An Phoblacht 2 - 2022 small

6 May 1999 Edition

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Unity is strength

May Day came and went last weekend. Across Ireland most us took time out to enjoy the good weather, many oblivious to the reason why we have a bank holiday on the first Monday in May. The same way the vast majority of Irish workers are ignorant of the fact they owe their right to paid annual holidays to the women laundry workers who in the late 1940s fought a bitter and long dispute to win a basic right.

The problem with May Day is that, for the vast majority of people, marking the struggles of other workers in the present and the past, both in Ireland and internationally, has become a meaningless exercise.

Why? Are workers so much better off now that the concept of an international workers' day doesn't have any relevance to them. It clearly does. Workers' rights have been substantially eroded throughout the 1990s. Their wages and working conditions have deteriorated substantially.

Workers seem not to recognise these realities. They have let themselves be conditioned by their employers, who peddle the cult of the individual. They believe there is no reason to form bonds with their fellow workers. This ideology is found throughout the Irish workplace.

Workers are sold the myth that their rights are guaranteed, that their employer treats them all equally, so there is no need for unions. However workers are being exploited more than ever before by the same employers.

The problem with May Day is not just that workers are being exploited; it is also the fact that they have been let down by the leadership of the trade union movement. It is they who have conceded the ideological ground to employers and by default are losing the battle for workers' rights also.

The trade union leadership, like many workers, hasforgotten the vital element of trade unionism. Yes we are all individuals whose rights are crucially important, but as all socialist republicans know, those rights can be best guaranteed and promoted collectively. We must remember that unity is strength.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1