The right to strike is the key difference between a slave and a worker, Eamonn McCann has told those gathered at the May Day rally in Derry.
The veteran trade union representative said it was “appropriate, necessary and inevitable” that on May Day attention is focused on the contribution made by the trade union movement, and to look at how it can continue to deliver on issues of social justice at home and elsewhere.
Mr McCann said: “If you look at the difference between unionised and un-unionised workplaces in this town and across the north and across the island and elsewhere, you will see that the more unionised a workforce is, the more likely it is that women have equal pay; the more likely it is that disabled people are guaranteed equality and not discriminated against; the more likely it is there is secure employment with a guaranteed working week rather than zero hour contracts, which reduces working people to being at the beck and call of employers, hired only when there is profit to be made from their labour and not because of the social good that employment gives.”
There was “no shortage of people in this town and elsewhere” who will say they are in favour of equality but who, at the same time, will not stand up for trade unionism, Mr McCann said.
“We have people whilst campaigning for investment here in Derry and the north and whilst pointing out, quite rightly, that we have been discriminated against in jobs and everything else, who at the same time want the public sector whittled down in size.
“They keep telling us there are too many public sector jobs, that we need to rebalance our economy away from the public sector and towards the private sector.
“What nonsense. We should reject this root and branch; reject it entirely. What do they mean? Are there too many classroom assistants? Are there too many nurses? Are there too many youth workers? Are there too many social workers? Of course there are not. We don’t have enough of them.
“They should be defending the public sector as the trade movement does.”
Any move to allow the free market “rip through every aspect of our society” and weaken a strongly unionised public sector must be opposed, he added.
Mr McCann also said it was no exaggeration to say that people had died and faced being exiled to the other side of the world because they had stood up to secure workers’ rights over the past 150 years.
To cheers, and applause, Mr McCann said: “The right to strike, the right to walk off the job is the key difference between a worker and a slave. That is how central the right to strike is. That is why people fought for it.
“We shouldn’t have people in prominent positions going around telling us every time there is an industrial dispute how deeply they sympathise with the grievances of the workers. We don’t need sympathy for workers in struggle, we need support.”