By David Vallely
Four Unite members working for Murphy engineering and construction contractors in the Aughinish Aluminium plant in Limerick have been singled out for dismissal in an action their union described as “tantamount to union busting”.
One of the targeted workers, known collectively as the Murphy 4, was a shop steward in Aughinish. Unite believes that these workers were victimised for their union activism.
The Aughinish plant is owned by Rusal International, whose majority shareholder is the Russian billionaire and Putin supporter Oleg Deripaska. While the Irish government was very vocal when Deripaska faced sanctions due to Putin’s war on Ukraine, its silence has been deafening regarding workers’ rights.
Unite has correctly announced a campaign of protests designed to pressurise Murphy’s by leveraging the union’s industrial weight across the UK and Ireland on companies that the Murphy group relies on for income.
Unite’s general secretary Sharon Graham was elected on a pledge to put workplace organising to the fore, and consequently to defend workers who vindictive employers target. She has championed a tactic described as “leverage” as a way to bring to bear the collective strength of the union in a situation in which the bosses might otherwise have the advantage if it were left isolated to one workplace.
An example of this tactic is the Coventry bin workers’ strike, which saw trade unionists protesting at the offices of companies that had contracts with the company the council used to hire scab labour to try and break the strike. These solidarity actions succeeded in forcing those companies to cut ties with the scab firm.
The targeting of the Murphy 4 is a shot across the bows of all workers in the Murphy group: “don’t step out of line or else!” The workers have pushed back, with over 40 protests and pickets in recent weeks at sites across the UK and Ireland demanding the reinstatement of the Murphy 4.
This campaign is an important step in the right direction by a high-profile trade union like Unite and should be encouraged. It is especially welcome and essential in Ireland, where union activity on shop floors has been undermined by decades of so-called “social partnership”.
A wave of strikes has broken out across the UK as working people struggle to arrest the decline in their living standards caused by the cost of living crisis and hoarding of wealth by the capitalist class. The reforging and defence of workplace organising will be an important step in the development of a similar movement in Ireland.