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Debate: Who won at Irish Ferries?

20 February 2006

Who won at Irish Ferries?  Was it a victory for the working class or a sellout by the union leaders and victory for the bosses? We have made our own position clear in our coverage of the dispute at 

Irish Ferries The Race To The Bottom Continues

Now a debate has broken out in the pages of the British edition of Socialist Worker. We carry the correspondence below and would welcome the views of visitors to the site.

1.   Who won at Irish Ferries? 

The outcome of the Irish Ferries dispute is not a victory. Wages have been slashed in half and conditions of service torn up. 

The company is offering a redundancy deal which is really a worker replacement scheme that had been on the table from the beginning, and the ships are being re-flagged. 

The deal also includes a three year no strike agreement.

Getting a slightly better settlement than the one originally offered by the company is not the same as defeating management. 

This defeat is the result of years of social partnership by the Irish Labour Party and the union bureaucrats. 
Socialists in Ireland now have to start organising against the union leaders who sold out both the seafarers and the workers who marched in support of them.

Liam Mac Uaid, East London

2.   Ferry dispute

In his letter about the Irish Ferries dispute (Letters, 21 January) Liam Mac Uaid makes some valid points, but misses the bigger picture.

Management had to abandon much of its original attack. Concessions were won after thousands of workers took to the streets. A whole generation of workers had their first taste of unofficial strike action. We should point out that more could have been won. But the overwhelming feeling was “we won”.

Socialists and trade unionists should build on that mood in order to stop the outsourcing of jobs, the exploitation of foreign labour, and the sell-outs of union leaders.

Owen McCormack, Dublin

3.   Irish Ferries

There is a certain lack of clarity about Owen McCormack’s letter in reply to Liam Mac Uaid (letters, 28th January). He says that Liam makes some valid points. Liam says that Irish Ferries was a defeat. Owen appears to be claiming at the very least a limited victory, so what does he think that Liam is saying that is valid?

The unclarity extends to specifics. What was the ‘much’ of the original attack that management had to abandon? My understanding is that the major shift was that workers displacing the current workforce were initially to have been paid a wage of  3-60 euro per hour and that this was doubled to the legal minimum of over 7-00 euro per hour. This is half the current rate and, as the management has won the right to reflag their ships, they will shortly be in a position to press ahead with their plans held back only by a ‘legally binding’ agreement worth nothing outside of Irish legal jurisdiction.

This uncertainty about victory or defeat is quite a serious disagreement. If Marxism is to have any credibility then, even when we disagree, we should be using the same measuring sticks. The issue of victory or defeat should be clear-cut. It workers are the losers in terms of wages and conditions then they have suffered a defeat. If we use Owen’s analysis then Gate Gourmet was a significant victory for British workers!

Owen offers us a ‘mood’ – an overwhelming feeling of victory. I would dispute that mood and report a feeling of defeat with a strong tinge of ‘sold out again’ when it comes to the union bureaucracy. But of course a new combativity within the working class would be a significant shift. The obvious evidence of such a shift would be an increase in the self-organisation of workers. The evidence is in the other direction. The union bureaucracy, forced to abandon partnership talks with the government and bosses at the height of the dispute, have re-entered negotiations with almost no resistance form activists.

It really is time to bring an end to clappy-happy Marxism. Behind the claims of victory is a sharp turn to the right. If Irish Ferries was a victory then it wuz the union bureaucrats wot won it and a strategy of unity with the bureaucracy can be to some extent justified. If the Ferries struggle was defeated then a policy of unity disables traditional Marxist opposition to collaboration between the bureaucracy and the bosses.

John McAnulty
Socialist Democracy



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