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

category national | arts and media | feature author Dé hAoine Iúil 28, 2006 19:06author by cling film buff Report this post to the editors

Initially they stayed off camera but within time they found their voice.

Review of a documentary on the struggle of the Turkish GAMA workers in 2005 which premiered to a packed house in Wynn's Hotel on Middle Abbey Street on Thursday 27th July.

featured image
Clr Mick Murphy With Original GAMA Leaflett.

Admittedly I've always been sceptical/suspicious of political parties and their motives, regardless of their place on the political spectrum, from one extreme to another. Its always in the back of my mind that any statement or action is being done simply for the goal of obtaining more seats at the next local/general/european election. Far left parties arent excluded from this either. The vista of a Leninist party sweeping into power isnt particularly attractive to me; having visited Castro's socialist "paradise" there were many aspects of that society which were deeply troubling and repulsive, most notably the censorship of all opposition as "counter-revolutionary", and the suppression of ideas and literature that didnt slot into the mono-view of one party Marxism. The bookshops were permitted to stock tomes praising Chavez, but you'd never realise that the Zapatista insurrection had taken place across the water. But that's another day's article...

Nonetheless I tried to approach last night's film screening of "The GAMA strike: A victory for all workers" with an open mind. This film is a co-production between the Socialist Party and Frameworks Films, and documents the GAMA strike of 2005. For those primitivists living in a cave for the past two years (of course if you're a real primitivist you wont be reading this on the internet...), 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.

More Indy coverage: Downturn in Irish Construction Industry | Top Dublin Hotels displacing Irish staff | Aer Lingus privatisation exposes folly of partnership | GAMA: Company Forced To Pay ALL Workers Proper Union Rates | National Day of Protest Against Irish Ferries | Joe Higgins' Challenge to Irish Trade Unions: Protect Migrant Workers | Exploitation of Workers | Picket outside Dunnes in support of Joanne Delaney | Gama Workers' Strike Wins Back Stolen Cash

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.

Joe Higgins turns up the heat in the Dáil.
Joe Higgins turns up the heat in the Dáil.

Great moment as GAMA's lawyer squirms when shown dodgy payslips.
Great moment as GAMA's lawyer squirms when shown dodgy payslips.

One of the GAMA workers.
One of the GAMA workers.

Strike!
Strike!

author by Terencepublication date Aoine Iúil 28, 2006 13:23author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Here's another report back to add to the above.

Last night the premiere of the new film: "The GAMA Strike -A victory for all workers" was held at 8:30pm in Wynns Hotel in Dublin City Centre. The film documents the GAMA strike and was produced with Frameworks Films and the Socialist Party who uncovered the initial scandal and followed it through.

There was a strong turnout of about 160 people with obviously members of the Socialist Party and many activists. The SP have also produced a pamphlet on the GAMA strike which clearly goes into more detail than the film due to the time constraints that is inherent in any such production.

The film was put together using a wide range of footage from various sources from the Socialist Party itself and contributions from activists to RTE news clips and the Dail.

At the opening of the night Kevin McLoughlin welcomed everyone and provided a quick overview of the GAMA strike and stressed the importance of this struggle and the lessons that are to be learned. Then Mick Murphy spoke for a few minutes and described how the initial scandal where the Turkish workers were being only paid 2 to 3 euros per hour with many of them doing 80 weeks and yet the agreements signed with the government and unions indicated they were supposed to be getting just over 12 euro per hour. He also pointed out that GAMA are still fighting dirty in the courts in Anaraka, Turkey, where some of the other Turkish workers had since decided to take their case.

The film is 73 minutes long and has been put together very professionally in terms of the video clips used, voice-overs and background music and the overall presentation of the story itself. The film documents the beginnings of the scandal and how official after official rubbished any claims that there was anything wrong with the company. After all they had been invited to Ireland back in 1998 by the Minister for Entreprise and Employment, Mary Harney and had a number of very high valued and prestigious projects including the building of 2 ESB power stations, and various roads and by-passes, all running to several hundred millions and over the years probably well in excess of a billion euro.

As people will recall the story really caught the imagination of the people when Joe Higgins and other members of the Socialist Party along with 4 Turkish workers went to Amsterdam to visit a bank, where GAMA had secretly deposited other monies of the workers pay, where 2000+ accounts were found with a value of approximately 30 million. The workers had known nothing about this and a scam was in place to transfer the money out of here back into GAMA holding companies. This is what really broke the story and one would imagine that GAMA who had been caught red-handed stealing the workers wages would have owned up and paid it out, but instead they went on the offensive. The film goes on to detail how for over 10 days, GAMA cut off the food supply of its workers who were housed on site, in order to crush resistance.

What clearly comes out in the documentary also is that the government even when the evidence was presented to them had no real interest in investigating this and correcting the wrong doings. Instead the moved very very slowly and only when under pressure and in that way gave GAMA a lot of leeway, never apply the law that is there and GAMA were able to use the time to try and wear down the workers and the strike through attrition.

Overall, I would have to say its a truly epic story and there is a lot to be learned and it contains many warnings about the future that awaits us all, if we just let it happen.

Other Information:

The Socialist Party and Frameworks Films Present a new documentary on an historic Struggle:

The GAMA Strike -A victory for all workers


This 73-minute documentary is available from the Socialist Party for 10 euros from http://www.socialistparty.net


The pamphlet on the struggle is titled: We are Workers not Slaves -the story of the GAMA struggle


And here is a press release that the Socialist Party have released in conjunction with the premiere:

Socialist Party Press Release 27/07/2006
----------------------------------------------------------


New documentary: "The GAMA Strike - a victory for all workers" to assist the struggle to re-claim the trade unions.

It shows migrant workers can be organised, that "a race to the bottom" and the potential for division amongst workers, can be resisted

Endorsement by trade union leaders of "Towards 2016" shows the real lessons of the GAMA strike not learnt.


"Irish Ferries and countless other examples, most recently the allegations about TCD, the company used by Bus Eireann, confirm the truth that first emerged in the GAMA strike, that migrant workers are being systematically abused in Ireland.

This new documentary "The GAMA Strike -a victory for all workers" shows how globalisation has strengthened the economic link between governments, states and big business internationally and demonstrates how the system is geared to facilitating big business rather than safeguarding workers' rights.

The Socialist Party is in favour of legislation that re-enforces workers' rights but this documentary clearly shows that on its own legislation cannot defend workers. Above all, trade union organisation and action are the only way to fight for the rights of migrant workers.

This documentary poses a real alternative to the bosses' policy of "a race to the bottom" (of using the underpayment of migrant workers to undermine the wages and conditions of all workers). By organisation and militant action, the GAMA workers were brought up to and re-enforced the trade union rates and conditions.

The documentary deals with the key challenge facing the trade unions. Are they going to resist the attacks on pay and conditions and the dangers of divisions amongst workers, both organised and unorganised and Irish and migrant? That would require the unions to launch a major recruitment campaign to turn a majority of workers into union members. Unfortunately the endorsement by the main trade union leaders of the "Towards 2016" social partnership deal illustrates that they have learned none of the real lessons from the GAMA struggle.

This documentary shows how the Turkish workers and the Socialist Party were able to turn around trade union inactivity and organise a successful struggle. It is vital that all those who believe that workers' rights must be defended get organised to re-claim and re-build the trade unions as campaigning, fighting organisations.

The Socialist Party believes that the production and widespread distribution of this new documentary "The GAMA Strike -a victory for all workers" can play an important role in re-arming workers and the trade unions for future battles."

author by workerpublication date Aoine Iúil 28, 2006 15:13author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Please, you made a docusoap and the coverage for your candidate was great but a victory for all workers, give us a break. A scandal in the NAC and a Dublin 15 TD is quiet. Semi-state staff not paid national wage agreement same TD nowhere to be seen. WHY? WHY? WHY? The reason is simple, no TV, no hero of the workers, no poor Turkish men / bad builder, great sound bites. Actually helping the people that voted for you, that might be a novel idea. They might vote for you the next time.

author by D_Dpublication date Aoine Iúil 28, 2006 15:20author address author phone Report this post to the editors

It is surprisingly good. A little heavy on the SP sauce, but I suppose that's understandable.

Wudda been a good support to 'Enron'. Get it on the IFI? Or - on the SIPTU/Indymedia film club.

Suggestion: put identifying captions on Paul Hansard's very interesting contribution.

author by sp memberpublication date Aoine Iúil 28, 2006 17:09author address author phone Report this post to the editors

It was the first major strike by immigrant workers in ireland, for this its historical. The documentary is just the documentry. If you have problems with the NAC feel free to contact the party either nationally or locally. But try to remember their are other people out in the world apart from yourself, and if these other workers have the balls to do something about their plight applaud them rather than whine, and maybe even do something similar. We'll await your call and assist you in your struggle.

author by Film Viewerpublication date Aoine Iúil 28, 2006 20:22author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Well worth watching. Excellantly produced. Excellant political message. A must see for all people interested in left politics and/or trade union issues. I was looking forward to seeing it. I expected a good film. But it is far better then I thought it would be. That muppet "worker" is most likely from an opponent party in D15. FF, FG and Labour will most likely to say Joe is not doing local work. He does. And he is a parliamentary leader. Hence deals with national/international questions. Bogus claims. Pathetic. Don't engage. The 'race to the bottom' is a matter for all workers. Irish and Migrant Unite and Fight against common enemy - Gov. and Bosses. I hope there are more showings of Documentary and it goes on sale as wide as possible.

author by Cathal Marcspublication date Aoine Iúil 28, 2006 20:51author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Maybe the workers should be remembered and not the pamphlet or the book?

author by pvpublication date Aoine Iúil 28, 2006 21:17author address author phone Report this post to the editors

the workers ARE the central part of the film and pamphlet. their struggle is remembered and celebrated within these documents.

sheesh... the trolls are out this evening...

author by Socialist Partypublication date Aoine Iúil 28, 2006 21:56author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The GAMA documentary on DVD "The GAMA Strike - A victory for all workers" and the pamphlet "We are workers not slaves - The story of the GAMA struggle" can be bought by Paypal or by credit card at www.socialistparty.net or by contacting the Socialist Party at 01 6772592 or 02890 232962.

author by construction workerpublication date Sath Iúil 29, 2006 12:05author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Does anyone know if most/all GAMA workers are getting paid union rates now? Should be E14.83 for most labourers... I'm a primmo who was working on a GAMA site for a few weeks recently, and was talking to the turkish foreman about working in Siberia -
'So, did you get paid well for working in such extreme conditions?'
'Oh yes, GAMA always pay well'
How we laughed...

author by .. - NIPSApublication date Sath Iúil 29, 2006 12:40author address author phone Report this post to the editors

‘Worker’ seriously under estimates the importance of the GAMMA struggle.

The GAMMA struggle shows that

1 Militant action can win significant victories

2 Attempts by the bosses to isolate immigrant workers can be overcome

3 Attempts to use immigrant workers to undercut union organisation can be overcome

4 Positions in councils or parliament can be used effectively to support workers struggles

Until the GAMMA victory the reality was that trade unions largely accepted (with a few honourable exceptions) that the problems associated with a temporary workforces and language barriers made organisation of immigrant workers close to impossible. Post GAMMA that argument no longer holds water. The trade unions must learn the lesson of GAMMA and follow up with an aggressive militant strategy to organise immigrant workers. Such a strategy would not only benefit immigrant workers but would also undermine the ability of the bosses to use immigrants as a Trojan horse against workers terms and conditions.

The lessons of this dispute are extremely important. The production of the pamphlet and documentary should be welcomed.

author by Rentonpublication date Sath Iúil 29, 2006 14:54author address author phone Report this post to the editors

A highly informative documentary on class struggle within the working foreign community and the exploitation condoned by the government and implemented by business interests. It is important that people realize the race to the bottom needs to be defeated through working class struggle via active grassroots trade union membership and community groups. Solid anti-authoritarian class analysis and action is to the key to this. I hope to continue to work with my comrades on the left in the future on this. I suggest that the libertarian group, revolt video, show this documentary soon.

author by jimbopublication date Luan Iúil 31, 2006 21:44author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Fair play to all involved. Great turnout on Thursday night. Very important work.

author by toecappublication date Céad Lún 09, 2006 22:09author address author phone Report this post to the editors

....or just a coincidence? Did anyone notice that this was shown on the same night that an important anti-war public meeting -with some high profile speakers- was taking place, 100 yards up the road in the ATGWU hall? This meeting was organised well in advance of the GAMA screening. Coincidence, deliberate or more material for Monty Pyton part 2?

Where can I get a copy of the video?

author by maxminus - chaoticpublication date Domh Lún 13, 2006 06:06author address author phone Report this post to the editors

and the link to the bit torrent download of this film is here

www.????.????

sorry, only those 30 people at the screening are supposed to see the film!

as if rte are going to take it

as sting said - if you love something set it free.....

he meant bit torrent............

author by Mark P - Socialist Party (personal capacity)publication date Domh Lún 13, 2006 13:14author address author phone Report this post to the editors

toecap:

The film is available in dvd format from a number of sources. I don't have the details of all of them to hand at the moment but it can certainly be obtained from the Socialist Party offices in Dublin or Belfast. Contact details can be found at http://www.socialistparty.net

maxminus:

It is the intention of the Socialist Party to make the film available on the internet for free at some stage in the relatively near future. However as the film cost a substantial amount to put together it is necessary to make some of that money back from selling it before it is made freely available. If we don't do that, we can't produce more material. The same applies, by the way, to the 64 page pamphlet on the Gama struggle which was released with the film - that too will be put on the internet in the future.

author by indyheadpublication date Domh Lún 13, 2006 19:05author address author phone Report this post to the editors

the DVD costs a tenner - two pints in your local pub. Do the decent thing and send the SP a tenner to cover their costs. The film is very good and - shock horror - stuff like DV tapes, cameras, DVD cases, colour photocopying, and discs all cost MONEY. People these days seem to expect everything to be instantly accessible and free to them without giving anything back for it in return. Support this venture by sticking a tenner - slightly more than an hour and a half's pay on the minimum wage - in the post and get a nice DVD for yourself.

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