Trade unionist Ken Fleming honoured as ‘fearless defender of workers’

This year’s Spirit of Mother Jones Award has been presented to Ken Fleming, the trade unionist who has spent more than a decade fighting for the rights of exploited seafarers both here and in Britain.

Ken Fleming.

The Cork Mother Jones Committee chose Mr Fleming, who is the International Transport Workers’ Federation’s co-ordinator for Britain and Ireland, as well as a senior Siptu official, because of the work he has done since 2006 in ports, recouping millions of euro and fighting for proper working conditions for predominantly foreign fishermen.

Committee spokesman James Nolan said: “Ken has bravely exposed the exploitative working practices in sections of the marine and fishing industries and he has sought to organise the migrant fishers.

“He has repeatedly called on the relevant State agencies to enforce a recent permit system which would allow these fishers the right to protect themselves against exploitation.

“He is a fearless, passionate, and a determined defender of workers who have been denied their rights and continually exposes and challenges a system which treats many of them as virtual slaves.”

Mr Fleming, who started work as a bus driver and was back-to-back Irish formula 2 motorbike champion in 1980-81, worked his way through Siptu, which seconded him in 2006 to succeed the late Tony Ayton in the International Transport Workers’ Federation.

He said he had travelled a very long and hard road defending workers, but the award had “electrified” him.

“The knowledge that a fully independent group not only recognise the work we have done but fully support the determination to stamp out the scandalous abuse of workers completely is inspiring,” he said.

“This award represents the most satisfying moment of my career. It places the work of the ITF amongst a very special group of people that have devoted a great part of their working lives to see justice done.”

In accepting the award, Mr Fleming follows in the footsteps of the likes of Margaret Aspinall and Sue Roberts of the Hillsborough Family Support Group who fought for truth and justice for the families of the 96 people who died in the stadium disaster; Gareth Peirce who successfully defended the Guildford Four, who were acquitted and released from jail in 1989; homeless campaigner Fr Peter McVerry; and Dave Hopper, former general secretary of the Durham Miners’ Association.

Mary Harris aka Mother Jones was born in Cork in the 1830s. Her family emigrated to Canada soon after the Famine.

Later in the US, she was involved in the struggle for basic rights for workers and children’s rights. Her rallying cry was: “Pray for the dead but fight like hell for the living.”

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