Belfast Telegraph

Stick with it, Alex Ferguson tells Vita Cortex workers

By Edel O'Connell

Sir Alex Ferguson clearly hasn't forgotten his working class roots. The Manchester United manager surprised the protesting Vita Cortex workers in Cork on the 60th day of their sit-in yesterday by calling them up to show his support.

Sir Alex, no stranger to protests himself, told the workers to "stick with it" and that he was "right behind them".

The unexpected phone call was organised by Cork tailor Dave O'Connor, who was at Manchester United's Carrington training ground yesterday measuring Mr Ferguson for a range of suits.

The tailor's suits are popular with Irish and UK sports stars and TV personalities.

Mr O'Connor took the opportunity to tell the Manchester United manager of the plight of the Cork workers and asked if he would call them to lend his support.

Jim Power, a former lorry driver at the foam-packaging plant in Cork and an avid Manchester United fan, said he was "caught unawares" when he received a call from Mr O'Connor to say Mr Ferguson would be calling him in an hour to offer his support.

"I couldn't believe I was going to be talking to Alex Ferguson," he said.

Mr Ferguson, who started out as an apprentice toolmaker in the shipyards of Glasgow before becoming a trade union shop steward, famously led an unofficial walk-out over a pay dispute in 1961.

The soccer manager told Mr Power that he understood the circumstances of his plight after taking part in the apprentice strike.

"It was an incredible boost to talk with him. He spoke about his involvement in the apprentice boys' strike and told us to 'stick in there', and that he had great respect for what we were doing," he said.

"His last words were, 'Keep up the good fight. I'm right behind you'," he added.

In another recorded message for the workforce Mr Ferguson said: "Hello Vita Cortex workers. I just want to congratulate you on your stand for better conditions and pay, so stick with it and pass on all my congratulations and regards to your lads."

The former workers at the foam-packaging plant, who are entering their third month occupying their former place of work in Cork city, have received enormous support since they began their sit-in.

They were promised ex gratia payments by the owners of Vita Cortex when the foam factory closed in December 2011.

The State stepped in to pay statutory entitlements but the company has claimed inability to pay a total of another €372,000.

The workers have vowed to remain in the disused factory until they receive the non-statutory payment of 0.9 of a week's pay per year of service, which they say was agreed with the owner Jack Ronan.

Since they began their sit-in the workers have received messages of support from Noam Chomsky, former president Mary Robinson, comedian Des Bishop and Cork hurling manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy - now they can add Alex Ferguson to the list.

Belfast Telegraph


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