement deal

Date Fri, 24 Mar 2006 09:05:13 +0200


The end of 2005 saw the occupation to two ferry ships to prevent
them being taken over by security to facilitate the replacement of the
workers on the ships. Over 100,000 workers left work and marched
in solidarity with the occupation on a Friday in cities across Ireland.
A settlement with the company was reached and the union declared
a victory. But was this settlement really a victory?
On December 14th the three week dispute at Irish Ferries came to an end. SIPTU
claimed that the deal protects a "threshold of decency". Irish Ferries had
offered redundancy to 543 crew members, who were to be replaced with staff employed
on wages of just €3.60 an hour - less than half the national minimum wage.

The deal, drawn up with the help of the state's Labour Relations
Commission, means a two-tier workforce with those staff who reject
redundancy keeping their old wages and conditions but all new staff
being paid just €7.65 an hour and having longer working hours
and fewer holidays. Irish Ferries can re-flag its ships; a three year
no-strike agreement and all disputes to be settled by binding
arbitration.

This deal was not a victory but it was not a total defeat either. The
Latvian workers have seen their pay doubled; they also have gained a
month's paid leave for every two months they work, originally the
company wanted one months leave for every three months worked.

But this is still a crap deal. SIPTU marine branch official Paul Smyth
announced that the deal was "something every SIPTU member
should be proud of." Does this mean that the minimum wage is now
a "decent" wage?

The role that was played by the Seamans Union of Ireland, a small
union with a long history of undemocratic practices and not
upsetting the bosses, in undermining the strike should not be
forgotten. While SIPTU members were occupying, the SUI started a
petition in support of the redundancy deal. They just wanted their
money and didn't care about the workers who wanted to stay or the
Latvian workers. Now that they have their cash, they are not
interested in recruiting and helping the Latvian sailors to improve
their lot. Instead they are talking of winding up their union.

It was the militant action of SIPTU members on the ships and in the
ports, and the huge numbers who marched on December 9th, which
slowed down the attack on workers' rights. But we only slowed it
down, we have not made the bosses back off. Roches Stores and the
Examiner newspaper group are just two of the latest to replace staff
with lower paid workers.

What is happening now is an attempt by the employers to boost
profits by taking back hard fought for improvements we have won in
previous years. Irish Ferries is just the most blatant example so far. If
we place our trust in union leaders who prefer 'partnership' to
combat, we will see a gradual erosion of most of the pay rates and
working conditions we take for granted at present.

As more of these struggles break out, we will need to build a
network of union activists to organise solidarity action in support of
those prepared to fight back. And we need to show that this sort of
attack on working people is part and parcel of capitalism. That's why
we want to get rid of this system and replace it with one where power
lies in the hands of those affected by decisions and where the
economy is organised to satisfy human needs and desires - not to
line the pockets of a small class of rich parasites.

From Workers Solidarity 90, Jan/Feb 2006
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