The figures one, one and four were propped on the canteen window, showing Cork City and beyond that it had been 114 days since their ordeal had begun. The walls and cupboards were adorned with posters, pictures and cards of well wishes from families, friends, schools, sports teams and celebrities.
Following the dispute through the media and the Vita Cortex 32’s online campaign, I knew that the attitude of the former Vita Cortex workers was one of hope, pride and determination. However, I did not realise that this attitude, this strength would be so prominent and consistent throughout their everyday lives at the factory. For me, the casual conversation, the laughs and the jokes were harshly complimented with the stark realisation that these men and women had paused the normality of their own lives to dedicate themselves to the cause. I spoke to Greg Marshall from Fairhill, he had worked with Vita Cortex for 37 years. “We just want what we feel we justly deserve. That’s all we’re looking for, is a bit of respect,” said Greg quietly.
I took my recorder in hand and followed Connie Griffin on a tour of the now silent factory floor. Connie is from Ballyphehane and worked with Vita Cortex for twelve years. He is planning to get married next year. Machines, boxes and foam products lay still and untouched. Letters, papers and pens were scattered across the office desks, ghosts of the busy days that were once lived and enjoyed in the factory.
I stood still as Connie showed me the foam mattresses the women had been sleeping on. The air was cold, a draught ran down the length of the room and the mattresses lay bundled beside a heater. “We had to turn off the heater because of the noise,” Connie said, “but you can imagine being down here with the wind blowing, you can only imagine.”
Greg, a man who made me laugh more than a few times, sat at the canteen table and told me his story, complimented by comments from Tommy, Maurice, Denis and Cal. I spoke to Eolan Ryng, a supporter from Bishopstown, about watching the workers’ fight for justice on a weekly basis. I listened to Darren O’Keeffe tell me how himself and Veronica, Greg’s daughter, set up the online campaign initiative. The recorder ran for my college project but did not distract me, the stories of these 32 men and women could hold a person’s attention for hours on end.
Their fight for justice, their determination to receive what they are owed and their courage in the past four months framed the evident friendship and respect the Vita Cortex workers have for one another. The canteen is a place of happy memories for the VC32; lunchtimes and a cup of tea were looked forward to during their working days at the factory. It is bitterly ironic that it is in this room now that they wait, determined not to give up.
The class of 2012 will graduate this September, some of us naively optimistic about the working world that awaits us. For me, the VC32’s fight for justice will set a precedent for the future, securing a better society for us all to work in. They are not just fighting for their own 32, they are fighting for the futures of Ireland’s youth.
“What are you most looking forward to?”, I asked.
Greg paused. “Not passing the doorstep of this place again. Getting on with my life, to be honest. I’ve sent out cv’s, I’m hopeful like all the rest of the thousands”.
I learnt more on Saturday, April 7th, 2012 at the Vita Cortex factory about life, determination and fighting for what you believe in, than I had in years at college.
Keep Her Lit guys, I wish you all the very, very best.
Denise Calnan is a final year Journalism student at University of Limerick. She visited the factory on Saturday, April 7th, to research the dispute for an assignment. The views expressed are her own.