15 January 2004 Edition
SIPTU responds on Colombia
In his letter to An Phoblacht of 8 January last, Dan Connolly writes generally of human rights abuses in Colombia and specifically about the Sinal Trainal Union, its call for a boycott of Coca-Cola products and the attitude of our Union and its members at the Dublin Bottling Plant.
We understand and accept as reality much of what he describes as the work of Human Rights Activists in Colombia. We are in solidarity with Trade Unions and members suffering repression.
However, we reject absolutely his charge that we "organise against justice for Colombian Trade Unionists". That is a seriously insulting and offensive allegation. We have been engaged in challenging the Coca-Cola Corporation's own account of its relationship with Sinal Trainal and have sought the assistance of the International Union of Food Workers (representing six-million workers worldwide) and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.
We happen to have a disagreement with the student body on the tactic of a boycott and their exclusion of our members from the debate about this and solidarity activity. Their sectarian behaviour appalled and disappointed us.
Dan Connolly contacted our Branch office a couple of months ago seeking information on the members' concerns. He was sent material on this. He has not been in touch since. He also was not at the meeting which we sought with Sinal Trainal, so we are suprised that he should feel free to comment without contacting us as to our perception of this meeting. It was not at all acrimonious, but in fact was conducted in a comradely manner.
As Union Representatives, we offered to consider calls for solidarity while explaining why our members were concerned about the boycott tactic. Any acrimony that occurred came about after the meeting was concluded and was initiated by Student Officers of UCD attending the meeting (without our prior knowledge or agreement) and who appeared keen to argue with Shop Stewards on the steps of the ICTU Building. They were invited to contact the Branch office and arrange a meeting with relevant Union Representatives and Shop Stewards. They have never to this day sought such a meeting. We simply reminded that we had come to hear the Comrade from Sinal Trainal and have the discussion with him.
In conclusion, we are not pro-Company, "a silly and sectarian slur", we are pro-Trade Union Solidarity.
Anne Speed Branch Secretary
Paddy Cahill Branch Chairperson & Senior Shop Steward
Tom Grant Senior Shop Steward- Production Department
Gerry Mahoney Shop Steward - Production Department
on behalf of all SIPTU Members at the Coca-Cola Franchise Bottling Plant, Dublin.
Immigrant rights at home
I write to express my sympathy with Mark Lohan's letter of 8 January about the exploitation of Irish immigrants in America. As someone in the reverse situation — an American immigrant to Ireland — I too have seen firsthand the effects of a foreign workers policy that places the employee completely at the mercy of the employer.
In the 26 Counties, the right of a work permit holder to change jobs is very strictly limited. The new employer must obtain a new permit, in a complicated process which can take several months and for which there is no guarantee of success. Obviously, this sharply reduces the pool of potential new employers, as most will be put off by the amount of red tape involved. Worse still, workers in some of the most low-paid categories are effectively prohibited from changing jobs at all, as the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment will simply not issue new permits in those categories - even to foreign nationals already working here under valid permits. It does not take a rocket scientist to work out how easy it is for unscrupulous employers to exploit foreign workers who have nowhere else to go. The abuses Mark Lohan sees in America are all too common in Ireland as well.
Like Mr Lohan, I have found Sinn Féin's position on immigrants' rights to be generally positive, and I hope to see the party taking a more active role on this issue in future. The formation of a working group on immigration issues, as called for at the 2001 Ard Fheis, would be a significant first step in this regard.
69 New Cabra Road, Dublin 7.