“I salute your refusal to accept what is an obvious injustice.” – Cillian Murphy.

Cillian Murphy expressed his admiration for courage the Vita Cortex Workers

 

Hollywood film star and proud Corkonian, Cillian Murphy, has sent a letter of support to the former workers of Vita Cortex. The actor sent his message of solidarity, to the workers on sit-in at the factory in his native city, following contact with the Support The Vita Cortex Workers Online Campaign. The full text of the letter is as follows:

To the Vita Cortex Workers,

Cillian Murphy here.

For whatever its worth I really just wanted to pass on my admiration to you all for the courage and commitmment you are displaying in your sit-in. To everyone following this situation from the outside it is more than clear that you have right on your side and that what you are highlighting is hugely important to us all as a nation.  As a fellow Corkonian with stubborn tendencies, I salute your refusal to accept what is an obvious injustice. I wish ye strength.

 Fair play to ye all…Up Cork

Cillian.

 

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Sometimes justice remains outside the reach of the law: This campaign remains lit

In the past 24 hours the last of the former Vita Cortex workers have received their statutory redundancy.  As the online campaign said in a previous blog when the announcement was made this has to be welcomed. These 32 people have spent almost 70 days and nights living in a cold factory. It has been a tough struggle for all concerned emotionally and financially.  And who would deny them this sense of stability after the way these men and women have stood up and shown a nation, rocked by austerity and cutbacks, how to fight against injustice? However this payment does not represent a victory. The men responsible for the struggle of these workers have not paid their debt, taxpayers, both personal and corporate have through the social insurance fund.

There are some be inclined to think that – “well sure isn’t that enough for them really?  But the heart of this struggle was about compelling the company owners to make good on their promises and that has not happened. There are some of you who will wonder if the fast tracking was a move by economic and social powers to quash the campaign against these owners, a campaign that has shed an unwelcome light on the corporate law system in Ireland and the inability or unwillingness of the government to act against the unscrupulous behaviour in the business community.  That is a question to which we do not have an answer.

What we do know though is that there are parties who are using the payment of the statutory redundancy to try to make this campaign disappear.  Accusations were made against the workers calling them “blackmailers”, slurs against the character of high profile supporters were made in letters to newspapers and IBEC came out defending the company owners and attacking the worker’s union.

Message of support from students at Kenmare Community College

Another issue worth mentioning is that there is often a difference between that which is legal and that which is morally right. The Irish system of Corporate Law has been constructed in such a way as to allow business owners to share fully in the upside of their business activities and remain mostly insulated from the downside. It has been established this way to encourage entrepreneurs to take risks and be creative in starting and growing businesses without being inhibited by fear of personal financial consequences should their endeavors end in failure. This is what powers a capitalist economy. However these laws were written, with an underlying assumption that those benefiting from their advantages had sound moral judgment in terms of right and wrong and would be lead by a sense of ethical behaviour towards those they employ. That is where Mr. Ronan and Mr. McHenry come in. While running a company in to the ground, transferring funds from one company in the group to another and making 2.5 million euro payouts to 3 shareholders may lie within the auspices of company law, it does not mean that it is not morally reprehensible to amass huge personal wealth at the expense of workers you break promises to while you allow the state to pay your debts.  We should not allow the owners of this company and IBEC to equate “legal” with “morally right”. Doing the right thing implies both operating within the law and having regard for the human beings who worked loyally for you for 847 years.  We should, as “fair minded people”, not make that mistake.

These 32 workers believe that the company, group and owners have the capacity to pay the full redundancy as promised – 2 weeks to be returned to the state and .9 to be paid to the workers. They believe that further investigation is warranted in to the circumstances that allowed this situation to happen. This fight has become less about money and more about justice. It aims to highlight the injustices inherent in a legal system that cannot protect workers from immoral business owners and in fact actually enables their reprehensible actions. This fight aims to make wealthy business owners,  not the state, liable for their own debts.

Could the 32 workers just take their statutory and go home? Absolutely. Many of them are nearing retirement and could go home and have some comfort. But if they give up what will have been achieved from 70 days and nights of hardship? Nothing. Who would be the next victims of Jack Ronan and other unscrupulous business people? Maybe you or your family or friends. And what would the government of this country have done to protect our rights and those of every other worker, their children and grandchildren? Nothing.  So this campaign stays lit. It stays alive because the people who are responsible have not yet been held accountable. It stays alive because promises remain unfulfilled and the law remains inadequate. It stays alive because this story is a microcosm of what is happening to people all over Ireland and these 32 workers are fighting for justice for all of us.

Veronica Marshall & Darren O’Keeffe

Coordinators of the Support The Vita Cortex Workers Online Campaign

In Response to Mr. Sean McHenry

While we are disappointed by the remarks made today, in the press, by Sean McHenry we are obviously not surprised. The comments are representative of the intransigent approach which the management and owners of Vita Cortex have taken towards the dispute since day one. Sadly, Mr.Henry is conveying an alarming lack of appreciation regarding the situation and an extremely skewed interpretation not only of the circumstances that led to the sit-in but also of the resultant campaign.

We would now like to address several specific points that Mr McHenry made in his statement:

1) Regarding what he describes as “blackmail designed to secure additional ex gratia payments from the personal funds of the directors.” The use of the word ‘blackmail’ is an ill thought-out use of emotive language in order to distort public perceptions of the reality and the motivations behind the Vita Cortex workers’ campaign. There has been no blackmail.  The protest has been a dignified and honourable action aimed at ensuring that Sean McHenry &Jack Ronan honour the commitments they made to the workers. We can only assume that Mr. McHenry has been unsettled by a campaign which has shone a light on his lack of will to contribute constructively and bring about a just resolution. He has left 32 workers, who served the company loyally for 847 years between them, to endure 68 days living a factory in an attempt to secure their rightful redundancies.

2) Regarding his assertion that “There is no legal entitlement to such payments and no promises were made in respect of them.” SIPTU has repeatedly stated that all discussions & negotiations, from the point in September at which the decision was taken to close the factory to Thursday on December 16th last year, were centred on 2.9 weeks per year of service. Also, 2.9 weeks was the figure communicated by management to workers when they were called together to be told of the forthcoming closure. Furthermore, it is misleading to say that “The basis for the claim is that the company paid 0.9 weeks ex gratia when it closed the Navan factory four years ago.”

In the summer of 2008, the VITA CORTEX (DUBLIN) LTD. factory closed. All the employees were paid 2.9 weeks redundancy. There were no arguments. How could there have been arguments for there were no discussions. It was just paid and that was that.

There is also the fact that between the years 2009- 2011 workers at the Cork plant, across functions such as purchasing, production and sales, all received the  accepted Vita Cortex standard redundancy payment of 2 weeks statutory and 0.9 of week a week per year of service. Mr. McHenry should have included this information in his statement is he is championing the cause of balanced reporting.

4) Regarding his claim that “Poorly informed ‘personalities’ are being lulled into lending their names and support” to this campaign. It is shocking that Mr. McHenry has chosen to insult the intellect of a world renowned theorist in the form of Noam Chomsky, a former president of Ireland and UN Rights Commissioner in Mary Robinson, one of the most successful football managers of all time, in Sir Alex Ferguson and one of Ireland’s most popular musicians – Christy Moore. Sorry, but this point is laughable and smacks of poorly advised spin. We can assure Mr. McHenry that the situational appraisal skills of all the aforementioned individuals are in tact.

5) Regarding his assertion and belief that “fair-minded people” would not support the direct action aspects of this campaign. We would disagree. The people of Cork and far beyond have backed and continue to back our stand. We have received incredible support from the public at all protests, rallies and pickets. This includes our demonstrations outside the homes of directors, at recreation clubs used by directors and enterprises connected to the commercial interests of these directors. Does Mr. McHenry believe that fair-minded people want to send a message to the business community that it is acceptable to give somebody your word and to then turn around walk away from your responsibilities and the promises that you make? Honesty and honour ought to be universal values from which business and commercialism should not be exempt. However, Mr. McHenry and Jack Ronan seem content to clutch onto their wealth at all costs and allow the tax payers to pay their debts.

6) Regarding Mr. McHenry’s reference to the payment of the workers’ statutory redundancies and in particular to the amounts involved. This is cleary a cynical attempt to dilute the support that the workers have received by throwing sums of money around without relating those figures to the duration of service. Has he forgotten that Sean Kelleher worked at Vita Cortex for 47 years – nearly half a century? Has he forgotten that Jimmy Power and Cal O’Leary both worked for over 40 years to help create the wealth which he enjoys today? It would seems that he has indeed. His statement, in this regard, was a callous effort to take advantage of the economic plight that many ordinary, Irish people are experiencing at the moment. He wants people in Cork to look at the Vita Cortex workers and think – Well they got their statutory payments but I am struggling to meet my mortgage and pay my ESB bills – thus turning people off the workers’ cause so that he and Mr.Ronan can swan off into the sunset. People of great wealth & influence have tried for generations to divide and thus conquer ordinary, working people in Ireland.  They have always failed. We see through it. The middle-class merchants of Dublin failed in 1913 and the merchant-princes of Cork & Tipperary will fail in 2012.

It would seem to us that Mr. McHenry is extremely frustrated. He is frustrated because he believed that the struggle of the Vita Cortex Workers would simply be another sad tale to be casually swept under the rug of recessionary Ireland. But he was wrong.  Thirty-two people, that he and Jack Ronan clearly felt were beneath them, have stood up in defiance of unfair treatment. Their stand has caught the imagination and fuelled the passion of the Irish public. The ordinary people of this country have stood behind the Vita Cortex workers because they see their struggle as being representative of the daily dose of oppression and dis-empowerment being meted out to them by detached politicians, reckless bosses and an inequitable political system.

We call on Sean McHenry and Jack Ronan to direct their energy into finding a fair and equitable resolution as soon as possible rather than engaging in slurs and unproductive behaviour.

Mr McHenry, the Vita Cortex story is not a work of fiction. This is a true story. Watch out for the ending, it will be a hum-dinger.

Darren O’Keeffe & Veronica Marshall

Coordinators of the Support the Vita Cortex Workers Online Campaign

Speech by Ann Piggott at Vita Cortex Rally

Ann Piggott

 

In gathering here today Comrades, we are historically filling more pages of the story of the Vita Cortex Injustice where once upon a time, the main characters of the fable, clocked in every morning, worked in the factory amid the foam – among the big luxurious rectangular blocks of  blue and yellow and pink in a draughty dreary warehouse. They did this devotedly for years, some for myriads of time – 42, 44 and 47 years. And like the main players in any storyline, they expected to live happily ever after.

However there was an unexpected twist in the tale, and 32 protagonists found themselves cast in the midst of a storm of dishonesty. Promises made in September were reneged upon in December and workers who had dedicated lifetimes of hard graft and toil were cast aside in favour of greed.

In George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” written in 1943, we meet a character called Boxer; Boxer was a horse who committed himself completely to hard work. Whilst his motto was “I will work harder”, even when it was impossible for him to exert his energies any further, his reward was somewhat like the reward of the workers on the Kinsale Road; when he was no longer needed by his bosses, the pigs, he was sold and killed; and the pigs bought whiskey with the profits.

Another book entitled “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists” by Robert Tressell, written about one hundred years ago, is a bleak account of the capitalist system and it focuses on the exploitation of workers at the cruel hands of bosses who use workers as mere commodities in order to achieve personal maximum profits, gained from the frantic toil of the worker.  This book emphasises the concept of the unscrupulous employer who possesses the ultimate supreme power to deprive workers’ children of bread, rather like the situation in Vita Cortex, the week before Christmas.

In 1913, Larkin spoke about workers being flung on “the human scrapheap” when they were of no further use to their establishments. Larkin called for the oppressed to stand up for themselves – in this instance, a century later, our Cork  workers instinctively knew they had to stand up for their rights. Almost a 100 years after the Dublin lockout, we have 32 workers locked into a dispute while they live in inhumane conditions and relative social isolation while the rest of the world applauds the workers.

Today, we congregate here as part of this extraordinary narrative, it is not a work of fiction but a statement of fact in the future history of industrial relations in Ireland.  What has unfolded since December is a chronicle, updated daily, etched in ink, which can never be erased.

The 32 workers at the centre of this saga are the most unlikely people one would ever expect to find at the centre of any controversy. Their long lengths of service testify their commitment to hard work. Like the ordinary man in Christy Moore’s lyrics, the men and women of Vita Cortex have “shown loyalty through the bad times and the good, never missed a day, nor went on strike for better pay, never asked for a lot, were always happy with what they got”. They were unknown entities, who are not dissenters or agitators, people who would have never crossed our paths except for the injustice exerted on them. They are humble, ordinary simple people, “nothing special, nothing grand”, and that is meant as a mammoth compliment.

They do not want fame or distinction – they simply want what was promised, they have taken a principled stand and will not give up now. Some are embarrassed by the situation they find themselves in, yet are astounded by the support of the public.

They have been hurled in the middle of bizarre circumstances – Absolutely bizarre in that we have workers who cannot work, a paymaster who refuses to pay, politicians who are full of sympathy yet claim their hands are tied in relation to the point nine, a public looking on 58 days later wondering why human beings are left living in third world conditions, where six people have suffered pneumonia and one has been hospitalised; the Taoiseach says money is on the way, and yet we wait; we live in a country where we can’t afford health or education and this redundancy bill may lie in the hands of the taxpayer. It is the responsibility of our government and the wish of the workers that all accounts, companies and tax returns relating to Jack Ronan are investigated – those who can pay should pay. It also seems extraordinary that switching assets to a wife’s name may allow someone to plead poverty.

Since the 16th of December, the lives of the workers have been on hold. They have devoted all of their time to voluntary factory imprisonment. At the start they each spent 22 hours a day in the Kinsale Rd plant in shock and bewilderment at the evil actions of man. They have been prized apart from their spouses and families and have remained in wintry miserable conditions where steel and cold concrete is the shell which tries to detach the inside from the outside.

A newly born baby was brought to visit the factory in a Santa hat as his grandfather did not have the time to visit his grandson; children play darts in the canteen as they call to see their relations on a Sunday evening; Sons whose mothers are in their 90s spend very limited time with their parents; the mother of a 15 month old boy can’t tuck him in any night or read him a bedtime story because she is at the factory; and it is extremely abnormal that a mother of three should blow out her birthday candles in a cold canteen, before going downstairs to sleep on damp foam on a freezing factory floor, while mice rummage through plastic and water gushes and gurgles loudly while it gathers in floods beside the makeshift bed. This is how one worker spent her birthday, sleeping in the same arctic conditions as she had done for the previous 47 nights. Others find it impossible to sleep and only manage to doze for an hour on a seat in the dead of the night. It isn’t right that one man drives an almost forty mile round trip each day, getting home every night at 1 am, when petrol is expensive and he doesn’t earn any wages.

People who want to work sit around in total boredom – a walk downstairs, a visitor or the necessity to empty the dishwasher causes eyes to light up as it provides a temporary moment of relief.

What has kept the workers going? It has been the overwhelming expressions of support received from citizens of all ages and locations in Ireland as well as messages from all over the world. People’s gestures have kept spirits floating – some have travelled 300 miles to pop in to say well done, or when a family sends four packets of soup and a letter, it is inspiring. Mass cards, lottery tickets, cakes, money, sandwiches, dinners, snacks, chips, pizzas, warm jackets, cards, minerals, biscuits and ketchup have arrived. One lady lit 32 candles in the church as her contribution to the cause.  The public are fully behind the dispute; this is clearly evident today as people have travelled from Dublin, Belfast, Sligo and other counties. Every neighbourhood in Cork is represented on the streets today, in solidarity with our friends from Vita Cortex, whom we admire, support and encourage until justice prevails.

The precedent of 2.9 weeks’ pay has existed in this company, there was never a doubt about the amount; and as stated at an angry public meeting held in the factory a few weeks ago, 2.9 is very little to ask for. Claims have been made by Jack Ronan that other jobs are being jeopardised by the actions of the workers; the workers vehemently deny this – the ruthless actions of the owners have   caused all of this.

Support has called round to the canteen in other forms also; it is not all doom and gloom. There have been cookery demonstrations, mass and massages. Musicians have entertained and dancing skills are improving. Alcohol is forbidden and no one smokes inside the premises. School children have visited and can’t understand why the workers are not downstairs 24 hours a day bouncing on the squishy foam. South Korean TV came for interviews on Day 50 and journalists continue to follow events. Over 7,000 people from all over the world keep up to date with proceedings on Facebook on the page entitled “Support the Vita Cortex Workers”.

As we continue into the future, there are two options – to surrender or to maintain the vigil.  Surrendering without adequate entitlements will never be a consideration; this fight will continue – the flames of passion, determination and principles will remain lighting until righteousness is restored. When tyranny is replaced with honesty, the workers will return home.

The implication for every other worker in Ireland is at stake. Employers may take advantage in other similar situations and may also plead inability to pay if this affair is not resolved in a satisfactory manner. Before the last budget, the state paid 60% of redundancy payments, since the first of January, this has been slashed to 15%. Not all employers are bad, but for the aforementioned reason, many rogue companies may also claim financial difficulties. The bill must not ultimately rest with the tax payer, and employers must live up to their moral obligations.

The Cork Council of Trade Unions have organised a public meeting in the factory, a protest in the factory grounds and this march in Cork today. This campaign will have to escalate if there is not a breakthrough soon. The workers have already gone to Tipperary to protest, the next time, thousands of us may have to accompany them. Contrary to the popular song, it isn’t that far to Tipperary. We can make our way to racecourses, stud-farms, supermarkets, shopping centres, crèches, sister foam factories and businesses connected with the Ronan dynasty.

One fourteen year old girl, suggested on her visit to the factory, that we should engage in a postcard campaign, thousands of us could all sign and stamp ready-made postcards and post them to Tipperary; it was also suggested that workers in Cork, Munster or Ireland could engage in a campaign of assistance by with-holding work for an agreed period of time in a working day in support of the plight of the 32 workers.

As I move towards the end of my speech I wish to draw your attention to a protest which took place in 2003. Fifty six workers in a tannery in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary took part in a sit in at their company’s premises for at least thirteen weeks. The employees of Ronan’s Dudley’s Mills also protested on the streets of Fethard with a caravan. Their grievance was as a result of unacceptable redundancy offered to workers when the company claimed it was withdrawing from the tanning business due to an unusual excuse, the situation in Iraq was blamed. Most staff had given loyal service ranging from 10 to 44 years.  Most were at the upper end of the scale and many had given over 30 years’ service. The Tánaiste at the time said it was inappropriate for her to intervene in the dispute. Staff stood on the streets with signs which read

  • “Ronan’s price for loyalty – Betrayal and Dole”.
  • “You sold us out, now pay us off”.
  • “Ronan’s tannery closed. Hard Work, no redundancy, hard luck, no thanks.”
  • “Ronan’s way to get workers out on the cheap”.
  • “Wanted fair redundancy for life time loyal service”.
  • “Our only crime- trusting Ronan”.
  • “Our trust and loyalty Gone, Gone, Gone.”

This was 2003, nine years ago. It is a parallel of the events in Cork since the 16th of December 2011. The situation must be resolved and this must never happen to workers again. We do not want a repetition of this in ten years’ time.

It is reminiscent of the world created by Charles Dickens in his novel ”Hard Times”, published in 1854 where workers are not valued and are referred to as ‘hands’. The factory owner is called Bounderby, a callous, self-centred, liar and a fraud. The Victorian industrialized story has a familiar ring as we take part in our own localised story.

The trouble is, we don’t know what page or chapter of the book we are on, we don’t know if we are still at the start of the storyline, the middle or the end. We don’t know when we can turn the final page, but we do know that this yarn should never have been told, this plot should have finished at the beginning, when Jack Ronan ought to have lived up to his promises and looked after his loyal, hardworking, innocent and honest staff.

They have been so dignified in their struggle and we will remain faithful in giving our unflinching galaxy of support for as long as it takes.

Thank you.

Ann Piggott

President – Cork Council of Trade Unions

Saturday, Feb 11th, 2012

A LETTER TO THE PEOPLE OF CORK AND IRELAND FROM THE SUPPORT THE VITA CORTEX WORKERS CAMPAIGN

Over the last eight weeks the people of Cork, Ireland and from further afield have stood in solidarity with the thirty-two former workers of Vita Cortex. Today marks the 57th day of their sit-in as they continue to fight for their entitlements and to receive what they were promised, from a company that they served loyally for 847 years between them. Though the workers never set out to be seen as heroes or role-models they have should firm in the face of abhorrent treatment while being sustained by the belief that their cause is just.

If justice is blind than it is we, as a society, who must have the vision

The Vita Cortex struggle represents a microcosm of what is happening in Ireland today. That is – the well connected and wealthy few being allowed to walk away from their responsibilities while the ordinary people of this country are required to shoulder the economic & social burdens that follow. The circumstances are being facilitated by a system that is clearly dysfunctional and inequitable. These thirty-two people would not be living in a factory for 57 days if the rights of workers were really valued by the political & legal system.

The Government and the Office of the Director of Corporate enforcement have stated that there is insufficient grounds for the state to take legal action against the company.Grounds ,to us, implies the basis from which you carry out your investigation.  If grounds for an investigation by state have not been established then we have to ask – who holds the responsibility of gathering the evidence needed in order to establish these grounds? Also, the scope and parameters of the assessment made by the Director of Corporate Enforcement should be made available to the campaign as soon possible and we presume that this will be forthcoming.

We believe that business can be about much more than just profit. At the same time, we are not suggesting that profitability is not important – business and the practice of commerce can besocially uplifting, inspiring and of immense value to the wider community. But there cannot be a human-cost to profit. What is right is not always codified by what is written down in law. The fact that we have to rely on the idea of moral responsibility to protect workers is a damning indictment of corporate law in Ireland. There are clearly too many holes and too many back avenues through which extremely wealthy employers can evade responsibility. This has to change.It is incumbent on all leaders, of every political perspective,to change it. But we cannot simply leave it all up to politicians. If justice is blind than it is we, as a society,who must have the vision.

The workers of Vita Cortex were promised 0.9 of a week per year of service, ex gratia by the owners of Vita Cortex. This may be a drop in the ocean in terms of labour relations. However, it represents an issue of respect for workers like Sean Kelleher, Jim Power and Cal O’Leary all who gave over forty years of their lives to the company. Now, we are aware that differing perspectives exist regarding the concept of wealth creation. And this can sometimes be polarised. However,this debate is somewhat circumvented by the the fact that there was a convergence of thought between both poles at 0.9. Therefore, it becomes about the value of one’s word and about the values and qualities we want our society to hold dear.Do we want to send a message to the business community that it is acceptable to give somebody your word and to then turn around walk away from your responsibilities and the promise you made? Honesty and honour should be universal values from which business and commercialism should not be exempt.

This Saturday we will be holding and march & rally in support of the workers. It will start from Connolly hall, Lapps Quay, at 2pm . We are asking everybody to come out and stand with them. Help us to send a message to Jack Ronan. Help us to send a message to law makers and those in control of the system under which we live. That message should be loud, clear and it should read – Enough is enough. We are staying until justice is delivered.

As a society, it is our responsibility to seek out justice no matter how well its had been hidden from us. Join with us in this search on Saturday.

Darren O’Keeffe & Veronica Marshall

Coordinators of the SUPPORT THE VITA CORTEX WORKERS online campaign

My Night in Vita Cortex

It is just after 1.45am and the temperature outside the factory falls below freezing. Inside, the workers are kept relatively warm by a large industrial type heater. It blows out thick, humid, recycled air. The air doesn’t feel like it’s the healthiest to be breathing and the heater is so noisy that people can barely hear each other speak. Sometimes it is better to leave it off and suffer the biting cold so that you can actually experience the comfort of real, undiluted human company. In the background, Neil Prendeville’s voice can be heard echoing off the canteen walls as a few of the workers tune-in to the late night repeat of the morning show. The TV, in the corner, is left on mute. The moving pictures on the screen provide some colourful, if not captivating, stimuli for the senses.

I eavesdrop on the conversations between the workers while checking in on the Facebook and Twitter pages. There is nothing strange or startling about their conversations except that their words are set against the backdrop of a situation that is most unnatural. A few cars pass outside, cruising along Pearse Rd in the early morning haze. There is stillness in the air. However, it is a stillness that is being caressed by an electric tension that I can only liken to the pent-up energy of a boxer sitting in his corner – bruised, fatigued but still itching to get on with the fight. The people, who are sitting alongside of me, have been floating like butterflies for seven weeks now. They are not afraid of the next round.

Darren O'Keeffe and Jude O'Leary in Vita Cortex last night

I realise that I have been staring at the clock on the wall, above the sign that calls out Day 49, for the last three minutes – the second-hand just ticking around. The lives of these men & women are just ticking by. This is wrong. Behind where I am typing I hear some of the workers talk about the songs from their youth that have stuck in their minds. One of them sings a line from ‘Hello Mary-Lou’ in a very hushed tone.

I knew Mary Lou, we’d never part
So hello Mary Lou, goodbye heart

Greg Marshall remembers that I am a Liverpool supporter and he snorts “Sure ye are only a second division team.”

“Who did ye get in the 5th round of the cup again?” I reply. My adversary throws his eyes up to heaven. I know what that gesture means. There is no adequate response of which I can think. It amazes me that here, amidst a bitterly protracted industrial dispute and a human rights violation, normality seeps in between the cracks -the cracks in the fabric of family and life. Although ‘the ordinary’ is a fleeting visitor, it reminds me of the line “all these things that don’t change, come what may” from the Neil Young song ‘Four Strong Winds’. I do a quick scan of the room and notice that some of the younger workers have their hoods up as protection against the cold.

The sound of ABBA crackles out from the radio and Tim Burke mutters “ahhh Dancing Queen.” A reflective smile forms on his face. His eyes and I suspect his mind drops away to happier times.  Maybe the song reminds him of his first girlfriend or a first kiss? Who knows? But that moment is his to keep. It is something that Jack Ronan can never touch or take away from him.

I check back on Twitter and Facebook to see messages of support from San Francisco, Boston and New York. It is gone fairly quiet on both pages. PJ Coogan is also spending the night in ‘The Ice-Box’ as we have labelled it. He taps away on his laptop across the table. I consider the possibility that he may be a workaholic. John Daly looks at me and says “Don’t worry. There are two hours gone… only a few more to go.”

I need to use the toilet. Tim leads me out the door of the canteen and suddenly the “real cold” hits me. Jesus! How can people live like this? How can Jack Ronan treat fellow human beings with such disdain? There is no morality in it; there is no soul to be found in this.

Tim leads me across the factory floor and points in the direction of the toilet.

“Right down to the back and it’s into your left boy,” he explains in a strong Cork accent. I walk in the direction, in which he is pointing, into the pitch dark passing by idle machines and stacks of foam. Out of nowhere a light,which is hanging from the roof, pierces my eyes and guides me to my destination. I wonder what it is that acts as the light, for these workers, in the shadow of fifty days of injustice. I hope that the goodwill of all their friends and all the people who have passed through their lives adds to their strength. I hope that every glint of love and affection ever extended to them, transient or otherwise, sustains them at this vital hour. All the people who have passed through my own life flash across my mind. As I observe these people and the direness of their situation I feel genuinely glad of everybody who has ever cared about me. I think about my friend Veronica and how it must feel to watch your Dad go through such an ordeal. Now matter how close you are to the campaign, it is impossible to get that close.

Myself and PJ go for a walk on the factory floor and trade words of bewilderment at the ignorance of Jack Ronan.

“How can he wake up with a clean conscious?” I ask.

“I don’t know. I couldn’t. These guys are cut from a different cloth,” says PJ as we walk across the same stretch of ground walked ,for over forty years, by workers such as Jimmy Power, Sean Kelleher and Cal O’Leary

“No matter how wealthy I ever became, I couldn’t treat people in this way. I wouldn’t be able to look my father in the face if I did,” I exclaim and I mean it.

“And that is the thing, isn’t it?” says PJ in tone that suggests that there is not much else to say.

At 3am, the crew are carried along by their second wind.  Mick Delaney busies himself by attempting to get a Mel Gibson DVD to play on a hard-drive that is hooked up to the TV. Unfortunately it doesn’t work out for him. He slumps back into his seat and he forgets about watching Braveheart. Or is it The Patriot?

I spring up from the canteen table and challenge Tim Burke to a game of Shanghai Darts.  I can tell that he appreciates the opportunity to escape into the banter of a simple game. A please that we all take for granted. Anyway, it is now 5am and entertainment has been reduced to staring blankly at infomercials and adverts for Tallafornia on a loop – its mind-numbing stuff to say the least. Jack Ronan should be arrested for cruel and unusual punishment.

Regina Hickey a worker with 26 years’ service gets up from her seat to stretch her legs. She mutters

“There is only so much sitting you can actually take.”

I no longer feel as though I am freezing as John Daly and I throw our darts from 20 down to 1 in an epic encounter that energies. Still, the chill in the air is constant and unsettling. At the other end of the canteen PJ Coogan looks for volunteers to be interviewed on 96FM news at 7am.

Suddenly, Cal O Leary who had spent the night sleeping on the frigid factory floor appears with a large slab of foam upon which the number 50 is inscribed.  He steps up on a chair and places it next to another slab of foam with the word ‘Day’ in the canteen window. The man looks visibly shocked at the reality of what he has just done. Words fail to describe such situations.

Jack Ronan you should hang your head in shame.

Darren O’Keeffe

Coordinator of the Support the Vita Cortex Workers Online Campaign

A Rallying Cry From The Vita Cortex Online Campaign

Stay with us. Keep her lit.

Last night the Vita Cortex Workers secured the fast-tracking of their statutory redundancies. The Department of Socia Protection confirmed that the workers would start receiving their entitlements from next Monday.

The development has to be welcomed. These 32 people have spent the last 48 days and nights living and breathing the air of a closed factory and mingling with the ghosts & memories of happier days. It has been a tough struggle for all concerned. Also, the fight has brought with it the unfortunate reality of financial uncertainty for the workers and their families.  And who would deny them this sense of stability after the way these men and women have stood up and shown a nation, rocked by austerity and cutbacks, how to fight against injustice?

Does this development represent a victory? Of course not. It is simply a reflection of the fact that the “powers that be” have recognised that it would be utterly deplorable to allow the workers suffer further economic hardship. We must continue until a full and fair settlement has been achieved.This requires that Mr. Jack Ronan pays the 0.9 of a week per year of service from his vast commercial empire and assets.

The fact that the government are to deliver the workers statutory payment does not in any way dilute the injustice being perpetuated against the Cortex 32. It does, however, allow their families breathing space in terms of mortgage payments and the mounting pile of bills. It allows daughters to worry that little bit less about the well-being of their fathers.

There may be those among you who will hear this news and be inclined to think that – “well sure isnt that enough for them really?  If you do then I fear that you may have been missing the point of this struggle. The crux of this fight is to compel Mr.Ronan to honour his commitment to workers who have served the company loyally for 847 years between them.

There is a principle at stake and it is one for which it is worth fighting. We must continue with this fight because its victory will belong to our children and our grandchildren. A victory in this case will go some way to establishing a better and more equitable society for us all.

Let us be blunt. There are elements within the economic and political environment who would like to see this campaign smothered. We will not allow that to happen.

The injustice is plain for all to see ,yet here the workers remain in as close a proximity to limbo as one could possibly find onself in this life. The political system and the wider labour relations process are failing these workers. Words have fallen like the flow of a waterfall but we may as well be wandering through a barren desert for all the meaningful action that we have seen on the part of many.

We have a march & rally on February 11th and we want you all to be there and we need you to be fired up.The workers of Vita Cortex and their families have shown the nation what it means to stand up for one’s rights. They have inspired the Irish people at a time when we most need a spark of inspiration.

This fight will not be lost if SIPTU turns off. This fight will not be lost if the media turns off. This fight will only be lost if each of you, as an individuals, decide to turn off your hearts and your heads.

The online campaign refuses to turn off. We will see this through until the end. We are, as always, keeping her lit.

STAY WITH US.

Darren O’Keeffe & Veronica Marshall

Coordinators of the Support the Vita Cortex Workers Online Campaign