Strike when the iron's hot: a protestor last week

Barely an hour after Jim Wyse began his hunger strike outside the gates of food manufacturers Green Isle last Wednesday, an unwitting pizza delivery girl pulled up outside with a mystery order for Wyse and his striking colleagues.

"It just shows you how nasty this dispute has become", said Wyse, an electrical engineer with Green Isle and a shop steward with the electrical union, the Teeu. "The poor girl didn't know what was going on but she had the name and mobile phone number of my son who is also on the picket line.

"We don't know who ordered the pizzas but it had to be somebody with access to my son's mobile number. We sent them back," said Wyse.

"I have to stay here until this dispute is resolved. The company are trying to grind us down," said a defiant Wyse (58), who is camped out 24/7 in a caravan outside the British food manufacturer's base near Naas, Co Kildare.

"I never thought of the cold. But I understand that after a short while your body adjusts," he said.

Wyse has been 13 years with Green Isle Foods and has been on strike for the last six months after three of his colleagues were sacked for allegedly downloading "inappropriate images" onto their PCs. There are approximately eight workers on permanent strike.

But Wyse said the dispute goes back further when one of his colleagues was mistakenly given access to a file on his PC marked 'Boardroom' which contained sensitive commercial information, including company plans to lay off staff.

Though it was sent to the worker by mistake, news of its contents spread throughout the company.

The company was understandably concerned at the security breach and during a review of its IT system discovered the "inappropriate" imagery and sacked three workers – one of whom was the person who accessed the secret boardroom file.

Since then, this increasingly bitter and protracted dispute has been to the High Court and Labour Court several times.

The Labour Court last recommended that the three sacked workers be re-instated or, if this was not possible, be paid compensation totalling €160,000.

The company said that it had made every effort to resolve the dispute and mediation efforts are ongoing. Local Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan is understood to have offered his services.

But Wyse wants the largely non-union company to talk to the TEEU, and wants assurances on terms and conditions if they go back.

Married with five children and four grandchildren Wyse said financially it's tough. "Mortgages have to be paid and strike pay of €125 a week doesn't go far," he said.

"My wife and the rest of the family don't want me to do this but they know I won't be walked on," he said.

Wyse's action harks back to an era of strikes and lockouts, in the 1970s and '80s. But not everybody is of like mind.

"The company brought in replacements from Burnley in England to replace us. They put them up in a local hotel and bussed them in every day. They mooned at us as they sped past the gates," he said.

But the 'strike breakers', as Wyse puts it, got caught up in a fracas in a local nightclub and have since returned to Burnley.

They have since been replaced with willing staff from around Ireland.

"Today, if you drop down dead somebody will walk over you," he said.

Wyse is more understanding of the mainly Polish and Filipino workers who have continued working during the dispute.

"Many of them are supporting families back home and they explain to us that they can't afford to get involved," he said.

But the same understanding is not reserved for the dozen or so Teeu workers who came out last August but have since returned.

"They have been expelled from the union and rightly so," said Declan Shannon, who along with Declan Foley and Michael McDonald, is also on picket duty.

Shannon believes Wyse's hunger strike will force a resolution sooner rather than later.

"This is like being back in the 1970s probably because as far as the economy is concerned, we are back in the 1970s," said Shannon.