A Visit to Vita Cortex

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.

 

President Higgins Welcomes Vita Cortex Mediation Initiative

President Higgins hoping for equitable outcome

The President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, has expressed his hopes for a fair deal for the Vita Cortex workers now in the 117th day of their sit-in. The President’s Secretary-General, in a communication received by the Support the Vita Cortex Worker Online Campaign, stated

“..The President is very aware of the plight of the workers and is concerned for their welfare. He welcomes the ongoing process of dialogue involving the LRC and,in particular, the news that both sides to the dispute have now agreed to the establishment of a mediation panel under the chairmanship of Mr Kevin Duffy.

The President hopes that this mediation process will, within the shortest possible period, result in a just and equitable outcome for the Vita Cortex workers.”

The workers at the former foam manufacturing plant on the Kinsale Rd have welcomed the communication from the Office of the President. Jim Power, a worker with 42 years experience, said It is great that the we are in the thoughts of Mr. Higgins and that he has expressed his hope that we will all see justice soon. After 117 days it is amazing how strong the support of the public has become. People have stood with us and stuck by our side through it all. We hope that the forthcoming talks will achieve a fair solution. All the workers remain strong and united. It is extremely positive that both sides are willing to talk.We sincerely thank the President for sending us the message. It will mean so much to everybody in the factory.”

 

 

Lessons from our School Days; Easter is a season of hope in Ireland, and in Pearse Road.

It is Easter Sunday and I have just attended mass at the factory, the third mass my family has attended there. The faces are the same but the mood changes. At Christmas it was dark, cold and wet but there was light in that canteen as everyone was confident the new year would bring good news. On day 100 the canteen was quieter, the workers all seemed shell-shocked that they had been there so long. 100 days showed like 100 years in their faces. I took some pictures and later that night when I compared them to Christmas pictures I was struck by how much older they all looked, how 100 days could take such a toll on people I consider to be the strongest and bravest I know.

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Elaine on a family holiday with her dad Greg, mother and sister in 1985

And then today on Easter Sunday, day 115, we all stood together again for mass. There was a different feeling in the air, spirits felt somewhat lifted. We hear every year that Easter is the season on hope. I believe in a power higher than myself but do not consider myself to be very spiritual but today, I felt the hope of this feast day in the canteen. Many people reading this will remember the two topics which dominated Irish education at this time every year, the Resurrection and the 1916 Rising. The words of my teachers came flooding back with haunting symbolism today. I remember our religion teacher telling us that the most powerful verse in all of scripture is simply this; “Jesus himself stood among them”. Jesus who had been crucified, died and buried had risen again.  The resurrection story itself is a resurrection of belief.

I thought about the stories of the disciples in the days after Jesus’ death. How they must have been discouraged, worried, and fearful as many had either betrayed or deserted Jesus in despair. Despaired, hunted and hopeless, they huddled together because there was nothing else to do, nowhere to go and no plan.  Three years of their lives following Jesus had simply a ghastly wreck of futility. Their beloved leader was dead and gone and all his promises seemed like a cruel hoax.

But then it happened, Jesus stood among them.  From that room of gloom came forth the great joy of the resurrection.

This small band of homeless, jobless disciples changed the world. They had renewed hope and conviction in their teachings and they continued to write and preach the gospels. These twelve people influenced the world out of all proportion to their size and nearly powerless standing.

Forgive me for taking such a giant leap of imagination here but I saw that same hope in my dad and the other workers today. In contrast to the helpless and disillusioned aura on day 100, today I felt their strength. Their conviction to keep going today in the factory is palpable. The imminent mediation process has fired up a hope in them that there may be justice but also a determination that if this avenue fails they will continue to fight for what is right. The stance of the Game workers, the occupation in Belfast by the Lagan Brick workers, is a modern-day representation of the indomitable will and un-relating spirit of all those involved in the Easter Rising of 1916. I can see how that spirit has ignited a flame in these workers this weekend. I believe that Padraig Pearse and James Connolly are looking down on this factory canteen and that they recognize that the ideals, for which they gave their lives, are burning brightly amongst this small cohort of individuals who never set out to be heroes but who have acted heroically over the last 115 days. The men and women of 1916, against all the odds and hopelessness, did not waver in the face of the might of the British Empire and so too have the Vita Cortex workers retained their courage over three and a half months of struggle.

In his poem “A Song for Simeon” T.S. Elliot refers to Easter as “the birth season of decease”. The Livingston Tribune famously published that Easter “is a day to fan the ashes of dead hope, a day to banish doubts and seek the slopes where the sun is rising, to revel in the faith which transports us out of ourselves and the dead past into the vast and inviting unknown.” On day 115, Easter Sunday these workers are spurred on by the injustices of the past but bathed in hope and determination for a better future.

Just before the British executed Pearse he uttered the immortal words “You cannot conquer Ireland. You cannot extinguish the Irish passion for freedom. If our deed has not been sufficient to win freedom, then our children will win by a better deed.” Here are 32 of the “children” of which Pearse spoke. Their passion for freedom and justice remains intact.

Elaine Marshall is Greg Marshall daughter. She writes on Day 115. Her views are her own.

EVERY LIFE EXPERIENCE IS A LEARNING OPPORTUNITY: But are we big enough to learn?

I have to admit to being somewhat of an industrial dispute ‘voyeur’. Media articles on the most recent incident are excellent learning material for my lectures on ‘employment relations’. Most of my audience are in their late teens/early 20’s with limited work experience and an ideological expectation that all will be well when they enter the world of work. When news reports of the Vita Cortex dispute started to emerge in late December, I was pleased that the universe had, yet again, delivered new learning material. Pleased but not surprised. Every semester delivers new opportunities for learning, particularly since the down-turn in the economy. What is different this time is the length of the dispute, now in its’ 105th day, having spanned the entire semester.

I teach a mixed group of about 700 students, studying commerce, engineering and law. Together we explore the relationship between workers and employers and how that relationship is managed on a day-to-day basis so that organisations can function in a reasonably civilised manner. Sometimes the relationship goes well, to the mutual satisfaction of both parties. Sometimes the relationship breaks down.

The students and I have been following the Vita Cortex dispute closely, to such an extent that some of them suspect I must be related to some of the protesters. We gathered a petition; sent suggestions to the workers for expanding their action; and followed proceedings closely on Facebook (not usually my learning medium of choice). The students engaged with the story on a human level and because they realised that the outcome of this dispute will have far-reaching implications beyond the ‘VC32’.

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I sincerely hope the dispute is resolved soon. Not because it ceases to serve my short-term purpose, but because workers should not have to endure what these 32 individuals have endured. It should not be allowed to happen. It has been said that the mark of a society is how it treats its vulnerable members. Including workers facing the prospect of unemployment in that category, reflects poorly on our society of 2012. Very poorly indeed!

Dr Deirdre Curran, a lecturer at NUIG and a Vita Cortex workers supporter writes on day 105, her views are her own

For workers everywhere this is a battle that cannot afford to be lost

Hello to all our friends in vita cortex.

After following the vita cortex struggle over Christmas and the New Year it became apparent on returning to work in the New Year that the despicable treatment of this set of workers by their employer resonated very clearly with workers in our own workplace. When discussing the issue we realised that a lot of people had friend and families working in vita cortex. To show our support and   solidarity we decided to organise a sponsored walk from our location in Blackpool to the vita cortex factory.  We did the walk on the 4th of February (accompanied by Greg) and received a great welcome on arriving, by the vita cortex workers. The walk proved to be a great success  .

 

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The Yves Rocher workers present a hamper to the VC workers

On this visit and subsequent visits since, the courage and conviction you have shown has been an inspiration to all your supporters and we thank you for this.

 As day 100 of your principled protest approaches it strikes me that all the politicians who have lent their support and taken the photo opportunities along the way have gone very quiet at the moment, It is also clear that your real supporters are still with you 100% 

I would  call on union members In all workplaces to do everything you can to keep this topic a live issue ,For workers everywhere this is a battle that cannot afford to be lost.

So from all your friends, family and supporters in Yves Rocher Cork be assured of our whole hearted and continued support.

Liam Murphy

(Yves Rocher workers supporters of vita cortex workers)

Your courageous stand is an amazing inspiration to the rest of us who actually give a damn about what kind of society we want

To the VC32,

I really wish I wasn’t writing this post on this the 100th day of your occupation of the Vita Cortex factory but I wanted to mark it with a few words. Good to see you are still ‘keeping her lit’ but by right you should be at home in the bosom of your families with your feet up and savoring your victory over the corporate greed of the arrogant reckless Ronan and his associates. I am sure that that day will come soon and I am delighted to read your newsflash and see things are progressing a bit. I believe your courageous stand and your struggle for your human rights and for justice is an amazing inspiration to the rest of us who actually give a damn about what kind of society we want in Ireland i.e one based on justice and equality.

A few weeks ago it was my privileged to travel to Cork with my cousin Teena to participate in the vigil at the VC factory. We thoroughly enjoyed listening to the music, poetry and stories and appreciated your wonderful hospitality in the canteen. Nights like that have a tendency to stir people and refocus us on what is actually important in life, not superficial material ‘wants’ but on values such as solidarity, common decency and justice.

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Una and Tomas with Martina and Alan after the vigil

On the spin down to Cork that Friday night we spoke a lot about what it must be like for you sitting in occupation, about the effect it must be having on you and your families and on your health and well-being. It brought to mind the similar struggle by our own Waterford Crystal workers some years ago. It was also our privilege then to support our family and friends who worked in Waterford Crystal and who also stood up to the bosses and the greedy shareholders.

We left Cork that night talking about Teena’s dad Peter O’Connor who, at a very young age, decided to go and fight Franco & the fascists in Spain. He was, and still is, a great inspiration to our family and to many people in Waterford and around the world.   Like you, he too took a stand, like you he said enough is enough & went and took action, He was with us that night in spirit, of that we are sure, and would probably have asked to stay with ye in the factory for the duration. Would that more of us had his and your courage to take on the injustices perpetrated by those in our society who are supremacists, who believe they have a divine right to walk all over people and who belong to that elite group who have in the past and continue to use, abuse and screw this country and its good people for huge personal gain and wealth. I hope the next few days will bring about a just result for ye and that you are home soon enjoying normal family life again. Both Teena and myself are very proud to be playing a small part in the campaign in solidarity with you all.   NO PASARÁN !

Úna Ryan

Úna Ryan from Waterford, a Vita Cortex workers supporter, writes her thoughts on Day 100. Her views are her own.

Images of Protest: Photographer Captures the Spirit of The Vita Cortex Workers to Mark 100 Days of Struggle

A series of photographs capturing the spirit of the protesting Vita Cortex workers has been produced in order to mark the 100th day of the sit-in. Conor Buckley a freelance documentary photographer from Dublin visited the factory and shot the workers      depicting them in their former job roles.

” I got in contact with the lads from the online campaign and told them that my idea was to show the contrast between the images of these workers in terms their of past and present. These guys were once ordinary workers living to provide for their families and over the past 100 days their faces have become images of social struggle. These people have worked hard all their lives many serving over 40 years in this environment  to produce profit, now they have to occupy the same space in order to obtain what is morally owed to them.” said Conor.

Martina Anderson who has 22 years of service at Vita Cortex © 2011 Conor Buckley

These photographs are part of an ongoing  series aimed at documenting Ireland’s current economic and  sociological shift. The photographs depict how ordinary peoples lives have being drastically altered by the decisions and speculation of      others, they show how roles have changed from worker to protester,  from production space to dereliction.

The workers of Vita Cortex have been occupying the factory on the Kinsale Road in Cork since December 16th 2011. A resolution to the dispute has not been forthcoming despite a series of engagements with the Labour Relations Commission.

It is great that Conor has taken the time to  produce these photographs. I suppose it provide us with  another way of telling our story.  I was reading an article last week about how art in Britain experienced a renaissance of sorts during the Miners’ strikers in the early 80s. People used art as lens through which to understand and explain the changing nature of the times in which they lived. I think one day we will use art to try understand these 100 days,” said Greg Marshall who has 37 years service at Vita Cortex.