By Councillor Kieran Mahon
The callous treatment of workers by Instant UpRight Ltd is a sharp example of the cynicism and opportunism of employers who are taking advantage of the Covid-19 crisis to maximise profits at the cost of jobs and working conditions. Fellow Solidarity Councillor and Socialist Party member, Sandra Fay, and myself spoke with striking workers about their dispute.
The factory in Citywest makes specialised aluminium scaffolding that among other things is used in the maintenance of power plants internationally. Workers, some of whom have almost 20 years with the company, are skilled, experienced workers such as welders and machinists.
Open the books
The company employs about 50 people in Citywest but has subsidiaries in China and Latvia. On top of this there is a regular flow of temporary agency workers, used as required to fulfil contract work. The company is owned by Australian millionaire Ric Stowe, who has had interests in mining, airlines and stock holdings.
Fifteen minutes before workers broke for Christmas 2019 they were informed that they should not return to work until contacted individually by the company. This was rejected by the workers who are organised in the trade union Connect and maintain the right to collective representation and negotiation, to the opening of the company books and full transparency.
During the Covid shutdown, a worker passing by the factory discovered an attempt by the boss to remove machinery and equipment from the factory with trucks, destined for Latvia, being loaded by management. Workers stopped this and placed a picket on the site. This is now an official strike.
Management have so far refused to negotiate with the union. Workers are keen to return to work. At a time when the state will directly fund employers up to €410 per week in wage subsidies, workers at Instant Upright find themselves locked out of the factory and of negotiations.
Direct action of workers
Were it not for the direct action of workers, Instant UpRight Ltd. would have shifted up to 80% of the production process to Latvia with no negotiations with workers or their union. It seems the company has received significant IDA investment. The aim of the union is to engage the company in the WRC to find a resolution.
While it may suit the company to relocate its manufacturing to lower cost economies while maintaining a tax base in Ireland, for workers this should be a dispute about keeping jobs. This workforce has valuable experience and skills that can and should be utilised and maintained through training and apprenticeship schemes.
With a Covid19 adjusted unemployment rate of 28.2% at the end of April, serious state interventions including public ownership of job-shedding companies will be needed to tackle the jobs massacre. Workers must put themselves at the heart of this process through industrial action and demanding investment, self-management and control over safety and production.