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Irish and foreign workers must stand firmly together

category ireland / britain | migration / racism | opinion / analysis author Wednesday October 05, 2005 22:00author by James O Brien - WSM (personal capacity) Report this post to the editors

Workers have different interests to the bosses. It is in the workers' interests to have a more pleasant working environment, more money to spend on our families, and more leisure time to enjoy it all. We can't have all this while slaving to increase the bosses' profits. And workers of all nationalities, from the factory hands to the teachers, from street-cleaners to domestic workers have these basic interests in common.

Metro Eireann, a newspaper largely written by and aimed at immigrants in Ireland, pubished the article (written by a WSM member) below. It is distrbuted in Dublin at least, and maybe around the country.


Solidarity is strength:
Irish and foreign workers must stand firmly together


The scandal concerning Gama, the Turkish construction company,which paid its workers as little as a ¤2.20 per hour, showed a nationwide audience just how vulnerable immigrant workers are. The current policy whereby work permits are issued to employers rather than workers ensures that the employer has a stick to beat any worker who stands up for her rights.

New legislation on the work permit system is still to be debated in the Dailm and until this new system is put into practice, it remains unclear if it will significantly reduce exploitation.

However, exploitation is not confined to non-EU workers on permits. With large numbers of Poles, Lithuanians and other workers from the former Soviet bloc coming here, there is the prospect of a "race to the bottom" as employers force workers into competion with each other.

Despite the occasional nationalist rhetoric of Irish bosses they are much more comfortable with their foreign counterparts than with the local bus driver who's a bit too enthusiastic about the trade union.

Bosses, be they Irish and foreign, have common interests. It is in a bosses'interest that workers work harder, longer, for less pay and less benefits. This is because they will increase their profits.

Capitalists know this. It is why they have associations such as IBEC and allies like Fianna Fail and the Labour Party. It is why you will have Turkish bosses xploiting both Turkish and Irish workers and Irish bosses exploiting both Turkish and Irish workers.

Workers have different interests to the bosses. It is in the workers' interests to have a more pleasant working environment, more money to spend on our families, and more leisure time to enjoy it all. We can't have all this while slaving to increase the bosses' profits. And workers of all nationalities, from the factory hands to the teachers, from street-cleaners to domestic workers have these basic interests in common.

So there is a natural opposition between bosses and workers.

When it suits them, bosses can be quite international. They'll employ any nationality as long as they can squeeze more profit out of them. But they can also play one nationality off another. Politicians will use immigrants as an excuse why there isn't enough money to adequately fund the health services or why dearly won working conditions are threatened.

It is important, and in our interest, that Irish working people see through this propaganda. It is in our own interest because if we allow bosses to play, for example, the Poles against Irish on the building sites then both sets of workers will find their working conditions being reduced as they will effectively be undercutting each other.

The obvious solution is for both sets of workers to come together, to jointly demand decent working conditions. If they do so, it is very hard to see what the bosses can do. You won't find too many Construction executives mixing mortar, laying blocks, and sticking sewage pipes together.They are utterly dependent on the workers.

If the workers' demands aren't met, and their labour withdrawn, the bosses' profits will disappear. Of course it's never easy to organise a militant campaign, and serious preparation would have to be done to give it a fair chance of success.

But the point is that nothing is being done at the moment. Indeed Ray Halpin, a SIPTU official, was on national radio (the Matt Cooper show) at the end of August lamenting the fact that due to the strength of the employers nothing could be done about the competion between Irish and immigrant labour on the building sites. He's wrong, as the history of the labour movement, including his own trade union, shows.

A start can be made by:

a) Recruiting members to unions

b) Encouraging activity in the unions.

c) The officials of the unions need to stop thinking they are in another NGO where taking subscriptions and producing policy documents are enough. If they are unwilling to facilitate direct action by members they should step aside and get a job with Oxfam.

d) Organising a militant, self-managed campaign with concrete goals, which includes the willingness to strike. This can unite workers from every country, not just because they'll feel an outpouring of brotherly love, but because it is in their interests to unite.

The old trade union slogan is as relevant as ever: Agitate, Educate,Organise!

This is an elementary approach to improving our daily lives. It's what got us our basic freedoms and perks, such as the eight hour day, holidays, sick pay and social insurance a few decades ago.

But more is possible. The labour, both manual and intellectual, of working people is the what makes all that is valuable in the world. And so there isn't any decent reason why a parasitical employer should cream off hundreds of millions while the workers around the world are left with crumbs.

Thanks to the centuries of endeavour of our ancestors, of all countries, we are born into a society with electricity, transport, science, and a fascinating variety of cultures. Modern society is advanced enough so that all can live quality lives to one's taste.

It is disgusting that a tiny minority, such as Ireland's Michael O'Leary and America's Donald Rumsfeld, get to swagger around in mansions, and actively prevent the achievement of a fair society, not least by forcing explotiative working conditions - he gets millions, workers get peanuts - or, as in Iraq, by savagely destroying people's homes in order to rob their natural resources.

As well as winning small gains in the present, workers need to develop a vision of a future society where there isn't any exploitation at all.

Given technological development, it is possible for everybody on the planet to have a high standard of living.

With the intelligence and good will that most of us see in our friends and family, it is possible to organise society so that everybody can have an input into decisions that affect them. In other words, meaningful democracy in the workplace and the neighbourhood. This means organising without any bosses making decisions over our heads. Once bosses get a foothold, they accumulate power and develop different interests from the rest of the population.

Sections of the workers' movement, particularly the anarchists, have articulated this vision of self-management over the decades. For those interested in pursing these ideas, it is a tradition well worth exploring…

For more information see

James O'Brien

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