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CCS Film Screening: The Gama Strike A victory for all workers, 25 April

Date: Friday 24 April 2015
Time: 12:30 – 2:00
Venue: CCS Seminar Room 6th floor MTB Howard College UKZN
Film Screening and discussion

Film Review: The GAMA Strike: A victory for all workers

GAMA is a Turkish building company that was awarded contracts by the Irish State for large infrastructure projects, including public housing, roads, and power stations. They won numerous tenders on their ability to finish these projects at half the cost of native Irish companies, and in some cases in half the time usually expected. This of course raised eyebrows in the construction industry, as well as in some political circles. Allegations and rumours began to spread about worker exploitation, but this was dismissed by Fianna Fáil lackeys, and nothing could be proven.

Mick Murphy, a Socialist Party councillor in South Dublin, picked up the baton and decided he was going to uncover the truth of what was going on. His first attempts to approach the building workers resulted in them running away in the opposite direction, which shows the fear and intimidation these workers were being subjected to. The builders had been brought over from Turkey on dodgy working permits, and were being paid 2 to 3 euro an hour, as well as working 80+ hours a week with no overtime. The company had isolated them as much as possible, and despite being members of SIPTU, Ireland's largest union, they had no idea of how to organise or improve their dire working conditions. But Murphy persisted, had a leaflet translated into Turkish explaining to the workers that they were welcome in Ireland, and constructed a small table laying out exactly how much the workers should be earning if they were on the legal union rates of pay. Murphy hurled a bunch of these leaflets over the fence to circumvent security's efforts to prevent them accessing the workers, they were collected and distributed, and the discontent spread from there.

Slowly but surely, the immigrant workers overcame their fear. Initially they stayed off camera for an RTE report, but within time they were finding their voice, and the disgraceful behaviour of GAMA was laid bare for all to see. No payslips, workers being housed in prison-like accomodation, low pay, intimidation, and most shockingly of all - the virtual theft of their wages into bank accounts in Holland, which were in the workers names but of which they knew nothing. The GAMA workers had mass meetings and organised strikes in the Dublin sites, and started to put pressure on the company and the State to ensure they got justice; in this case they wanted their money (which was always theirs anyway) and legal, union agreed rates of pay.

The film moves along at a brisk pace, and there are some scenes which had the hair on the back of my neck raised with pride. Joe Higgins in a starring role provides some memorable moments, notably in the Dáil, where his fiery speeches demonstrate his dedication to seeing the truth of multinational exploitation exposed, and his commitment to the rights of the immigrant workers is unwavering. Some of the GAMA workers themselves feature in the film too, and hearing them speak of unity and a common struggle between people in Ireland and Turkey after their long, exhausting experiences was a joy to behold. Despite my prejudices, at no point did I ever feel that Higgins or Murphy were acting out of political gain. Their drive was honest and being done to right what they saw as a gross injustice. At one point a GAMA worker says that the men saw Higgins as our father, which I thought was pushing it slightly, but then seeing them raise him on their shoulders during a rally, you can see their affection for him is utterly genuine and eternally grateful for the work he has done for them.

The film raises many questions about the state of this country, notably about other political parties and the trade unions. Initially Higgins was the only person to persevere with the allegations of exploitation. Seeing Bertie the socialist Ahern squirm and fumble for answers in the face of evidence thrust in his face makes you wonder how FF, time and time again, have been the largest party of the working class for generations despite blatantly putting workers rights near the bottom of their priorities. But other mainstream left parties too should hang their heads in shame. The sterling work by Murphy shows up the rest of the supposed politicos whose rhetoric goes further than practical steps to organise and help vulnerable immigrants in society. SIPTU also have the spotlight thrown on them - all these workers were SIPTU members, so what exactly was their trade union doing for them? And why did the union not put pressure on the suppliers to stop deliveries to other GAMA sites in the west of Ireland, when the exploitation became common knowledge?

Clocking in at just under 75 minutes, the film is an important document of a struggle that reached something of a satisfactory conclusion. In places, particularly towards the end, it acts as a bit of an advertisement for the SP, but it is totally forgiveable when you see the amount of tireless work they did (bottom line is that being registered in D15, Joe gets this writer's vote at the next election). It also makes you wonder how many other GAMA-type situations are happening right now in Irish society, and what moves the politicians who are being supposedly being paid to ensure a fair society are actually making. Hats off to the SP and Frameworks Films on a very thought provoking and engaging production.

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