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16 July 1998 Edition

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Workers in struggle: Refugees must get equal treatment

The struggles of workers in Ireland and abroad have always been highlighted in An Phoblacht. Republicans have always linked the struggle for economic justice to the ongoing struggle for freedom, justice and peace.

The denial of people's rights in terms of pay and working conditions, access to adequate healthcare, education services, housing and most importantly to employment has been consistently highlighted. The methods used by employers, governments and international bodies to deny those rights have been exposed week in week out in our paper's pages.

However, a new front in the struggle of workers and their families has to be recognised alongside the many others reported here. It is the denial of immigrants and refugees the right to work in Ireland, in essence the right to equality of treatment.

Asylum Alliance

Last week while launching a new campaign for the rights of asylum seekers to work in Ireland while their asylum claims are being processed Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed (INOU) General Secretary Mike Allen emphasised the importance of work in contemporary society.

Allen said ``Work is absolutely pivotal to our sense of humanity. It relates to our need to provide income for ourselves and our families. It relates to our desire to contribute and participate in our society. It relates to our need to meet and co-operate with other human beings''.

The campaign to lobby for the right of asylum seekers in Ireland to work was launched last week by over 100 groups representing trade unions, the unemployed, civil rights groups, aid and relief organisations and refugees under the auspices of the Asylum Rights Alliance.

The missreporting and sensationalism of the refugee issue in Irish media is rife. On the one hand it comes from the media itself and some small reactionary groups. On a more sinister level it comes from Leinster House politicians and government ministers.

Generous Welfare Regime

In Ireland and particularly in Dublin a number of untruths about the impact of refugees and immigrants on the economy and society have been raised by these groups. We are told that immigrants will commit more crimes. Immigrants will work in the poorest of working conditions and drive down wages. Finally immigrants and refugees are in fact transnational spongers coming to holiday in Ireland at our expense.

Last week Justice minister John O'Donoghue claimed that many refugees and immigrants were attracted to Ireland because of the ``generous'' welfare regime here. The 1.5 million people living in the 26 Counties on subsistence welfare payments must have pinched themselves.

The real truth is that the refugee issue has become entangled in a wider problem where refugees arriving in the state are thrust rapidly into communities where people's own economic situation is precarious.

Pseudo Competition

Here access to education healthcare housing and employment is wholly inadequate. Irish people are being denied their right to work, to proper housing, health and education. What emerges then is a pseudo competition for resources.

This perceived competition between differing groups for resources is a sham. There would be a housing crisis with or without immigrants. There is an unemployment problem with or without refugees.

What has been overlooked is who is the cause of these problems and how can we redistribute resources to ensure adequate living standards for all. There is no refugee problem in Ireland. There is a though a untrue perception of scarce resources. The real issue is how we can redistribute the huge wealth that exists in this state.

Double Standards

There are also huge double standards at play here which never occur to government ministers when making pronouncements about the refugee issue. One person could up to very recently buy the right to be Irish for a small million punt donation. The message being, this is an exclusive club that only some can join.

At the same time Irish recruitment companies are bringing workers from Spain, Greece and Portugal into Ireland to work mainly in the services and tourism sectors. It is acceptable for them to use these workers in jobs with exploitative wages. No laws have been broken yet the effect on working conditions and wages in the Dublin will be disastrous.

The way out of this morass is simple. People's rights do not differ whether you are a resident, immigrant or refugee. In fact they are all inter-linked. A refugee without rights diminishes the rights of everyone else. An exploited immigrant means that other workers can and will be exploited.

The central tenet of republicanism from 1798 through to today is a commitment to guarantee and promote freedom. A state that seeks to deny one group the rights enjoyed by others or a state that defines itself by its exclusivity is not a republic.

Broken promises to blame for rail strike

Inter city train services in the 26 Counties ground to a halt last Sunday 12 July. The day of industrial action was organised by the National Locomotive Drivers Committee (NDLC). Only four out of an expected 155 drivers turned out for work.

The day of action was taken because of a refusal by Iarnród Eireann management to meet with the drivers to discuss productivity issues, wages, working conditions, the train line's future viability and passenger safety. The drivers presented management with an agenda on these issues in August 1997.

Since then Iarnród Eireann management have, according to the drivers, broken five promises to meet them and discuss these issues. Currently the drivers put in an average week of over 60 hours and can work up to 35 Sundays a year.

Rand wars

It doesn't pay to underestimate the power of financial markets these days. With the emergence of free deregulated markets and the ongoing globalisation of the financial sector the power of international currency and stock markets to influence and decide important political events is growing.

A pertinent example of this market power was shown last week in South Africa. The value of the rand, the South African currency, dropped to a record low after the announcement that ANC Labour minister Tito Mboweni would be the next governor of the state's South African Reserve Bank.

So why did the financial markets deliver such a harsh verdict of the new central bank governor? The simple reason is a dislike of Mboweni's economic ideology.

His crime against international capitalism was to produce new labour laws deemed too favourable to trade unions and workers. His employment laws included affirmative action programmes, job protection schemes and employment quotas.

A Financial Times editorial proclaimed that the reaction of the currency markets was hardly surprising considering that Mboweni was a left wing politician. Better though a competent socialist who believes in a political ideology than a yes man to the diktats of financial markets.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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