Building Workers against the Black Economy fight sub-contracting in Ireland

In 1998 building workers struggled against the replacement of directly employed workers with contractors through 'Building Workers against the Black Economy' an extra union group that was in reality quite close to the unions and set up to avoid the Industrial Relations Act being used against the unions.  In the course of the struggle David McMahon and William Rodgers were jailed, this text is an Anarchist News produced by WSM around the protests at this jailing.


An injury to one is an injury to all
Support the building workers


The courage of David McMahon and William Rodgers who have chosen to go to jail rather than back down in the face of an unjust law is an inspiration to all of us. They should be supported not just by all building workers but by all Irish workers.

For too long the bosses have ruled unchallenged by the unions. But Building Workers against the Black Economy have already proved that if we stand together and use direct action they can be beaten. Earlier this year pickets forced Cramptons to grant their demands and the movement has spread to other parts of Ireland with victories also being won in Carlow, Limerick and Monaghan.

It is unsurprising that the building workers struggle is being attacked by the media. It is either state owned or owned by millionaires like Tony O'Reilly. In the course of this struggle we urge you to ignore the media lies and remember the old union slogan 'An injury to one is an injury to all'. David and William are in jail for us - we must do all we can to get them released and see that this struggle ends in a victory for the working class!

Jail the bankers - not the workers

If you had just arrived from Mars you might be surprised to find the state jailing two workers for demanding they be allowed to pay tax. You'd be even more surprised to see the response of the revenue commissioners when they discovered £100 million tax owed on AIB accounts. In essence they accepted £14 million in return for hushing up the massive fraud - giving the green light to the theft of £86 million.

We hear a lot of hype about the Celtic Tiger but the reality is that the rich are getting richer while the rest of us are just getting to work harder. Under the Partnership 2000 agreement between the Trade Unions and the bosses the maximum rate of pay increased at 2.5% per year. Yet profits in the Republic rose by 15% last year. And we are paying the subsidies that attract the multinationals. In 1987 Irish PAYE workers contributed 80% of all income tax, by 1997 this had risen to 87%. Other taxes like VAT which hit workers increased by over 40%. Corporate tax rates are as low as 10%

A sizeable section of the population is excluded from any benefit from the 'Celtic Tiger', most noticeably the inner city communities in Dublin. According to the Sunday Business Post of Oct 11th in one south inner city school all the incoming infants "live in a family in which the main breadwinner has been unemployed for a year or more". Three fathers of children at that school have killed themselves in the last two months, their deaths attributed to the despair brought on by unemployment.

Life for those of us in work may be better but the reality of work under the Celtic Tiger is long and exhausting working hours, temporary contracts and all too often unsafe conditions. Building workers are at the sharp end of this, their work is hard, dirty and all too often dangerous. As the bosses rush to make a fast buck workers are being injured and dying at unheard of rates. Since the start of the year 18 construction workers have died in workplace accidents.

It is time to say enough! We live in one of the fastest growing and wealthiest economies but yet we are surrounded by homelessness, exclusion and poverty. Things will not get better as long as we allow the bosses to dictate how we work and what is done with what we produce. A victory by the building workers will be a victory for all of us but it is the system itself that is rotten. It must go!

What's it all about

Several years ago construction firms began to replace directly employed workers with contractors. Workers were forced into taking C45s, a special tax arrangement for "self-employed" contractors. The result was most building workers being paid 'cash-in-hand', weak unions, and a dramatic rise in safety problems.

In the years 1995-1997 alone, forty workers were killed on sites. Back in the 1980s when most workers were directly employed there were only six fatal accidents in the whole decade. The average fine on employers for breaching safety rules has been a mere £250.

Being 'off the books' (i.e. in the black economy), workers are not fully insured. Being self-employed they are not entitled to holiday pay, travel time, subsistence payments or any of the other hard won rights that directly employed workers can expect. For years the Department of Employment and the Tax Office have looked the other way.

What this also means for the workers is that - as PRSI is not being paid - they lose out on Unemployment Benefit, Disability pay, Contributory Old Age Pensions, Dental & Optical Benefit, etc. Lastly but imporatantly with everyone working for a different firm every few months it becomes almost impossible to sustain proper union organisation, which inevitably means worsening conditions.

The building workers struggle is a great example to the rest of the trade union movement. Instead of continually waltzing off to the Labour Court, LRC and other never-ending talking shops, the building workers are prepared to go 'unofficial', ignore the anti-strike law, and use the real strength of the unions - solidarity. Those who dare to fight also dare to win. Now we must all stand with them!

Written for Anarchist News 18, October 1998

WORDS: Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter )


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