As an act of simple decency, the government should nationalise Waterford Crystal, a City Councillor who has been a glass worker for 36 years, advocated this week.
Cllr Joe Kelly (SF) got an ovation from the other Council members after delivering his emotional plea when the crystal issue was discussed at their monthly meeting on Monday night.
Before the councillors passed a motion supporting the sit-in workers in their campaign to save their livelihoods, the crystal brand and their pensions, Cllr Kelly said there was no reason, economic or otherwise, why the government should not step in and save the plant, which everyone knew was profitable.
He said the government had no difficulty getting involved with Eircom or Aer Lingus and yet it was reluctant to buy into Waterford Crystal, which was far more important to the country. “The common consensus is that it would take billions to create a replacement brand of similar quality”, he submitted.
In the meantime, he said, the workers’ pensions were disappearing down the drain. But on that aspect, the government hand might be forced, pending the findings of an EU investigation prompted by MEP Proinsias De Rossa.
He was told by the European Commission this week that it had opened enquiries into the government’s failure to protect the pensions of Waterford Crystal workers and that “it would not hesitate” in bringing Ireland before the European Court if it was in breach of EU law in the matter.
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Cllr John Halligan (Ind) told the meeting he was very disappointed with the attitude of Minister Martin Cullen when the subject of the pensions was raised with him. His response was that he wasn’t sure what the government could do to support the workers in that regard and yet the following day it was confirmed that the Cabinet of which he was a member had sanctioned a big pay-off for the head of FAS, who was also walking away with a huge pension.
He warned that if the glass workers rights were allowed to be trampled into the ground, then the same would happen to many others.
Cllr Mary Roche (Ind) said Waterford Crystal was a child of Waterford and the city was defined worldwide by the brand name. What was needed was a change in the existing world order which dictated that the receiver would do the best deal on behalf of the Bank of America rather than the workers.
“We must stand up and refuse to accept the old rules; damn the rules and damn the Bank of America”, she said, adding that there was something radically wrong when a bank’s debt was perceived as being more important that the dignity of workers.
Cllr Cha O’Neill (Ind), a former glass worker, warned that if the Visitor Centre was kept open without manufacturing continuing on site then tourist would not be fooled. “You can only cod the Yanks for so long”, he insisted.
Workers ahead of profits
Mayor Jack Walsh (Lab) said maintaining a strong manufacturing, design and marketing presence in Waterford was critical to the future viability of the plant and protecting jobs should be at the heart of any new buy-out deal.
He said that with two companies engaged in the bidding process, profits for investors should not be put ahead of the livelihoods of skilled, dedicated workers, their families and the wider Waterford community.