Socialist Worker

Waterford occupiers keep factory alive

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2138

Noel is part of a group of workers who are keeping the Waterford Crystal flame burning.

He is among a dozen who make sure that 18 tonnes of molten glass continue to be produced by the plant’s furnace every 24 hours.

The furnace must stay working for production at the factory to continue.

If the furnace stops, the glass will solidify and the repairs would cost 8 million euros.

Hundreds of workers are occupying the plant in Waterford in southeast Ireland to keep the factory open after its receiver, David Carson, tried to lock them out. They have occupied the workplace since 30 January.

Workers describe it as “our factory” – and it is. They are running a six-hour shift system to occupy the building.

In the plant canteen, blackboards advertise food mocking Carson, “Today’s special: Carson pie. Contains bullshit. Union advises members to stay clear.”

Noel told Socialist Worker, “Our goal at the moment is to keep the furnace going.

‘‘The receiver never even thought about the furnace when he decided to close the place down. We have a three-fold fight here – we want to retain jobs, get our full pensions back and get proper redundancies for those who have to leave.

“I’m upbeat, like everybody else around here. I’ve given my life to the plant – I’ve worked here for 28 years. I’m committed to the job. We have to stick together.”

Some 3,000 people, one in ten people of working age in the city, were employed by Waterford Crystal in the early 1980s. There were only 700 lefr at the end of January this year.

Support

There is huge support for the occupation. Last Tuesday, some workers travelled to Dublin and occupied the offices of the receiver Deloitte & Touche.

The next day over 8,000 people took to the streets of Waterford to show their solidarity. At a rally, Tom Hogan, president of Waterford Trades Council and a former glass worker contrasted the workers’ treatment with that of the rich.

“Those with the longest snouts – the bankers, who had their faces deepest in the trough – paid themselves in millions,” he said.

A glasscutter at the factory said, “Everything is gone now. Job, pension, everything. When we asked the politicians for help last year, they should have looked after us. They’re looking after all the banks now.”

Derek, a glassblower, has worked at the plant for 32 years. His father also worked there, and his brother and nephew are among those who have been laid off.

He told Socialist Worker, “All my CV says is Waterford Crystal, nothing else. This is like breaking up a family. We are going to stay here until something is sorted.”

Siobhan made chandeliers at the plant until she was made redundant last October. She said, ‘‘Those redundancy agreements are now up in the air and our pension fund is decimated.

“There are no jobs in Waterford city. We are all worried about how we are going to pay our bills in the future. We’ll stay here as long as it takes.”

The recession is creating resistance across Ireland.

Last week bus drivers demonstrated against plans by Dublin Bus to sack 290 staff and remove 120 buses from the roads.

The same day saw up to 1,000 taxi drivers marching against the deregulation of their licences. And last Thursday 25,000 students marched against plans to introduce fees.

Waterford worker John Coughlan joined the protest, “to show a bit of solidarity”, he told the Irish Times.

“We feel that the kids today need to stand up. They need to say this is enough, treat us with a bit of dignity and let us get on with our lives.”

Solidarity

Meanwhile solidarity for the Waterford workers has flooded in. Supporters have donated mattresses, food, TVs, gifts and messages of support. Every day a local bakery delivers bread. “To all the mammys and daddys,” read one card from a local creche.

A national protest in support of the occupation is planned in Dublin on Saturday. A delegation of Waterford workers arrived in Britain on Tuesday to build solidarity for the occupation.

Many people, including pensioners, have handed in cash at the reception desk for the occupation. For those who are further away and wish to donate, a bank account has been opened at the Ulster Bank – sort code 98-64-20, account number 10379438.

The Waterford occupation is at the sharp end of the fight against the recession. It urgently needs the support and solidarity of every worker.

Rush messages of support and donations to Unite Hall, Keyzer Street, Waterford County, Waterford, Republic of Ireland, phone 00353 5187 5438, or email walter.cullen@unitetheunion.com


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