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  • Writer's pictureIWW Ireland

Redundancies, Food Banks and Unemployment Lines: The shape of things to come?

Updated: Jul 20, 2020

It has been noted through the media, with politicians and media pundits alike, who have continuously forecast an impending economic downturn on the back of the coronavirus pandemic. Already many workers in the retail and hospitality sectors, furloughed for the past number of months, have quite rightly sensed a seismic shift away from the possibilities of returning to work again.

Workers at the Eason’s book chain, estimated to be in the region of 144 members of staff, received redundancy notice this week at stores in both Belfast and Derry. Without doubt, there is now a fear amongst many furloughed workers, who are watching from the sidelines as to how this will play out and wondering “well who’s next?”.

You can be reassured that bosses in Eason’s successful locations in the North, and that of their shareholders, will undoubtedly be expecting to be compensated first. Cutting their losses in good time, with no intention of losing a nights sleep over the possibility of plummeting profits, or to be paying out more wages.

Weeks perviously the retail outfit Debenhams, with a sizeable network of stores throughout the south of Ireland, would have read well the economic forecasts and shut eleven stores, tossing dedicated staff to the streets. Abandoned, Debenhams workers have since taken decisive in demanding full redundancy payments and wages owed to them by taking to the streets. Holding a series of visual protests nationally, publicly shaming their former employers with pickets and blockading a number of the chainstores. All this in order to prevent any possible stock to be sold off to pay banks and shareholders first. A defiant warning shot to all bosses across the country, showing clearly how workers can demand what is rightfully entitled to them.

Make no mistake, other bosses, politicians and companies will be looking on at these unfolding events, curious to sample reactions to further redundancies. It is vital that all action taken by Debenhams workers or others are fully supported, solidarity shown and their struggle vocalised widely. We must never allow employers to have a free hand at crushing workers and working class communities at this or any other time.

It's true that both Irish and British governments and their media machines report a constant wave of “qualified” graphs and statistics relaying the same line. Forecasting that what we are witnessing is going to be part of the shape of things to come over the next several years, as the pandemic lock down lifts and furlough payments ends. So too will be the dramatically predicted increase in both unemployment lines, as well as widespread food banks as part of our new normality. However this must never be accepted or allowed to be viewed as something normal, or something that our class forever has to endure at a time as vast sums of wealth are accumulated by a chosen few.

At this present minute we should be equally concerned at the lack of action being played out by what passes for the trade union movement. At a time when the labour movement should be organised and vocal on attacks such as these, the trade union hierarchy have basically rolled over and accepted that the events now being played out in real-time, are somehow inevitable. It is not!

The trade union movement or what passes for it today has for decades been accepting the continuous rollback of hard fought labour laws, rights and legislation once put in place to support and protect workers. The trade union business leadership model has failed workers today, as it has done repeatedly over the last number of decades. Allowing hard fought victories to be scrapped or rendered meaningless. Business unions are caught up in an endless state of power grabs by the left and right. The management of power positions and the wealth representatives obtain when holding and protecting these top down positions is nothing short of offensive. All this is happening as workers are forced to accept and attempt to live off borderline poverty wages.

We need to be mobilising workers at grassroots level now in an effort to counteract layoffs and redundancies which is happening because employers don't want to pay wages in their urgency to protect accumulated wealth and profits.

As an independent radical union, free from political party control and corruption, the IWW has historically provided lessons in direct action and class warfare since its inception. Both in the workplace and at community level from occupations and lock-ins, blockades, wildcat strikes and rolling industrial action. More importantly we have the overwhelming belief in working class unity and solidarity is the only way forward which can win the day. Solidarity now in support of workers who are facing redundancy is vital such as the supporting protests and workplace occupations or nationwide solidarity actions in support of Debenhams workers. It is up to everyone to help and encourage fellow workers to unionise and mobilise now. We need to bring to account all those employers who are hell-bent on evading the right of all workers to organise in their workplace and shaming those who refuse to pay wages that is owed to them.

Over the weeks and months ahead, we must continue that work in support of protests, pickets, strikes, blockades and occupations created by workers, who organise to defend our rights as workers. Our strength is in the solidarity that our class can gather at times such as these. Our motto remains true today as it has since we first established - An Injury To One, Is An Injury To All!


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