ICTU president Jack O’Connor addresses Green Isle Foods strikers rally

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The President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Jack O’Connor, told a rally in support of the Green Isle Foods workers and hunger strikers today in Naas that all 850,000 union members on the island of Ireland and the seven million trade unionists in Britain would be made aware of the findings of the Labour Court investigation into the real issues in dispute at the plant. This would allow them to make an informed decision when exercising their preferences as consumers with regard to Green Isle Foods products and those of its parent company Northern Foods.Jim Wyse, the Technical Engineering and Electrical Union shop steward who is in the 11th day of his hunger strike was too weak to speak at the rally, but his fellow hunger strike John Guinan thanked everyone for turning out. He said their support made it easier for Jim and himself to carry on and that they would “go as far as we need to go to sort this out”. He gave special thanks to Jim Wyse’s family and to his own family for their support. The families were thinking not so much about the dispute itself as “about our well being and what the company are doing to us”.

Earlier there were emotional scenes when marchers, including family and friends of the two men marched with them to the entrance to Green Isle Foods plant in Naas. Jim Wyse asked to speak with someone from the company but security guards barred the way. There were cries of “Shame on You”, “Shame on Green Isle” and “Shame on Northern Foods”.

Anthony Wyse, a brother of the hunger strike, said the attitude of Northern Foods had led to the present crisis. “They just don’t know how to deal with anything from a human point of view.” Referring to the companies allegations against TEEU members he said, “Nobody goes on hunger strike for what they are talking about”. He accused the company of “playing games with the life of my brother”.

Mr. O’Connor told the rally that the trade union movement “salute Jim Wyse and John Guinan and we will continue to be with them till they win because their victory is a victory for every man and woman who goes to work in Ireland”. He said people had a right to organise and a right to freedom of association under the Constitution but this was meaningless with the right to representation.

The President of the Kildare Council of Trade Unions, Adrian Kane, who organised the rally, said “The first casualty of war is truth”. Not only had the company locked out the men for six months but it had tried to take their good names as well.

The Mayor of Newbridge, Willie Hamilton, said the company had driven the men to “resort to the last weapon of the powerless against the powerful” by adopting the hunger strike tactic. This company had taken millions in grants from the Irish Government but treated the state agencies charged with mediating in industrial disputes with contempt.

TEEU General Secretary Designate Eamon Devoy tsaid that the Labour Court had fully examined the company’s case, made on Green Isle Foods behalf by IBEC, and found it had unfairly dismissed the men. The Court had recommended that they should be fully reinstated or properly compensated for the loss of their jobs but Green Isle Foods had ignored the findings.

He also said the union was taking legal advice on the allegations being made by the company against the men on strike.

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