Fragments 2006-08-31

In November 2004, Socialist Party councillor Mick Murphy visited a construction site at Balgaddy to talk to three carpenters who were staging an industrial protest on top of a 200-foot tower crane. As well as their own protest, one of the men, Daniel O'Connell Jnr, told of a "concentration camp" regime at the site involving Turkish employees, with wages of just ?2.50 an hour. Mick Barry investigated further and got help from an English-speaking Turkish man living in Carlow, Baki Uzunkaya. They won the confidence of some Gama workers and got payslips showing the men had been paid ?2.20 per hour, and were working up to 84 hours a week (overtime boosted their pay to ?3.30 per hour, ?4.40 for Sundays). In March 2005, Joe Higgins led a delegation of Gama workers to a bank in the Netherlands where they discovered – bizarrely – funds deposited there by Gama in the workers' names. This led to the recovery of unpaid wages for 48-hour weeks – but not for overtime. A second phase of the fight against Gama ensued, which dragged on for another two months. Many Gama workers returned to Turkey, but 85 remained on strike, eventually forcing a Labour Court hearing which ruled that they be paid compensation for overtime. Three months later, Gama won a National Roads Authority contract for a ?50m bypass at Castleblaney in Co Monaghan.

Throughout the struggle, Socialist Party people were shooting grainy footage on video cameras. They brought this to Framework Films, who've combined it with extensive use of Dáil coverage and RTÉ news bulletins and interviews with some former Gama workers, in a new documentary, The GAMA Strike – A Victory For All Workers. There are no plans to show the film on TV, but it is available from the Socialist Party and is being shown at screenings and festivals. There is a small amount of socialist rhetoric throughout the film, but by and large the film is a straight – and extremely effective – retelling of the Gama scandal. Mick Barry has written the story of the struggle in an accompanying booklet, We are Workers not Slaves, The Story of the Gama struggle, also available from the Socialist Party.


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Joining Village: Justine McCarthy, investigative journalist

Justine McCarthy, one of Ireland's most distinguished journalists, joins the staff of Village as deputy editor next week. Until recently, she was chief features writer and assistant to the editor at the Irish Independent.

She has covered many major stories including child sex abuse, the Bishop Casey story (she interviewed Annie Murphy in Connecticut the day after the story broke), the Kilkenny incest case (she did the first interview with the victim), GAMA Construction (first exposed the exploitation of Turkish workers by the company) and did the only interview with the parents of Ed O'Brien, a 21-year-old Co Wexford man who blew himself up with an IRA bomb on a London bus.

She wrote a biography (the unapproved one) of the President, Mary McAleese: The Outsider and she has contributed to the Guardian, the Observer and the Washington Post. She has also won several media awards.

Justine is originally from Bandon, Co Cork.


Outsider art at Imma

Outsider Art is the curious term given by the art world, to artists working outside the art establishment, who possibly do not consider themselves artists. The exhibition Inner Worlds Outside draws from the Musgrave Kinley collection of Outsider Art, currently on loan to the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

A controversy continues about how this work should be viewed. Some people feel it is exploitative – since, for some of the 'artists', their creative expression was the product of severe psychological conditions – but there are powerful visions to behold here.

This exhibition puts these outsiders alongside well-known artists such as Rousseau and Ensor, who borrowed from or were influenced by their colleagues on the outside.

More Inner Worlds Outside, continues until 15 October. See for details

Erik Salholm

Ireland only average on oversees aid

Ireland is a world leader when it comes to overseas aid, but a lack of policies of investment in poor countries and of fostering pro-poor technologies undermines our "commitment to development" and places us in the middle of an international ranking. This is the conclusion to be reached from two recent reports on overseas aid and development issues, which rank rich countries by the effectiveness of their policies in fighting third-world poverty.

In a report just published by Action Aid, Real Aid, Ireland is given top marks for the quality of its overseas aid programme. Ireland's aid is almost all "real aid", the report finds, as opposed to "phantom aid". Phantom aid consists of things like spending aid money on immigration services, spending it on overpriced foreign consultants, and "tied aid" (aid tied to the purchase of goods and services from the donor country).

A report published by the Centre for Global Development compiles an annual "commitment to development index". This ranks Ireland 13th amongst rich countries. Again, Ireland is a leader in the field of overseas aid, but is dragged down in the index by the failure to invest in poor countries and by poor technology policies. (These relate to supporting the development of pro-poor technologies through tax breaks and funding for research.)

Colin Murphy



Irish support for Chavez

Bob Doyle (pictured), veteran of the Spanish Civil War, is to address a meeting on 13 September to send an Irish delegation to Venezuela in support of Hugo Chavez's re-election.

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War. Over 300 Irishmen joined the 60,000 strong International Brigades to fight Franco's nationalist forces. Many of them fought in the British Brigade, or in the Connolly Column of the American Brigade, at the Battle of Jarama in 1937.

Bob Doyle's memoir of the Civil War, Brigadista: an Irishman's Fight against Fascism, was published earlier this year to great acclaim.

The meeting is being organised by the People Before Profit Alliance, which espouses the ideals of Hugo Chavez's Bolivarian revolution.

A little of the spirit of 1936 will be available at the ATGWU Hall on Middle Abbey St, in Dublin, on Wednesday 13 September.

Erik Salholm


Israelis continue propaganda war

The conflict with Lebanon may have ceased but the propaganda war for Israel is ongoing as the Israeli Defence forces (IDF) have set up a special team to search and collect stories of heroic acts committed by their troops during the fighting with Hezbollah.

IDF officers are to be sent to hospitals and communities around Israel over the next two months to document any courageous and positive events witnessed by soldiers, the findings of which will then be made available to the public.

Brigadier Ilan Harari, who is to head the team, rejected accusations that this was a move to counteract criticisms of the IDF's behaviour during the conflict stating, "In a situation of war it is appropriate to carry out a project of this kind."



No rise in fuel allowances

The government is to make no changes to fuel allowances despite the rapid increase in fuel costs due to come into effect this autumn. In addition to the impending increase of between 10 and 20 per cent for electricity and 40 per cent for gas charges, there is to be an increase in solid fuel prices across the board. The social welfare allowance for solid fuel, however, is to remain unchanged at ?14 per week, a move which has been heavily criticised by the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul.

The society says it is very unhappy about the government's failure to respond to the fuel increases either through taxation or benefits. The charity spent ?3m in 2004 on aiding low-income households with heating costs and the demand is increasing every year.

The Department of Social and Family Affairs also said that a 25 per cent increase in applications for their Supplementary Welfare Allowance for Exceptional Needs in the first half of 2006 shows there are more people having difficulty in meeting heating, gas and electricity bills. Current record inflation rates are set to put more pressure on low-income households and on charity agencies as the most recent UN development report put Ireland as having the third-highest level of poverty of the 18 industrialised countries surveyed.