One of the longest-running industrial relations protests in the history of the State ended in Cork today.
On Day 161, the marathon sit-in protest at the Vita Cortex factory ended with a ceremonial march out the gate.
The 23 workers who occupied the factory since December 16 have now all been paid an undisclosed sum by company owner, Jack Ronan, as the final part of their redundancy.
The foam-workers’ stand lasted longer than the Dublin Lockout of 1913, when James Larkin led thousands of workers for 146 days in the most significant industrial relations dispute in Irish history.
The former Vita Cortex staff said their campaign began on nothing more than a gut instinct and a feeling of injustice.
The workers were due to leave the foam factory for the last time when it shut down on December 16 last year. When it became clear they would not receive their redundancy package of 2.9 weeks’ wages per year of service they decided to take a stand.
On a shift rota, they have occupied the building ever since, and their efforts have seen them held up as a symbol of workers’ rights. Up to 5,000 people marched through Cork to support their plight on a rainy day in February in one of the largest public demonstrations the city has seen in recent years.
The campaign attracted support from soccer legends Alex Ferguson and Paul McGrath, former President Mary Robinson, philosopher Noam Chomsky, actor Cillian Murphy and Cork sport and GAA stars.
Former machinist Helen Crowley, who gave 27 years’ service to the company, said: “The whole campaign snowballed in a way. You got completely swept away in it.”
After spending Christmas, New Year’s Day, St Patrick’s Day and Easter in the Kinsale Road factory, the workers were today looking forward to normal life again.
Jim Power, who worked for the company for 43 years, summed up the mood.
“It’s a relief really. Now that it’s all over, I look forward to normal living again,” he said.
Seán Kelleher, who worked at the plant for more than 47 years, said: “This campaign has dominated our lives for the past five months. It was the generosity of the Cork people that kept us going.”
After months of failed negotiations, the company finally agreed at a meeting in Cork earlier this month to pay the workers.