I’m honoured and delighted to address this important gathering today, as we not only commemorate those great Irish women and men who fought so gallantly against the odds and for so long in delivering to some extent our country’s independence from a cruel colonial power, but equally importantly to reaffirm our ongoing struggle for a true republic in which the focus is firmly on its citizens, families and communities.
I’m also very humbled that as Mandate President we remember in our commemoration two true Irish men in that struggle for independence- Patrick Moran from Roscommon and our own Martin Savage from Ballysodare. Both these men like myself worked in the retail industry and were active trade unionists in a union that eventually became Mandate. Their struggle wasn’t confined to their military escapades for independence, but equally in their union activities to better their terms and conditions and rates of pay. That struggle more than ever remains a constant today.
As Irish politics hurtles towards potential watershed and historic moments, Irish workers across the island of Ireland whether Catholic, Protestant or Dissenter, are facing into the economic unknowns. Our employer and landlord class aided by its political equivalent and supporters, will use these so-called economic unknowns to attack workers employment rights, their hard won terms and conditions and pay rates. Their relentless drive for more and more profit, for delivering increasing shareholder dividend, for protecting their business case models over workers’ interests, the ongoing marketisation of anything that is of vital importance to Irelands citizens and communities makes a lie of any mealy mouthed words by the same class that they have social conscience and responsibility policy positions.
We have seen this in Mandate with Arnotts, Clerys and only recently Debenhams where so-called reputable employers used the prevailing legal systems to exercise their rights to siphon away and out of the country valuable assets and money from those businesses, without any legal recourse to honouring negotiated commitments to their workers and under the watchful eye of our political rulers who have promised legal change on this behaviour but delivered so far nothing.
Spare a thought for the Debenhams workers who had to picket their empty workplaces through the ravages if a Covid pandemic, the harshest of Irish weather and suffer physical attention by state forces for 406 days.
They like the Dunnes anti-apartheid strikers in the 80s are like Savage and Moran part of our struggle in delivering an Ireland for the people run by the people…not in the interests of a few of the wealthy and their political cronies. That struggle continues today.
And it’s a struggle that takes place in a climate of people challenges, both local and global. We’ve yet to deal with the full threat of Brexit, the Ukrainian and other war situations, the ongoing narrative of our country’s invaluable neutrality position, the economic and sovereign restrictions of our EU membership, the serious threat of climate change and so on and on. The challenges are varied and endless, but in each and every one of them there’s an obvious constant threaded through them. And it’s not us …the workers who are at fault despite what some in the media will tell you.
It’s the pursuit of resources in the interests of capital, the protection of capital interests ahead of the ordinary people and the very obvious and accepted universal inequalities of wealth distribution. All of these have and will continue to threaten our very existence.
As we commemorate our heroic dead today – such as the Patrick Morans and Martin Savages and so many more, their struggle and fight against their imperialist oppressors now becomes ours. Like those I’ve mentioned we must commit and affirm our responsibility as workers to struggle and fight our deserved rewards from the capitalist classes, many of which are imperialist in nature and outlook.
There’s a clear local, national and international dimension in this struggle and fight. Those that believe it cannot be achieved here should look at what was managed and done through the recent Right2Water and Right2Change campaigns of which Mandate Trade Union had no small part in. The Mandate Dunnes strike of 2015 delivered employment legislation that provided better protection for flexible contracted workers not only in bar and retail but across all Irish employment. This was the Banded Hours legislation which is the envy of workers and their unions across the globe.
The Dunnes anti-apartheid strike of the 80s which I’ve already referenced and was by a small group of 9 women and one man strikers from only one store, Henry Street, contributed to an Irish government position change on importing goods from the apartheid South African state.
Simple worker and community led campaigns and actions can have meaningful effect for those that we represent and fight for. As American Margaret Mead said when describing those Dunnes anti-apartheid strikers ‘never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’
Irish workers should not be reticent in asking for more, nor apologise for demanding their fair share on everything. And I mean everything. Workers across the world shouldn’t shy away from exercising their collective will and, if necessary, their muscle for the same. It’s our world and as I said during my Mandate President election campaign, we have the means…all we need is the will. Those that we commemorate had less means but clearly had more will.
To finish sisters and brothers, as the song goes if we continue to ‘tolerate this, then our kids will be next’.