Gama Workers' Strike Wins Back Stolen Cash

The striking Gama workers got back the part of their wages which had been stolen by their employer and hidden in a Dutch bank; and at the end of May they voted to accept terms relating to overtime. A big bullying multinational construction firm had manners put on it.

The 80 workers who stayed in Ireland to carry on the strike got ¤8,000 for each year they worked (and a proportion for part years),along with severance pay of ¤2,500.This gives some idea of the massive unpaid overtime these workers were forced to do, more so when this money only covers about 30%of what they should have received.

Along with the stolen wages recovered from the Netherlands, a worker with three years service went home with over ¤65,000 -a big sum here and a huge sum in Turkey. Although 200 of their colleagues returned to Turkey earlier in May with their share of the ¤40 million stolen wages hidden in Finansnbank, 80 others fought on to get their overtime pay. The bravery and determination of these workers, who had been getting just ¤200 a week, shows what is possible.

It contrasts most favourably with the behaviour of some of our unions. Union officials seemed happy enough to collect subscriptions by way of deduction from weekly pay cheques but not to give any service to the workers. Some of the workers were not even aware they were union members.

Why did it take a Socialist Party county councillor borrowing a hard hat and sneaking onto a site to uncover the Gama scandal? What were union officials like SIPTU's construction branch secretary, Eric Fleming, doing for the last three years? Why is the Dublin executive of SIPTU not allowed to see the results of the union's own investigation? If workers don't speak English - hire translators. It's pretty simple! Get stewards elected, organise people (as opposed to just getting them to sign a form in a language they don't understand).

The Gama workers showed that they didn't lack willingness to fight their thieving bosses. It was the union officials - so used to the cosy deals of 'partnership' and the restrictions of the 1991 Industrial Relations Act -who were found wanting. Migrant workers from poorer countries can be used to lower wages. But if our unions make a serious effort to recruit and help them fight for equal pay and better conditions, they won't be used to lower pay levels but rather to strengthen our hand in future struggles.

By Joe King

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This edition is No87 published in July 2005