1 Friends I am delighted to have the opportunity ... - The Labour Party


1 Friends I am delighted to have the opportunity ... - The Labour Party


I am delighted to have the opportunity, today, to speak to you on this matter of

such fundamental importance for all living in Ireland.

We are here to send out the message to the government, and to business,

that the exploitation of workers will not be tolerated.

The actions of Irish Ferries over the last weeks and months have been

scandalous; the Government’s mealy-mouthed and supine response, equally


The employer organisations, too, must declare where they stand on this issue.

We have built our recent success on partnership and mutual respect. Is that

now to be abandoned? Is short-term greed, profits built on exploitation, to be

the way forward? That road will provide a future for nobody.

This issue is but the latest example of the ill-treatment of workers in this state

and across Europe. Increasingly, workers are viewed as simply another

commodity to be used and abused at the whim of their employers.

This ongoing dispute is about resisting the actions of a rogue company who

have set about the destruction of partnership between employers and workers

in this country- a partnership which has been of the most paramount

importance in our country’s economic development and which is now glossed

over by boardroom suits across the land, exemplified by the actions taken by

Irish Ferries’ management.

Ireland is not just an economy. It is a community: a community of people.

Profitable companies are of no value if they impoverish their own employees.

The party which I represent is the oldest political party in Ireland. It was

founded in the year before one of the greatest confrontations between labour

and capital. What was then a poverty-stricken, and vulnerable, movement of


labour sought to organise against a version of capitalism that refused the

most basic rights, including that of organisation, to workers. That confrontation

required courage, tenacity, solidarity and above all a commitment to class and

history beyond the short term challenges. We are the beneficiaries of their


We cannot betray that legacy. In our generation, we must lay the foundations

for future achievement, and we must struggle against the kinds of social

injustices which our predecessors did.

Out of the most extreme conditions of 1912-13 there emerged a vision that

dealt not only with the immediate problems of working people but also a vision

for the changes that were necessary in the structures of the economy, society

and the political system.

The parallels with today’s situation are significant. Again, we are face with the

urgent need to protect working people. The choices which we make on this

matter- and let us not be any doubt, this is not just a struggle for decent

wages for Irish Ferries workers, but a struggle for decent wages everywhere

in the Irish economy- will define where Ireland goes in the coming decades.

This is a line in the sand. Ireland will either build its future as a high wage

economy with skills that are valued, or we face a dismal future with an

economy based on minimum wages and poor conditions.

What is required of all of us gathered here today is no less than these values

of courage, tenacity, solidarity and commitment which were so prevalent in

1912 and 1913.

Much of the energies of the Labour movement in the intervening period

between 1912 and the present moment have concentrated on the protection

of workers in a hostile environment. These protections have had to be won

through negotiation and more often in the past through courageous


confrontation. In the period into which we have now entered, it is clear that

this task remains.

Attempts have been made to erode many of the gains made by the Trade

Union movement in Europe as the tyranny of the neo-liberal model of the

economy is sought to be imposed in Europe by parties of the right. In the

name of alleged labour market flexibility, hard won securities for workers have

been challenged. Our current right-wing Government remains politically and

ideologically polluted by its rump, the Progressive Democrats.

It is even more important now to restate the values of socialism for a

generation that is carrying the marks of the legacy of Thatcher-Reaganism

with its extreme individualism and greed so well represented by the

Progressive Democrats, and by the Fianna Fail party that capitulated to their

message of selfishness.

The Labour Party and like-minded parties of the left, while they have to

respect the complexity of the real circumstances of the economy and the

society in which we find ourselves, are not required to capitulate to the version

of the economy or the society which the right are suggesting is inevitable.

The Left will be judged, much more, by its adherence to principle than its

competence. Both are important but the principles and vision are the most


Far from socialism being out of date, it was never more necessary. What is

old-fashioned is the 18th century version of greed and selfishness being

imposed upon us within a neo-liberal model of the economy that wreaks

death and destruction in the developing world and that deprives citizens at

home of their most basic rights.

Irish Ferries respect no one: not the Labour Court, not the elected parliament

of Ireland, least of all their own employees. They are hell bent on a strategy of

greed, which, if they succeed, will affect every worker in this land.


One thing for certain is, we are not going backwards: the advances have been

too hard-won to retreat. Today, all over Ireland, as a people we have one

simple message. United, we reject the exploiter and his vision of misery. A

prosperous Ireland has no meaning without a prosperous people.


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