“It’s not a slice of the pie that we want, it’s the whole damn bakery”

Dr Stevie Nolan speaks at an
Dr Stevie Nolan speaks at an "Organise for €15" public meeting. Credit: Trademark / Facebook.

Mandate trade union launched its national “Organise for €15” roadshow in Bray on Monday.

Ireland has the worst trade union recognition in Europe and this is linked to growing inequality, a public meeting in Bray has heard.

Speaking at the “Organise for €15” event in the Martello Hotel on Bray seafront on Monday evening, Dr Stevie Nolan of the Belfast-based social justice co-operative Trademark said that “there is a genuine crisis of inequality in Ireland, in Europe, in the world”.

Describing austerity as a redistribution of wealth, he highlighted that Starbucks paid just €261 in tax in 2014 and €45 in 2015 – the equivalent of 13 grande lattes priced €3.45 each.

Nolan added that McKesson, the US healthcare giant which owns Lloydspharmacy, has yearly revenue which is twice that of the Irish state. At the same time, workers at Lloydspharmacy have no sick pay and many are on zero hours contracts.

Organise for €15

The “Organise for €15” campaign is Mandate’s fightback by and for bar and retail workers. Mandate will campaign for all bar and retail workers to immediately receive the Living Wage (currently €11.70 per hour), moving to €15 per hour in time.

Mandate sees €15 per hour as both a fair wage and achievable; if the unionised major retailers can afford it, so can the non-unionised, explained National Coordinator Brian Forbes.

The campaign is not focused solely on €15 per hour; it’s about building up a strong union membership to fight on three fronts:

• Industry: pay increases; security; respect
• Political: taxation policy; access to workplaces by trade union activists; collective bargaining
• Challenge the market.

Building trade union power will take place by re-energising Mandate’s local councils, which comprise workers from different employment in a local area. One of the reasons Bray was chosen as a starting point of the campaign is because it is “probably one of the best functioning local councils that we have in the locality”, said Forbes.

“I just felt that this was a good place to start because it shows and demonstrates to other local councils what a fully functioning and what a half-decent local council can do in their local community. And if we can build Bray and make it stronger then the others will follow by their example.”

We went on strike three years ago and we’ve had massive changes

Forbes is clear about the positive benefit this campaign could have on towns like Bray:

“You hear many employers saying ‘we need to cut wages’. All that does is drain the local community, drain the local businesses of that money that low paid workers use in their local economy. So if you give pay rises to workers who are living and who are spending their money in the local domestic economy that’s going to help businesses as well. So it’s a no-brainer for a lot of businesses to want people to have more disposable income in their pocket so they can spend it in their business. Any employer who is calling for a reduction is actually calling against their own best interest. It makes sense for us to pay people a decent, living wage, moving towards €15 per hour.”

Mandate National Coordinator Brian Forbes speaks at an "Organise for €15" meeting in Bray. Credit: Mandate / Facebook.
Mandate National Coordinator Brian Forbes speaks at an “Organise for €15” meeting in Bray. Credit: Mandate / Facebook.

Muireann Dalton, secretary of Mandate’s Bray local council, saw the changes that came with a strong union, having gone out on strike as a Dunnes worker three years ago: 3% pay rise each year, a four week roster rather than just getting it on a Tuesday, monthly communications meetings, and the use of grievance procedures “so the managers aren’t bullying the staff as much because they know that you’re going to stand up for yourself.”

“Our contracts are flexi, they’re 15 to 38 hours, so it’s a huge difference,” she adds. “When you have the four week roster you can plan financially, social engagements, doctor’s appointments, holidays for the kids.”

For the chair of the local council, Brian Fogarty, being in a union has positive benefits across all aspects of his life: “For someone who left school at 16, with no Leaving Cert, it’s great for me to be able to get qualifications through the union, through training. I’m actually a tutor for Mandate now. It’s great to be able to train fellow members now.”

Union busters

Having brought workers out on strike several times in recent years, Mandate is not naive about the tactics employers’ will use to undermine trade unions. “Tesco are engaging in very clear, determined, considered and long-term campaign of union busting,” says Forbes. “This is a long-term objective to take the union out of their company. And they’re not the only ones, by the way.”

“We’re ready for it. We’ve been used now to dealing with these types of employers. Dunnes have their own specific type of union busting. And it’s not dealing with outside companies; they’re just bred to be union busting in their DNA and they train their managers to be that type of manager. But it’s clear now that there’s a very significant number of retailers in the Republic of Ireland that are using very, very similar tactics to what was used on the American unions. These companies are using similar types of tactics to those used by American companies for decades to keep American unions down and to keep them out.”

However, Forbes sees few other options available to anyone who believes in equality: “They’re organised and we need to get better organised if we’re going to fight back”.