In a powerful speech for May Day, SIPTU Deputy General Secretary for Organising and Membership Development, Ethel Buckley calls out Ireland’s rigged economy and encourages people to get behind the Respect at Work campaign.



We gather to mark May Day, International Workers’ Day, the day that the labour movement has carved into the calendar to celebrate the contribution of workers everywhere. But for too many workers in Ireland, this is not a time for celebration.


For years, even as Ireland has become one of the wealthiest countries in the world, life has been getting harder and harder for working people.


The basics of life — from food to housing — have become more expensive.


Our public services have been starved of funding as successive governments have prioritised a corporate elite over their own people.


Wealth in Ireland is concentrated into fewer and fewer hands. Our country has become a playground for big business and the standard of living for the working class seems to be in constant decline.


This growing inequality is the greatest problem facing Irish society today, the social problem that leads to all other social problems. Those of us here this evening know that the answer to it: trade union organisation.


It is the only way to challenge the power of the corporate elite. It is the only hope for an economy that works for working people.


But Big Business will not give up its vast profits by choice. Working people will only get the dignity that they are prepared to demand.

 Growing numbers of workers recognise this. Poll after poll shows that workers — particularly young workers — want to join trade unions. 

Organising the next generation into our movement is the most important task for the Irish trade union movement.


And big business won’t make that easy for us.


 Why is it that so many young people want to join unions, but so few are members today?


One major reason is the chilling effect of union busting on workers who try to unionise.

You won’t hear this from the media, and certainly not from the celebrity business people who dominate discussion of our economy.


But Ireland has some of the weakest workers’ rights in western Europe. Every week in this country, workers who try to organise a union, to demand better, are victimised by their employer.

And corporate lawyers write the employment contracts that make it easy for the employers to victimise.
This is the ugly truth of the Irish workplace.

In Ireland today,


Workers are sacked for trying to organise a union.


They are victimised for standing up to workplace injustices.

They are punished for discussing their terms and conditions with colleagues.


They are denied recognition of their union even when every one of their fellow workers is a union member.

Comrades, if we want to organise the next generation into the trade union movement, we have to turn the tide on the right to organise and demand the respect we deserve at work.

We need to build a campaign that fights for a new charter of workers’ rights, one that gives us the legal protections we need to unionise.


We need to build a campaign that fights for the strongest possible transposition of the EU Directive on the right to organise and collectively bargain.


We need to build a campaign that gives us the tools to stop the tide of decline.


We need to build a campaign that helps to build the powerful labour movement that working people so desperately need in this country.


That is why we are launching the Respect at Work campaign.


The campaign is going to shine a spotlight on the darker parts of Ireland’s rigged economy.

It will expose the companies who seek to attack our shop stewards and intimidate workers who want to unionise.

It will demand 3 things:

The right to protection for those who organise in the workplace.

The right to access trade unions for anyone who want to know their rights at work.

The right to discussion for workers whose employers try to prevent them talking about their terms and conditions with their colleagues.


This is only the start. But it is a vital start. And as we approach local, European and general elections, it is time for the trade union movement to demand that politicians take action to improve Ireland’s scandalously weak right to organise.


It is time for all of us to tackle the scourge of union busting so that we can organise the workplace and demand real solutions to the social problems of this country.



Thank you comrades.