Unite Works Ireland winter 2019-20

Page 1

INSIDE: Harland & Wolff victory Building wins Winter 2019/2020 The magazine for Unite members in Ireland



t T to he l o le w yo ega ar w u n w a lb m .u nd en o r ni te yo efit e a le ur s bo ga f av u ls am ai t er il la vi y, bl ce vi e s. sit or : g


Workers’ Compensation

Redressing Unite: Looking after you in work – and outside work! the balance

As a Unite member, you can access free, expert legal advice from Unite Legal Services. Work-related matters should be dealt with by your Unite workplace representative or full-time Unite officer.

Trade unions are built on the principle of solidarity – the idea that, when we stand together, we can not only take on rogue employers, but also protect each other on a range of fronts.

When we work together in a trade union, we haveeagles each other’s Legal in back. your corner

Unite represents nearly working for refrigeration giant ThermoKing in Galway. Unionised And that is what Unite500 legalmembers services are all workplaces about. tend to be safer workplaces, and ThermoKing is no exception. But accidents happen, and when they do Unite is there to make sure members are properly compensated and that all the circumstances of the accident are regularly brought obtain to lightcompensation in order to avoid Members for a repetition. workplace and other injuries, thanks not only to

our highly skilledUnite and committed solicitors but Conneely tripped over uneven paving outside ThermoKing and In 2014, long-time activist and rep Coley also to their ability draw on ahip range expert suffered injuries to histoshoulder, andofknee which required surgery followed by extensive physiotherapy. advice. Unite legal services represented Coley in his personal injury claim against ThermoKing, which was heard in the High Court at the end of 2018. The judge found ThermoKing 100% responsible for the paving ‘lip’ over which members’ first think of us representing them in an While some compensation cases hit the Coley had tripped, and awarded him a total of €66,300. Industrial Tribunal in Belfast or the Workplace Relations

headlines, either because of the nature of the injury suffered or the extent of the award, most fly beneath the Commission in Dublin. What many members are not As well panelthem solicitors, legal team Senior and one aware of is thatcomprised Unite Legal two Services hasCounsel represented radaras– the but Unite that makes no lessHamilton importantTurner, to the Coley’s junior, while expert witnesses were also called. thousands of members in personal injury cases including workers concerned. serious injuries, clinical negligence and industrial diseases, as wellyou as in also them. in employment matters. And From the local of authority worker who fractured his Being a member Unite means having legal eagles in your corner when need that’s in addition to the services detailed in our ad – ankle due to a pothole on his employer’s site to the from will-writing to conveyancing”. engineering worker who suffered hearing loss because of Uniteworkplace members living in Northern Ireland and the noise: without Unite legal services they would Free legal helplines: Republic of Ireland … Members can access preliminary legal advice on any Patricia Burns is clear free about the importance of the cases have received no compensation, and other workers Can use the services of Unite’s legal experts in personal non-work related legal matter, including matters relating to taken by Unite, especially those relating to workplace would have continued being exposed to the same injuries, serious injuries, road traffic accidents and more. accidents at work/outside of work, criminal, family, safety: “Obviously, it’s great for the individual member hazards. These experts are based in Northern Ireland and the matrimonial, conveyancing other propertywhen we getconsumer, compensation – although and no amount of Republic of Ireland and are ready to support you. related matters. money can truly compensate for what are sometimes Patricia Burns is Regional Legal & Affiliated Services For a referral please contact your local Unite office. Coordinator. Based in Belfast, she says the union’s legal life-changing injuries. But such cases also send a signal Please go to: we expect employers to take health and to employers: services are often ‘invisible’ until members need them: www.unitetheunionireland.org/legal-services for further safety as seriously as we do!” “Given that we’re a trade union, it’s not surprising that details, or contact your local Unite office.


0800 709 007 – 24 hrs 1800 303 603 (Monday – Friday, 9am – 5.30 pm); calls outside

2 as practicable RoI these hours will be returned as soon uniteWORKS Winter 2018/19

Winter 2019/2020 The magazine for Unite members in Ireland

uniteWORKS Contents 4 Comment

11 Report: International building workers’ conference

General Secretary Len McCluskey and Regional Secretary Jackie Pollock write

12 Harland & Wolff Workers keep jobs afloat

5 International Women’s Day Remembering Theresa Kelly

15 Empowering: a voice for hospitality workers

6 Football Special Championing Diversity, Equality and


16 Battle in Ballymena Wrightbus workers save jobs and land

8 Uniting against the far right Brendan Ogle writes

18 Labouring Beside Lough Erne

9 Member Focus Serial sketcher and Unite member Barry


Jim Quinn book review

20 ABP: Meatpacking workers packing a punch

10 ROI construction news Organising in Dublin, meeting in Moldova

21 Power in our union: Kilroot workers win reprieve 22 Obituaries Remembering Jimmy Nixon and Des


3 uniteWORKS Winter 2019/2020

uniteWORKS Comment

Our Union Family In 2022, Unite will be marking an important centenary for working people. That year saw the foundation of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, known in Ireland as the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers’ Union, which over subsequent years it came together with other unions to form what is today Unite*. During times of conflict – including a civil war, two world wars and too many years of sectarian bloodshed – the trade union movement was the glue holding working class people together and reminding them that will always have more in common than that which divides us. That legacy of solidarity has fortified workers in their struggles. Most recently, Unite and GMB members in Harland and Wolff (see story on pages 12-13) knew that they had the backing of union members throughout the region as they fought to save their jobs and Northern Ireland’s skill base. A few weeks after workers saved Harland and Wolff, I conveyed their solidarity to members on the Delfin picket line in Dublin, taking action for decent work. Like Belfast shipyard workers a few weeks earlier, they were supported not only by Unite comrades but by the entire trade union movement. Although the full ramifications of Brexit remain unclear, what is clear is that no border will drive a wedge between working people on these islands. In 2019 we said goodbye to two stalwart members who remained active long after retirement and were familiar faces in our Belfast and Dublin offices, as well as at union conferences and events. Jimmy Nixon and Des Bonass died within weeks of each other, and you can read our tributes on pages 22-23. Des and Jimmy witnessed many of the events that form our union’s collective memory – the strikes, occupations and lockouts; the industrial victories and occasional defeats; the civil society campaigns and political battles. Their legacy will help us meet the challenges ahead.

Drawing on solidarity in 2020 “If the workers see themselves faced with defeat through starvation, they will prefer to go down fighting rather than fainting”. The words of Ernest Bevin – General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union – during the 1926 General Strike resonate today as Unite members fight to advance not only their own terms and conditions, but the interests of their communities. From healthcare workers in Northern Ireland to Bord na Mona workers in the Republic – Unite members can always be found on the frontline. And in 2020, Unite’s fighting fund puts employers on notice that our members will never face ‘defeat through starvation’. Unite is unique in representing workers throughout Britain and Ireland. Our diversity has been our strength, even during times of conflict. Just a few years after the Irish War of Independence and subsequent Civil War, members of the union in Ireland were steadfast in their solidarity with British workers during the General Strike. That solidarity is the bedrock of our movement, and we will continue building on it as we face the challenges of a new year and a new decade. Those challenges are significant. In the UK and Northern Ireland, the new Tory Government is not only poised to launch an assault on workers’ rights: they are also set to impose a damaging Brexit deal for which workers in Northern Ireland and the Republic, as well as Britain, may pay the price. As trade unionists, we know that what happens at the Cabinet table affects workers as much as what happens at the negotiating table, which is why so many of us campaigned for Labour’s anti-austerity, transformative economic and social offer during the UK elections. As I write, the dust is still settling on the results of the General Election in the Republic which highlighted the many crises facing working people, from housing to healthcare and poverty pay to precariousness. Unite’s political strategy in the ROI will continue to be built on the ten Right2Change policy principles, which forms the basis of our campaigning. As the Right in both Britain and Ireland continue their aggressive pursuit of class politics. Unite will be at the forefront of the fightback.

Jackie Pollock, regional secretary uniteWORKS Ireland No:4 26-34 Antrim Road, Belfast BT15 2AA uniteWORKS Ireland No:4 26-34 Antrim Road, Belfast BT15 2AA Tel: 028 90 232381 Fax: 028 90 329904 Tel: 028 90 232381 Fax: 028 90 329904 Magazine enquiries and letters to the editor, by post, phone, Magazine enquiries and letters to the editor, by post, phone, or email uniteworksireland@unitetheunion.org or email uniteworksireland@unitetheunion.org Distribution enquiries contact your regional office. Distribution enquiries contact your regional office Available digitally.

Len McCluskey, general secretary


uniteWORKS Winter 2019/2020



Remembering Theresa Kelly on

As we prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th, all four trade union confederations in Britain and Ireland are headed by women. Unite’s Roz Foyer, recently appointed as General Secretary of the Scottish TUC, joins Patricia King (General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions), Frances O’Grady (General Secretary of the TUC) and Shavanah Taj (Welsh TUC).

Taryn Trainor is Regional Women’s & Equalities Officer, and stresses that “the challenges facing us are not only in the workplace, but also in our own movement. While it’s great to have Roz, Patricia, Frances and Shavanah at the head of the trade union movement, we need to ensure that women – as well as black and ethnic minority, LGBT+ and disabled people – can play a full rule at all levels of our movement”.

Well over a century after International Women’s Day was first established by the German feminist and Marxist Clara Zetkin, in 1911, we can take pride in our achievements. But we should also be in no doubt about the challenges still facing us as women, as trade unionists and as workers.

Every year, Unite in Ireland produces a leaflet for International Women’s Day, focusing on the women who have gone before us and on whose achievements we build. This year, we will be remembering Teresa Kelly. Born in Dublin in 1945, Teresa eventually moved to Derry/Londonderry where she became known not only for her work as a trade union organiser with the ATGWU, but also for developing the city’s Women’s Centre. She died in 2016.

We are still battling unequal pay, which is itself partly the product of gendered occupational divisions as well as the lower value placed on traditional female occupations.

5 uniteWORKS Winter 2019/2020

Much of her work took place against the background of the Troubles, and she was one of the founding members of the cross-community Women’s Coalition. Diana Holland, Unite Assistant General Secretary for Equalities recalls Teresa Kelly’s community activities “inspired women and men to challenge racism and all forms of discrimination and prejudice”. Teresa served on the Transport & General Workers’ Union National Women’s Committee, and former Committee chair Jane McKay paid tribute to her internationalism, noting that that “Teresa lent her support to the struggles of South Africa, Chile and Palestine”, as well as struggles closer to home. International Women’s Day gives us an opportunity to remember the work of Teresa Kelly and all those women who helped build our movement, while also expressing solidarity with the women throughout the world still fighting for equality inside and outside the workplace.


Championing Div and Community November saw Dundalk FC lift the Unite Champions Cup after winning the inaugural two-legged contest against Linfield FC. General Secretary Len McCluskey was joined by union officers, members and friends to watch the teams square off in Belfast’s Windsor Park, followed by the return leg in Oriel Park in Dundalk. But this initiative, which Unite is proud to be sponsoring for three years, is about much more than a football tournament: it’s about harnessing the power of football to foster unity between and within communities. The theme running through the initiative is both simple and radical: Celebrate the Difference. Speaking at the launch of the tournament, Regional Secretary Jackie Pollock pointed out that the initiative not only brings together the champions of the Republic and Northern Ireland, but also includes a huge community investment by Unite: “One quarter of the total funding for this initiative will go to community and voluntary groups at the frontline of delivering much-needed services in the clubs’ respective catchment areas, and we’re looking forward to developing these connections over the three-year lifetime of the initiative”. The Cup has allowed Unite to shine a light on projects throughout the island of Ireland, from grassroots football clubs working with children experiencing Direct Provision in the Republic to those working with disadvantaged and marginalised communities in Northern Ireland.

Left: At IEC chair Jeff Robinson and Albert Hewitt, Regional Community Coordinator bring Champions’ Cup to Fleming Fulton school in South Belfast ROI Senior Officer Brendan Ogle spearheaded the project in the Republic, where Unite ran a Grassroots Clubs Community Competition to find the best initiatives designed to promote social inclusion, particularly through integration of immigrant youths, families or communities. The competition was judged by Show Racism the Red Card and Unite looks forward to working with overall winners Baldoyle United and the runners up Courtown Hibs, Macroom FC and Star Rovers as they develop their projects.

“We met a woman fleeing female genital mutilation (FGM) with her daughters, others in fear of their lives after refusing to join ISIS, and even children who have arrived here alone with no family left. Our work with this community must be ongoing and empowering. In a country where many are not brave enough to push up against powerful elites to achieve a fairer society, choosing instead to take the easy option of kicking down at other vulnerable people of different race, colour or religion, Unite can make a real difference through the community work involved in the Champions Cup.

The situation of asylum seekers housed in so-called ‘direct provision’ centres forms a particular focus of Unite’s outreach work around the Champions Cup.

“Over the next three years and beyond we can build social solidarity by spreading ‘#LoveNotHate’, and truly Celebrate the Difference”.

Shortly before the final leg of the tournament, Brendan Ogle visited the centre in Mosney. Speaking about his visit, he noted that many of those in Mosney reached Ireland following great trauma:

In Northern Ireland, Unite used the opportunity provided by the Champions Cup to support the work being done by Barnardos with refugee children, while also providing assistance to grassroots clubs Belfast Celtic Cubs and Kelvin

6 uniteWORKS Winter 2019/2020

versity, Equality Top: At Mosney Direct Provision Centre Right: Tournament Ambassador Pat Jennings and Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey helping the victors celebrate

Right: ROI Senior Officer Brendan Ogle (second from left) presenting cheque to Baldoyle Utd, overall winners of the Grassroots Clubs Community Competition Youth FC. As Community Coordinator Albert Hewitt explains, “The Champions’ Cup provides an opportunity for Unite to engage with those at the coalface of dealing with poverty and social exclusion. One quarter of all sponsorship is dedicated to local teams and facilities serving the working-class communities that support these clubs week-in, weekout. This year was only the start of the process to build those relationships and linkages.” All too often, disadvantaged communities are used as political footballs. The Unite Champions Cup allows us to instead use football as a tool of empowerment and unity.

7 uniteWORKS Winter 2019/2020



Uniting against the far right Brendan Ogle: Trade unionists have always been on the front line against the far right, from the 1930s when members of our movement – including many members of Unite’s predecessor unions – fought against Franco’s fascists to the present day, when trade unionists from Brazil to Britain are battling a dangerous and growing alt-right which seeks to create and exploit division.

The far right has sought to capitalise on the damage wrought by such choices – but to date they have not succeeded, and Unite is determined to ensure they never do. Their failure to make any impact in the General Election was partly due to determined community organising and information work by local campaigns such as Fingal Communities Against Racism.

Despite their lack of electoral success in the Republic, we should not be complacent about the new alt-right: their aim is to shift the parameters of public discourse as much as to garner votes.

Unite in the Community has been working with FCAR and other groups on Dublin’s north side, developing messages aimed at challenging the normalisation of hate speech. Leaflets provided by Unite deconstructed the ‘dogwhistle’ messages disseminated by the far right, highlighting how they undermine communities. Community engagement is also at the heart of Unite’s Champions Cup initiative [see story on pages 6-7.

For some years they have mounted a well-financed and sophisticated ideological attack on our democratic values. Trading on racism, xenophobia and nostalgia for a crueller and poorer Ireland, they offer simplistic answers to people’s complex but genuine fears. But those very real fears – of automation, job displacement, housing need and much more – are best addressed by working people joining together in solidarity.

However, the far right’s lack of electoral success so far should not give rise to complacency, and we also need to guard against ‘mainstream’ politicians echoing anti-immigrant or exclusionary sentiments with an eye to electoral gain. In that context, it is troubling that both Noel Grealish and former Fine Gael candidate Verona Murphy gained Dail seats in the wake of controversial remarks about migrants. It is up to all of us to continue not only challenging messages of hate, but articulating an alternative.

As trade unionists we know that the blame for the hollowing out of our communities rests on the shoulders of those who, in government, chose to prioritise the interest of the wealthy over everyone else. Those political choices have given rise to dysfunctional public services to the detriment of us all.

8 uniteWORKS Winter 2019/2020


Unite member and

‘serial sketcher’:

Barry Edwards exhibits

Unite member Barry Edwards may be the first person patients and their families encounter when attending University Hospital Waterford – and his paintings may be the first thing they see on the walls of the hospital. Barry’s latest exhibition – ‘Estuary Breezes’ – was shown on the hospital’s Staff Art Wall in in late 2019 and featured abstract landscapes and seascapes drawing inspiration from Waterford’s surroundings. A long-time member of Unite, Edwards worked as an airport firefighter before suffering a work injury followed by a lengthy rehabilitation during which he rekindled an early love of painting. Today, he works as a porter and spends his free time walking along Suir shoreline and the Copper Coast, using acrylic and crayon to produce swift expressive sketches. While some pieces are completed on the spot others are reworked in his garden studio. Filled with light and movement, the canvasses transport the viewer to Waterford and Ireland’s South-East.

9 uniteWORKS Winter 2019/2020


Organising to fight exploitation Construction projects often involve a chain of contractors – with clients and principal contractors often turning a blind eye to labour abuses perpetrated by those further down the chain. Those abuses can range from failure to pay the proper rate for the job to bogus self-employment, and just about everything in between. Two recent cases have highlighted the problem and pointed towards solutions. Over the summer, Unite came together with other construction unions to protest against bogus self-employment on the flagship National Children’s Hospital site, a publicly-funded project where the main contractor is BAM. Around the same time, Unite highlighted the fact that workers on a publicly-funded project at Trinity College Dublin were being paid less than the minimum rates stipulated in the relevant Sectoral Employment Order. Tom Fitzgerald is Regional Officer for Construction and that after years of recession when many construction workers lost their jobs and were forced to emigrate, the sector is booming again: “But boom or bust, the abuses in the sector remain the same and employers working on publicly funded contracts are cutting corners by cutting workers’ rights”. The Trinity College dispute arose because the main contractor on the Oisin House student accommodation block, Bennett Construction, had employed a mechanical subcontractor – GMG Mechanical – which, in turn,

paid workers less than the going rate. After protests by Unite members accompanied by a super-sized union rat, college authorities met the union and agreed to appoint a neutral expert to investigate. The expert supported Unite’s view that GMG were underpaying workers as per their contractual and legal entitlements, and shortly afterwards almost €80,000 were paid back to the workers concerned. A few weeks after reaching the agreement with Trinity, Unite and other construction unions signed an agreement with BAM, the principle contractor on the Children’s Hospital site, committing the company to ensuring compliance with the construction SEO on the project. While welcoming the agreement, however, Fitzgerald points out that – like the agreement reached with Trinity College – it only applies to a specific project: “In both cases, a sustained campaign by workers brought those at the top of the contracting chain to the table and forced them to take responsibility for abuses further down the chain. But welcome as these victories are, they do not address the culture of exploitation which permeates the entire construction sector. An individual victory on an individual site may help individual workers, but it is no substitute for collective victories won by organising workers and harnessing their power. “Unite and the wider trade union movement have long argued that compliance with labour rights must be

10 uniteWORKS Winter 2019/2020

a cornerstone of any public procurement contracts. Unions put a lot of work into achieving this agreement with BAM, and we believe it can serve as a model for similar agreements. The first step towards tackling exploitation in the construction sector as a whole is to clean up public procurement and ensure that any company working on a public project treats its workers decently. “The state must start using its considerable purchasing power to exclude companies found to be abusing workers’ rights from bidding for public contracts. As taxpayers, workers fund public contracts. It is unacceptable that workers should be effectively forced to subsidise rogue employers, not only through their own poor terms and conditions but also through the public purse. “In the long term, workers can only secure their rights by organising collectively in a union and exerting the kind of pressure needed to bring about political and legislative change”, Fitzgerald concluded.


Building workers building unity internationaly Construction Branch Secretary James McCabe travelled to Moldova recently to represent Unite at the Global European Committee meeting of the global construction union, Building Workers International. While in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau, he also attended BWI’s first pan-European Organising Academy. Whether in Ireland or Moldova, construction unions are on the front line of exploitation, and the meetings in Chisninau allowed activists and union officials to exchange experiences with their counterparts from across Europe. As full-time Construction Branch Secretary, McCabe regularly engages with workers from around the world on sites from Dublin to Limerick: “The construction sector is international, and its global nature is reflected on individual sites. International unions allow workers to come together and build power as well as unity. “While attending the Organising Academy and European Committee Meeting in Chisinau, I swapped experiences with trade unionists from Ukraine, Croatia, Moldova, Russia and North Macedonia, as well as Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Finland, France and Spain. Working together in BWI, as well as the other global unions to which Unite is affiliated, we can defend the interests of workers on and off sites”.

James McCabe (front row, second from left) with BWI colleagues in Chisinau.

11 uniteWORKS Winter 2019/2020


Shipyard saved a Harland & Wolff

Just a few months ago, there was a very real danger that the iconic yellow Harland and Wolff cranes would be all that was left of a proud shipbuilding industry at Belfast Port. Harland & Wolff is central to Belfast’s identity. The Samson and Goliath cranes do not just represent the city – they are also synonymous with Northern Ireland’s industrial base, and souvenirs featuring the cranes are ubiquitous.

The threat of closure was not unexpected. In an attempt to stave off the danger, Unite and the GMB came together at the start of 2019 to launch a #SaveBelfastShipbuilding campaign at Belfast City Hall with the goal of securing renewable energy and naval contracts for the yard. Although political interest in the campaign was tepid, workers remained determined to save their industry.

Since its peak during WWII, when the yard employed 35,000 workers, numbers have dwindled due to both a reduction in work and the adoption of new technologies. In 1977 financial difficulties led to the company being nationalised, but it was re-privatised under Margaret Thatcher in 1989.

Production at the yard had already largely switched from shipbuilding and repairs to the manufacture of wind turbine components by the time unions were informed that all operations at the yard were to cease. That was in July, and it was only thanks to workers’ resistance that the announcement did not spell the end of a shipbuilding tradition spanning four centuries.

By 2019 as a result of mismanagement among other factors, just over 120 people were employed. Demonstrating a corrosive lack of ambition, some politicians had already consigned the shipyard to the scrapyard, and with it any hopes of a manufacturing revival.

But even as property speculators started circling the prize development site, workers were preparing to protect their jobs, their skills, and Belfast’s future as a centre of shipbuilding excellence.

12 uniteWORKS Winter 2019/2020

Unite Regional Coordinating Officer Susan Fitzgerald takes up the story: “As the situation developed, we held regular canteen meetings involving all the workers to update members and chart a way forward. Management was clearly incapable of steering Harland and Wolff back to viability, so workers needed to take control of the situation. During these meetings we talked about previous workers’ occupations, from Visteon to Waterford Crystal, and analysed the lessons learnt”. Workers began developing detailed plans to occupy the yard, while also examining available rescue options. As it become clear that there would be no quick private sector fix, renationalisation emerged as an obvious solution: “The workers were well aware that the shipyard had been previously nationalised from 1977 to 1989, and that their yard represented a strategic resource that could be used to channel investment into green energy to the benefit of the entire community”, Fitzgerald recalls.

as workers keep jobs afloat Solidarity is a two-way street, and the workers were not too occupied to send their own support to the students striking for our climate, Belfast Pride or other workers taking action. As the occupation continued the donations poured in, especially from Unite branches.

Trade unionists from across Britain and Ireland gathered at the gates to show their support, large solidarity rallies became a regular features, and messages of support streamed in from Canada to South Africa. The occupation vied for attention with the yellow cranes, with tourists dropping by to have their photo taken at the gates while charity runs stopped off to express their solidarity. The occupation was highly organised, ensuring that there were always workers to keep watch at the gates, while others brought their protest to Stormont.

Meanwhile, both Unite and the GMB were pushing the workers’ demand for nationalisation followed by investment to provide the critical infrastructure needed for a Green New Deal. Labour openly supported the call, as did a few individual politicians. However, many shied away from the common-sense approach proposed by those who knew the issues best: the Harland and Wolff workers. The first challenge facing the workers was to keep the yard open to allow space for a solution – whether delivered through the preferred option of nationalisation, or through a private investor. It was only due to the determination and tenacity of union members that Harland and Wolff remained open until a deal with energy firm InfraStata was concluded. Workers are now looking forward to

13 uniteWORKS Winter 2019/2020

servicing two vessels as part of a new docking contract – the first secured following the takeover. Looking back over events since July, Susan Fitzgerald is clear that workers won a landmark victory: “We did what we set out to do. As well as keeping the yard open, workers showed what can be achieved when you have a plan coupled with solidarity. And while solidarity is priceless, it was also measured in the thousands of pounds and Euros donated by Unite members throughout these islands who knew that winning this battle would lift all workers”. The ten-week occupation by Harland and Wolff workers is set to become part of the workers’ history not just of Belfast but of these islands. And like other events in our working history, it carries a timeless lesson: when workers organise collectively and stand together they can safeguard not only their own jobs and skills, but a future for younger workers coming behind.


Landmark win for English Language

Teachers The run-up to Christmas saw English Language Teachers celebrating their new Joint Labour Committee – a landmark win that followed over two years of sustained campaigning by Unite. International students are attracted to Dublin not just by the Liffeyside lifestyle, but also by the reputation of Ireland’s international education sector – a sector which the Government intends growing to a value of over €2 billion.

However, the sector has been characterised by booming profits for school operators and poverty pay coupled with precarious contracts for teachers. A few years ago, English Language Teachers had had enough and started organising. Unite’s ELT branch was formed in 2017, and since then teachers have mounted a sustained campaign for decent work. Lack of regulation in the sector had resulted in a number of overnight school closures, with teachers left jobless and unpaid while students found themselves stranded. Following the high-profile collapse of Grafton College at the

end of 2018, it became clear that the situation was no longer tenable and the Government moved to appoint former ASTI General Secretary Pat King as a mediator. Unite worked closely with King as he explored the scope for setting minimum employment standards in the sector. King recommended the establishment of a Joint Labour Committee to govern the international education sector, and

this recommendation was endorsed by the Labour Court and implemented by the Government at the start of December. While this process was going on, teachers were fighting to improve their terms and conditions in individual schools, and September saw the start of the first ever strike in the sector. The action at Dublin’s Delfin School of English centred not only on low pay and poor working conditions but also, crucially, on the school’s refusal to negotiate collectively with the teachers through their union. Following a series of stoppages, it became clear to management that

14 uniteWORKS Winter 2019/2020

teachers were determined not only to improve their conditions but to be treated with respect. At the end of November the school decided to sit down with Unite and talk about how to resolve the dispute – a process that is still ongoing. Regional Officer Brendan Byrne is clear that progress at either a sectoral or a school level would not have been made without teachers organising: “The

end of 2019 saw significant wins for teachers, in terms of the establishment of a Joint Labour Committee and Delfin’s decision to talk collectively to their workers. The origin of these successes can be traced back to 2017, when teachers decided to organise in a union. We still have a way to go before teachers’ pay and conditions reflect the high quality of teaching offered in Ireland’s international education sector – but the groundwork has been laid, and I am confident that 2020 will bring more good news for English Language Teachers”.


ROI Hospitality Coordinator Julia Marciniak

Empowering hospitality workers For over a year, Unite has been giving a voice to hospitality workers in the Republic. Exploitation is rife in a sector where workers are disproportionately young, female and migrant. This was illustrated at the end of 2018 when workers, politicians and community activists came together to highlight the scandal of ‘tip theft’ at the newly-opened Ivy Restaurant, part of the luxury chain which started in London’s West End. Together with her colleague Lenka Laiermanova, Ivy worker Julia Marciniak led the fightback against the restaurant’s exploitative practices and soon became the face of exploited hospitality workers. As a result of their stand the two women were sacked and Unite has brought unfair dismissal cases on their behalf. Julia Marciniak now works out of Unite’s Dublin office as the union’s Hospitality Coordinator, bringing her experience in the Ivy to bear on the challenge of organising hospitality workers throughout the Republic.

Informing and organising workers goes hand in hand with lobbying for political change. Back in April 2019, Unite called for legislation to ensure restaurants can’t use tips to subsidise poverty pay. Together with sympathetic politicians such as Joan Collins – who was among the first to highlight the tips scandal – Unite kept up the political pressure, and at the end of 2019 then Minister Regina Doherty announced an amendment to the Payment of Wages Act to prohibit tips being used to make up a worker’s contractual wages. Although the proposal was welcome, the failure to address the use and misuse of cash tips and service charges would have still left hospitality workers open to abuses, as Marciniak explains: “Hospitality workers know that restaurants treat service charges as extra income – income that can be used not only to subsidise the restaurant’s wage bill, but also to swell its profits”. The proposed bill fell with the last Dail, and Unite will be redoubling

15 uniteWORKS Winter 2019/2020

our efforts to ensure that the new Government brings in fit-for-purpose legislation to protect hospitality workers. Meanwhile, Marciniak is focusing on getting out a clear message: hospitality workers, like all workers, are stronger together. In addition to small ‘know your rights’ guides – pocket-sized primers for workers – Unite’s hospitality branch is joining forces with Unite in the Community to organise information stalls around the country. Sectors such as hospitality are notoriously difficult to organise, not least because of the high turnover in staff, but ROI Senior Officer Brendan Ogle says it’s vital that unions take up the challenge: “Hospitality workers are on the front line of exploitation, and the fact that so many of them are young, female and often migrants makes them even more vulnerable. Employers in the sector believe they can get away with sharp practices because their workers have no voice. Unite is determined to continue to give hospitality workers the voice they need”.


WRIGHTBUS WORKERS SAVE JOBS AND LAND No sooner had Unite succeeded in securing a new buyer for Belfast’s Harland & Wolff yard than an even greater threat to our members’ livelihoods arose in Ballymena, with over a 1000 jobs at risk as Wrightbus collapsed. Like Harland and Wolff, Wrightbus could point to a committed workforce and skills honed over many years, but the companies’ financial trajectories were somewhat different. While Harland and Wolff paid the price for their owners’ failure to invest, Wrightbus was brought down by a cashflow crisis. The origins of this crisis are disputed, with management pointing to bus orders being put on hold following new safety legislation, while others highlighted the vast amounts of money, up to £16 million, being ‘donated’ by the owner to his own church! Regardless of the immediate cause of the collapse, workers received little notice of the impending crisis. Video clips of workers being effectively locked out of their workplace by security guards while a union official was denied entry spread like wildfire across social media.

Local politicians were conspicuous by their absence. As was the case with Harland and Wolff, it was clear that the workers were on their own – except that organised workers are never on their own! Coming just a few years after Unite members saw their jobs go in JTIGallaher and Michelin, news of yet another major redundancy stoked fears for the future of the local economy. This time Ballymena workers were able to draw strength and inspiration from Harland and Wolff workers in Belfast, maintaining daily protests at the Wrightbus gates until they received assurances from the Administrators. In addition to demonstrations organised by Unite, workers held vigils outside the church to highlight the owners’ behaviour. On the basis of the vital role our members play in the production of ‘green’ energy buses and the need for a mass expansion of public transport in the era of decarbonisation Unite quite rightly called for the factory to be taken into public ownership, to continue production and save jobs.

16 uniteWORKS Winter 2019/2020

This demand won significant support from workers at mass meetings. Union officials were pulling together meetings with Government officials, administrators, and also any prospective buyers while updating and consulting members at every stage. Although a number of buyers were confirmed, hopes of an early deal were dashed due to problems regarding ownership of agricultural land on the site. The anger spread throughout Ballymena, where the community felt it was again under attack – and once politicians realised the strength of public feeling, they abandoned their silence and supported Unites call for the land to be handed back to the Council. “Hand back the land!” was the workers’ demand, as it became clear that owner Jeff Wright’s decision to cling onto the valuable site would prove a dealbreaker. Determined to save their jobs, workers continued their protests daily with huge support from the community and other workers.

“Open the gates!” was another refrain, as the community rallied to sup-port workers demonstrating outside the plant. The threat to Wrightbus jobs sparked the largest trade union mobilisation seen in Ballymena in decades, spurred on by the victory won by union members in Harland & Wolff. A recurrent theme in Unite’s campaign was the potential for the workforce to meet public transport needs in the new era of decarbonisation. Ultimately the union demands of ‘Hand back the land’ and ‘Open the Gates’

were delivered upon, and the factory was bought by Jo Bamford with plans to move to a factory of 900 workers in the months ahead. As in Harland and Wolff, Wrightbus workers defended their jobs and won out against all the odds. When the land ownership issue threatened to become an insurmountable stumbling block, Unite’s campaign mobilised public support to the point where Jeff Wright had no option but to ‘do the right thing’ and hand back the site.

17 uniteWORKS Winter 2019/2020

Throughout our union, workers are campaigning for a ‘Just Transition’: a new economic dispensation which will ensure that workers and communities do not pay the price for decarbonisation. By safeguarding the Wrightbus site and the workers’ advanced renewables expertise, Unite members won a victory not just for Ballymena and Northern Ireland, but for the concept of a worker-led Just Transition.


Jim Quinn: Labouring Study of the Fermanagh Séamas Mac Annaidh: This is the first in a three-part history of the labour movement in County Fermanagh by former Unite organiser and labour historian Jim Quinn. Although mentions of trade union activity in early nineteenth century Fermanagh are scarce, Quinn has scoured the local press unearthing – for example – an 1826 advertisement giving notice that local masons and bricklayers were working fixed hours with specified breaks, suggesting that skilled artisans were already organised in craft societies. By 1834 Enniskillen bakers and tailors were organising themselves in trade unions, to the dismay of the local ascendancy.

Tailors appear to have been particularly active, being involved in disputes in 1865 and 1890, and despite sparse records of trade union activity during the period Quinn uncovered reports of an 1888 strike at the Belleek pottery. The story gains momentum as it enters the 20th century: by 1904 the Irish National Teachers Organisation was organised in Fermanagh and in 1908 shop assistants agitated for a weekly half-holiday. Noting the absence of unions for unskilled or agricultural workers, Quinn says that ‘Trade unions were either of the craft or industrial variety.’ While there were no recorded strikes in Fermanagh during WWI, before the war ended a branch of the National Amalgamated Union of Labour (NAUL), representing unskilled and semi-skilled labourers, was established in Enniskillen. Once the risk of conscription had subsided NAUL began agitating for better pay, and after the war became very active both in Enniskillen and in rural areas. This book forms part of the centenary commemorations of the Enniskillen Trades and Labour Council, which was formed in 1919 and shortly thereafter supported local building workers striking for better hours and pay. While this successful campaign boosted the ET&LC, national

18 uniteWORKS Winter 2019/2020

politics soon muddied the waters with the Ulster Workers’ Trade Union - established to oppose a perceived alliance between labour and nationalism – forming a branch in Enniskillen. Nevertheless, the mainstream labour movement in Fermanagh retained cross-community support, with the three Labour councillors elected in 1920 with nearly 20 per cent of the vote. They generally aligned themselves with the Nationalists, and were sidelined as Fermanagh local government became dominated by Unionists – although they had some success in the area of housing, with Jones’s Cottages and Kelly’s Cottages bearing testimony to the work of the eponymous Labour councillors. Although the labour movement in Fermanagh was not defeated by sectarian division, continuing to represent workers and successfully campaign for better wages and conditions, its efforts in local government were largely stymied by a unionist-dominated regime. Quinn has made good use of local sources to highlight the role played by the local labour movement over the past 150 years. Hopefully, Labouring Beside Lough Erne will remind readers that Irish history isn’t simply orange and green. Labouring Beside Lough Erne is available from Rooney’s Spar, Cornagrade Rd, Enniskillen, The Enniskillen Castle Museum Shop and online at https://umiskinpress.wordpress.com/

Beside Lough Erne, a h Labour Movement Jim Quinn, Former Unite Regional Head of Organising hands over to Sean Corr of Enniskillen library, the first box of archival material for the permanent archive of trade union material in Fermanagh

19 uniteWORKS Winter 2019/2020


Meatpacking workers pack a punch at ABP Beef baron Larry Goodman is perhaps best-known as one of the businessmen around Fianna Fail in the 1980s and 1990s and a central figure in the long-running Beef Tribunal saga. Anglo-Beef Processing is part of Goodman’s ABP Foods group, recently the company’s management at the Lurgan plant attempted to impose early start times in return for a miserly pay rise – but the workers, who are members of Unite, were having none of it. A staggering 93 per cent voted to reject the proposals, pointing to the group’s £170 million profits as well as the difficulties which earlier start times would cause for parents. Not only would workers already commuting long distances have to start out even earlier to bring their children to childcare – the new hours would have made accessing appropriate and affordable childcare even more difficult, leaving many workers with no option but to leave their jobs. Faced with an outcry over their proposals, management suggested a local childcare provider that opened at the crack of dawn. However, it turned out they didn’t accept children with specific disabilities – leaving some parents with no childcare cover at all. The idea that workers should drag small children out of bed before 6 am to satisfy ABP was greeted with the indignation it deserved.

Unite members were left with no option but to take action, and early November saw a one-day strike which brought production in Lurgan to a standstill. Standing on a cold and wet winter picket line is always tough, but workers were heartened by the support they received from the general public as well as other trade unionists. A multitude of languages could be heard on the pickets and it took just a day to force the company to the negotiating table. Management immediately retreated from their proposal for an early start time, and the focus moved to pay. The result was a pay deal worth 5.2 per cent over two years – a deal overwhelmingly accepted by workers. Low pay is often just one indicator of wider issues – and ABP was no exception. During the course of the strike action, it became clear that workers had non-pay concerns beyond shift times, and Unite

20 uniteWORKS Winter 2019/2020

Workers Regional mobilise Officer – scenes for from protest Construction of ABP workers Tom Fitzgerald and supporters during addressing their recent thestrike meeting action ensured that these were wrapped into the pay deal. The company committed to making payslips fully transparent (essential in an industry based on piecework), and management agreed to enter into Labour Relations Agencymediated discussions with union reps on issues including holiday arrangements, toilet breaks and finish times. Our union team in ABP has grown dramatically since the strike, reflecting increased strength and organisation. Welcoming the victory, Unite Regional Officer Brian Hewitt said that Unite members had again demonstrated the power of determined collective action: “ABP workers were determined not only to advance their terms and conditions, but also to defend their family life. With Unite’s full support, they took a stand and they won. We hope that the agreement reached after the strike offers a solid basis for future engagement with management in our members’ interests”.


Unite wins reprieve for Kilroot power workers There is power in our union. After months of campaigning and lobbying, Unite welcomed the news that 270 jobs would be safeguarded despite the closure of generators at Ballylumford B. The reprieve came ten months after 370 AES workers and contractors were threatened with immediate redundancy following the first all-island auction for electricity generating contracts. Although the auction was run by the System Operator for Northern Ireland (SONI) under NI rules, it was conducted on an all-Ireland basis. As might be anticipated from an auction conducted on the basis of the dog-eat-dog logic of free market economics, workers at those plants where bosses submitted the highest cost bids were always going to be the collateral damage. In this case it was workers at AES operated Ballylumford B and Kilroot generators in Northern Ireland and those operated by Veridian at Huntstown in the Republic.

Unite has always questioned the logic of the decision made by SONI and the Regulator’s rules, and we pointed out that the calculations used did not allow for exceptio nal demand surges, uncertainty surrounding the decades-delayed north-south electricity interconnector and the ongoing difficulties with the sea interconnector to Scotland. Studies highlighting the likeli hood of blackouts in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit further strengthened out case. After months of campaigning, SONI reversed tack and offered AES a one-year System Support Services Agreement contract for Kilroot power station. Unite Regional Officer Joanne McWilliams welcomed the about-turn: “Unite has been campaigning since January to avert this jobs threat. Now, we must ensure that this contract rolls over for another year as widely expected. “But the news is not all good: Up to eighty AES positions will be lost with

21 uniteWORKS Winter 2019/2020

the closure of Ballylumford B power station. While we hope that most job losses will be achieved through voluntary redundancies across both sites, this still means eighty fewer jobs.” Outlining the union’s alternative approach to the market model dominating the allisland electricity sector, McWilliams pointed out that the concept of an energy market is not working and will not work: “It is designed to benefit shareholders rather than the public or workers. It is driven by right-wing ideology as opposed to common sense economics. “Electricity workers are footing the bill for the failure to invest in a managed transition to renewables which would involve upskilling to fill new jobs. Meanwhile our economy has been left reliant on last generation’s technology to ensure security of supply. We need a stateled approach predicated on nationalisation of this vital industry, north, south, east and west, opening the door to the large-scale public investment needed to create the energy jobs of the future”.



Jimmy Nixon

Des Bonass...

...union to

Des Bonass

Jimmy Nixon

Unite recently bid farewell to two larger-than-life figures whose commitment to the trade union movement and the working class never faltered. Jimmy Nixon from Belfast and Des Bonass from Dublin remained active in Unite until shortly before they died a few weeks apart in September. Originally from Sandy Row in Belfast, Jimmy Nixon joined the union at the age of 18 as an apprentice in Mackey’s and went on to become a shop steward in the Ministry of Defence. Some years ago, Jimmy participated in an oral history project with Unite and recalled his early days as a shop steward: “I learned most at the bar because although I was taking a lemonade and the other fellows were taking a stout, you learned from the experiences that they’d had in the shipyard, in Shortt’s, in different other places, and listening and asking the right questions”.

That ability to ask the right questions was part of what made Jimmy an effective shop steward – and he kept asking questions until the end, most recently at Unite’s policy conference in May. Jimmy was committed to trade union values and had a passion for justice – a passion he carried on into his work with Unite’s Retired Members Committee and the National Pensioners’ Conventions. Just weeks before his death, Jimmy was campaigning against the removal of free TV licenses for those over 75. Like Jimmy Nixon, Dubliner Des Bonass was a stalwart of Unite and the wider trade union movement, acting not only as Secretary of the Dublin 102 branch but also serving on the Executive of the Dublin Council of Trade Unions. Des joined the ATGWU in 1958 and was

22 uniteWORKS Winter 2019/2020

o the end involved in a range of industrial and political campaigns, including the Dublin Housing Action Committee and the campaign against the 1983 Eighth Amendment prohibiting abortion. He also campaigned for trade union action on behalf of unemployed workers, recognising that solidarity must cut across barriers of employment or non-employment. Recalling the Des Bonass’ tireless work on behalf of striking British miners and their families in the 1980s, miners’ leader Arthur Scargill said “Des was a trade unionist, Socialist and above all an internationalist who have support to all those in struggle against oppression all over the world”. In 2012, Des was interviewed for an oral history project examining the legacy of the 1913 Lockout, and he spoke about how the concepts of trade unionism permeated large workplaces in the 1950 and 60s:

“A trade union was something that everyone was a member of if you were a working class person. The factories in Dublin, Jacobs, Cadburys, Tayto Crisps or any of those as well you found a good trade union education there”. Regional Secretary Jackie Pollock says that both Des Bonass and Jimmy Nixon have left a legacy which will stand to Unite in the years ahead: “Our collective memory is one of the trade union movement’s greatest resources. Between them, Jimmy and Des had experienced and fought in many of our movement’s struggles, and they passed the lessons learnt – both political and industrial – to a new generation of activists. We owe them, and so many other older members, a debt of gratitude”.

Paying tribute: Arthur Scargill

23 uniteWORKS Winter 2019/2020

Happy International Women’s Day March 8, 2020

Dignity and justice for women workers Jackie Pollock, Regional Secretary Taryn Trainor, Regional Women’s Officer