Performance/installation at Digital Hub, Dublin, in collaboration with Turkish construction workers and Colombian Solidarity Network.


Building Solidarity was an installation and collaborative performance involving the participation of Turkish construction workers and the Colombian Solidarity Network. The work revolved around the telling of three different stories relating to solidarity and resistance. These stories were from different countries and times in history but were intertwined through a series of thematic connections.

The first story focuses on Turkish construction workers – employed by GAMA construction and living in Ballymun, Dublin – recounting the help and solidarity they received from the Ballymun community, when they were forced to go on strike, due to exploitation by their bosses. The second story relates to folklore about Turkey sending over food to Ireland during the Irish Famine in 1847.

The third story is about a women’s group in Colombia, the OFP (Organización Femenina Popular /Popular Women’s Organisation), who run food kitchens and organise opposition to violence. The story recounts the women’s extraordinary resistance to local paramilitary groups, who demolished their community house because they refused to stop helping local people. The paramilitaries brought machines and lorries in during the night, demolished the building, and removed every bit of it. The women rebuild the house by organising a march throughout the area, whereby each household donated a brick.

Augustine O Donohue’s Building Solidarity performance was made up of different elements. Sections of the three stories were narrated to the audience. At the same time, people from Ballymun, along with the Turkish construction workers and members of the Colombian Solidarity Network, constructed three plinths from blocks and cement, upon which TVs and videos players were then placed. The videos played footage of the Turkish workers and the Colombian women telling their own stories of resistance. The story was translated from Spanish to English by a Ballymun resident who was working with the trade union movement in Colombia. His father, a Ballymun native, was also involved in supporting the GAMA strike in Ballymun.

Various other occurrences unfolded in the space throughout the performance. Audience members were invited to introduce themselves and chat to the person beside them. Brown envelopes were handed out among the audience containing a poem, Questions from a Worker who Reads by Bertolt Brecht, in English and Turkish translations. The poem reflects on how the contribution of workers to society is often written out of history. Photographs documenting the workers’ strike, by social and political photographer Paula Geraghty, were hung up, alongside a selection of personal photographs taken by the Turkish workers and people in Ballymun during the strike, and the celebrations that followed their successful strike action. The photographer was also present on the night; Polaroid photographs were taken and handed out to members of the audience. A local community worker, Rita Fagan, sang a working-class Dublin song about a pigeon racer. The theme of the song is not giving up on what you want to achieve, even when everyone tells you it is impossible. Various objects that related to the stories were brought into the space. All of the objects, tools and materials involved in the performance were left on display afterwards, as part of the installation. The videos continued to play on top of the plinths (built during the performance) for the duration of the exhibition.

Background info on GAMA strike:

GAMA is a Turkish building company that was awarded contracts by the Irish State for large infrastructure projects, including public housing, roads and power stations. They won numerous tenders, based on their ability to finish these projects at half the cost of Irish companies, and in some cases, within half the usual timeframe. This of course raised eyebrows in the construction industry, as well as in some political circles. Allegations and rumours began to spread about worker exploitation, but this was dismissed by Fianna Fáil TDs, and nothing could be proven.

Mick Murphy, a Socialist Party councillor in South Dublin, decided he was going to uncover the truth about what was going on. His first attempts to approach the building workers resulted in them running away in the opposite direction, which shows the fear and intimidation these workers were being subjected to. The builders had been brought over from Turkey on questionable work permits and were being paid two to three euros an hour, as well as working over 80 hours per week with no overtime. The company had isolated them as much as possible, and despite being members of SIPTU, Ireland’s largest trade union, they had no idea of how to organise or improve their dire working conditions. But Murphy persisted and had a leaflet translated into Turkish, explaining to the workers that they were welcome in Ireland, and featuring a chart, outlining exactly how much the workers should be earning if they were on the legal union rates of pay. Murphy hurled a bunch of these leaflets over the fence to circumvent security’s efforts to prevent them accessing the workers, which were collected and distributed, and the discontent spread from there.

Slowly but surely, the immigrant workers overcame their fear. Initially they stayed off camera for an RTÉ report, but with time, they found their voice, and the disgraceful behaviour of GAMA was laid bare for all to see. No payslips, low pay, intimidation, workers being housed in prison-like accommodation, and most shockingly of all – the virtual theft of their wages into bank accounts in Holland, which were in the workers’ names but of which they knew nothing. The GAMA workers had mass meetings, organised strikes in the Dublin sites, and started to put pressure on the company and the State to ensure they got justice. They wanted their money and legal, union agreed rates of pay.

Initially Higgins was the only person to persevere with the allegations of exploitation. Seeing Bertie “the socialist” Ahern squirm and fumble for answers in the face of evidence makes you wonder how Fianna Fáil, time and time again, have been the largest party of the working class for generations, despite blatantly putting worker’s rights near the bottom of their priorities. SIPTU also had the spotlight thrown on them – all these workers were SIPTU members, so what exactly was their trade union doing for them? And why did the union not put pressure on the suppliers to stop deliveries to other GAMA sites in the west of Ireland, when the exploitation became common knowledge? It also makes you wonder how many other GAMA-type situations are happening right now in Irish society, and what moves the politicians, supposedly paid to ensure a fair society, are actually making.