LAST Friday, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions called a 100,000 strong national demonstration in Dublin, with demonstrations in many other Irish cities and towns, in support of the workers of Irish Ferries whose bosses are seeking to replace them with slave labour ‘earning’ just over £2 an hour.
In fact, the whole of Ireland stopped work and the demonstrations were full of demands for either a series of 24-hour general strikes or an indefinite general strike to make Irish Ferries abandon its policy of replacing its workforce with slave labourers.
This magnificent action by the Irish trade unions has put the British TUC to shame.
Irish Ferries chose Britain as the country where it would be able to carry out its scabbing operation. In fact, the leader of the International Transport Workers Federation said that the scabbing operation would probably have been illegal in Ireland but was entirely legal in Blair and Brown’s Britain.
The reaction of the TUC to the Inishmore and Ulysses ferries being tied up in Pembroke and Holyhead docks, with four officers occupying the engine room of the Inishmore and with both ships invaded by security guards and scabs, was pathetic to say the least.
Both ports should have been flooded with trade unionists organised by the TUC to support the occupying officers. Instead there have been a couple of tiny demonstrations, which were themselves a public demonstration to the bosses that the TUC will not stand in their way.
The immediate source for this treachery lies in the role that the TUC is playing in the struggle at Gate Gourmet.
There, the employer locked out 700 workers because they would not accept his ‘survival plan’ which is a huge attack on wages and conditions.
The Gate Gourmet bosses were denounced as ‘gangster capitalists’ by the leader of the TGWU Tony Woodley, who pledged that before anything else was discussed all of the locked-out workers must be returned to their jobs.
So great is the support for the locked-out workers that September’s TUC congress carried a motion of full support and called on trade unions to take all action necessary to win the dispute, only ruling out illegal action.
This resolution was carried unanimously. At the least a massive demonstration looked to be on the agenda.
However, instead of calling the kind of national demonstration that would have kept the Irish Ferries scabbing operation out of Britain, Woodley and Brendan Barber, the TUC leader, negotiated a sweetheart deal with Gate Gourmet. This accepted their survival plan, agreed to over 144 compulsory redundancies, and agreed to 160 voluntary redundancies. They also agreed that before even one worker was re-engaged, or could receive a pittance of ‘compensation’, that every worker would have to sign a ‘Compromise Agreement’ not to seek employment in future with Gate Gourmet, or any Affiliated or Associated companies, and would also give up their employment rights, and their right to take legal action against the company over any of its actions during the lock-out.
This deal has collapsed with only 137 workers signing the Compromise Agreement, with the remainder demanding that the TUC resolution be activated so that they are all returned to their jobs.
However, Woodley and Barber continue to stick to Gate Gourmet like glue even threatening to end hardship payments to the workers.
The reaction of the TUC to the scabbing in Holyhead and Pembroke is so weak because it is an ally of a leading union-buster at Heathrow.
The whole trade union movement must condemn the treacherous conduct of Woodley and Barber.
The whole movement must demand that the ‘Compromise Agreement’ is ripped up and a massive national demonstration called by the TUC in support of the locked-out Gate Gourmet workers. This will prepare the way for their victorious return to their jobs on their old terms and conditions.