Article from the November 2005 issue of the Socialist
newspaper of the Socialist Party, Irish section of the CWI

For international trade union action to

STOP SLAVE LABOUR at Irish Ferries

THE 10,000 strong demonstration on 3 November in Dublin against Irish Ferries' slave labour plans shows the depth of anger felt by workers on this issue. Workers from An Post, Doyle's Concrete and many other workplaces joined together in protesting Irish Ferries plans to replace 543 jobs with super-exploited migrant labour on E3.50 an hour. The demonstration could have been double or treble its size if the union leaders had seriously built for it amongst their members and the wider public.

The Irish Ferries plan must be scrapped completely. A "compromise" where some experienced officers remain but with a new crew of "galley slaves" is not an option. A stand must be made using the full power of ICTU against this "race to the bottom" otherwise, like a disease it will spread and end in poverty conditions for workers throughout the country. Irish Ferries has cited competition as the reason why they "must" force through these changes. Their main competitor on the Irish Sea, Stena Line doesn't operate a low wage policy, yet - but it will if Irish Ferries gets away with it.

The assault on Irish Ferries workers is part of a general attack on workers' rights throughout Ireland. The threat of privatisation hangs over Aer Lingus, the ESB, An Post and CIE. Outsourcing has already cost the jobs of thousands of workers in our semi-state companies. All of these attacks are part of an agenda to increase the profits of big business at the expense of the wages and working conditions of workers.

There is no greater indictment of so-called "social partnership" than the scandal at Irish Ferries. It is not enough for the leadership of ICTU to suspend talks on "social partnership" because of the Irish Ferries dispute - they should withdraw from it permanently. Instead, the working class needs unions that will use their industrial power to stop companies like Irish Ferries, and to stop outsourcing and privatisation.

The demonstration should be the starting point for a major campaign by the unions against Irish Ferries. Platform speakers from SIPTU talked about organising more demonstrations, and trade union leaders like Jack O'Connor (SIPTU president) and David Begg (ICTU general secretary) have been calling on Bertie Ahern to bring in legislation to protect workers at sea.

However appeals to a neo-liberal Taoiseach will not stop Irish Ferries from implementing conditions of semi-bonded labour. The leaders of SIPTU, the Seamans' Union and ICTU should be organising an international campaign of industrial action to stop Irish Ferries management. They should now put in place plans to bring the ports and Irish Ferries to a standstill if the company's plans aren't dropped. They should link up with the unions in Britain and France to take co-ordinated industrial action to shut down the Irish Ferries slave wage operation. The unions have the power to black Irish Ferries from all ports and bring this arrogant management to its knees.

"The reality is the naked greed evident here for profit from exploited labour places the moral standards of the likes of Irish Ferries somewhere between those of a slum landlord

and a slave trader." Joe Higgins TD challenges Bertie Ahern on Irish Ferries

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