One hundred and fifteen Irish Cement workers have been on strike since 3 April at plants in Limerick and Drogheda. Despite being a subsidiary of CRH, the fourth largest building company in the world with profits of €711 million in 2011, Irish Cement is attempting to use the crisis to drive down wages and cut jobs.
In the last two years, approximately half of all general workers and a quarter of trades people have been let go from both plants. The company was still unhappy and is now looking for the workers who remain to take a pay cut. Ignoring a Labour Court recommendation to pay outstanding wages, Irish Cement continues to withhold contractually-owed pay of between €5000 and €9,500 per worker in an attempt to blackmail workers into accepting a reduction.
In contrast, management have had no qualms in increasing their own pay and bonuses in the same period. CRH boss Myles Lee had a salary of €2.7 million last year – an increase of over 9% on 2010 – and has had €1 million put into his individual pension fund each year for the last three years.
Workers have decided to make a stand and began an indefinite strike, picketing their plants 24 hours a day in order to prevent cement being moved off site. Irish Cement are using reserves that were stockpiled in advance and during the period of strike notice, as well as cement from the effectively state-owned Quinn Cement to supply customers!
It is in the government’s power to stop these deliveries until the dispute is resolved. More significantly, workers in Quinn Cement are also unionised and an appeal must be made to these workers not to handle shipments to Irish Cement or its customers. This struggle affects workers not just across the cement industry, but the building industry as a whole.
Irish Cement is going after workers’ pay as a means to break the unions within the company and ultimately subcontract out all general work. This fits the agenda of IBEC, CIF and Cement Manufacturers Ireland (CMI) as they seek wage cuts right across the building industry and force all workers into a race to the bottom.