Ireland has a long and storied history when it comes to undermining women in the workplace. When the republic was formed we were one of the first nations to want to grant democratic rights to women. However, if you look to the proceeding 100 years you get a remarkably different impression of what the state thinks of women. The same can be said of the new Irish state and its relationship to the trade union movement broadly.
This last month we witnessed a struggle in Cork County that rang a klaxon for both issues. The premise is simple, workers in the remote town of Cobh County Cork, employed by the Spike Island Development Company (SIDC) which is wholly owned by Cork County council, had a straight forward dispute.
The kiosk they operated did not have any toilet or sanitization facilitates. And in the time prior to a global pandemic this was bemusing and sometimes embarrassing for workers there as the would have to ask to use the facilities of local businesses. This year however, the workers petition their employer and even tried to involved the HSA (health and safety authority).
The conclusion was, SIDC would arranged for their employees to have specific access to
toilet facilities within proximate distance of the kiosk but only after they signed an a legal agreement which would change the terms of their employment.
The primary organisers involving the dispute of these facilities and employees of this kiosk were women. If one looks to the history of the Irish Trade Union movement one will find many women are to the fore of workplace safety such as this case for basic dignity.
In August after refusing to sign this new agreement and contacting a Unite the Union these workers achieved a great win for all the current and future employees of that kiosk, basic sanitation and toilet facilities on site. And without delay the main organisers Karen Doyle and Linda Lyons were told that their employment with SIDC had been terminated:
"All staff are seasonal staff employed on fixed-term contracts. The employment contracts of several staff expired this week, as happens each year at this time when sailings are reduced significantly. A small number of existing staff are retained who undertake a variety of duties.” - CEO of Spike Island Tours, John Crotty.
Unfortunately for the bosses in SIDC, Karen and Linda were no mere push overs. Upon receiving this news the workers once again reached out to their union. They provided them with all the details pertaining to their case and quickly they arranged a strike. Despite the protestation of SIDC, Linda and Karen had something of an ace up their sleeves.
Documented evidence of their contractual end date of their employment. The workers contracts of employment with SIDC were not to concluded until November 29th 2020.
In terms of employment law and basic common sense it was a slam-dunk. Their dismissal was reversed and they returned to work.
This story is a microcosm of the trade union movement both here and abroad. Workers
with a simple request, organising between themselves and bringing pressure to
bear on their employer. And unfortunately as has always been the way with employers, a retribution tends to be exacted against those most vocal within the union movement.
And if you look to Irish history, it can be female workers that bear a heavy burden in
workplaces and in workplace disputes. But as this story highlights that is not always
the end of the story. In fact when union movements were strong and broader workers solidarity existed, employers had fair less power. As should be the way. The owner of any business is no more entitled to the fruits of your labour than you are. They are only an owner because of their ability to access capital, and a willingness to employ you for less than you are worth. Because what is profit but unpaid wages to you and your colleagues?
Organising a movement to make gains for everyday workers, your friends and your
fellow workers, look what happened with Linda and Karen. It is this persistence and focus even in small ways that shows everyone involved the power workers have over employers, over owners. Even arguably over the state, as is the case here. And owners knows this more acutely than workers do. A win, even as small as access to a bathroom is a massive problem for an employer. Because if they can win that what else can they win?
That is what the IWW Ireland want to bring to all the un-unionised workers of Cork and around the country. We want to bring this type of thinking and these organising skills to you. No matter your experience, your profession we want to give you the skills to take control over your own workplaces, control over your own life.
Because as the song says, "what can be more pitiful than the feeble might of one, for the union makes use strong!"
If you'd like to talk to someone in Cork you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or queries. Otherwise you can join the IWW through our online form here.