June 2017        

Bus Éireann dispute ends

Jimmy Doran

All unions involved in the three-week strike in Bus Éireann have now voted to accept the Labour Court’s recommendation, thus bringing an end to the dispute.
     The workers and unions should be commended for their exemplary behaviour during the most difficult of strikes, in the face of unilateral action by the Bus Éireann management. Workers in the other CIE companies who came out to support them in a solidarity strike played no small part in the securing of a more favourable deal than had been originally proposed.
     Although this deal brings in a lot of changes, the unions have managed to preserve core terms and conditions. There are no compulsory redundancies, and the central demand of setting up a forum of the main stakeholders has been agreed. There will be no more proposals from the company before 2019.
     This forum needs to be operational as soon as possible to ensure proper funding for the 21st-century transport system that the citizens deserve.
     Bus Éireann has been run into the ground over the last couple of years through under-investment and the handing out of multiple contracts to private operators, with much more favourable operating conditions attached. This was the state preparing the ground for the privatisation of the rural transport system; but once again transport workers were not prepared to give up all the gains they had fought for over the years without a fight to defend them.
     This dispute is evidence of the continuing attack on workers by state and employers. In spite of this, workers and their unions are prepared to stand their ground and fight back. This is not easy, as workers are saddled with massive debt in the form of mortgages on their homes. The banks are ready to pounce if they fall behind.
     Employers are well aware of this and use it as a weapon against workers: as the time for a mortgage payment approaches, the pressure to accept a deal is immense. Workers need to be aware of this and be prepared for this added pressure in today’s world.
     Workers and unions have to adapt to a changing way of life. It’s a dog-eat-dog society that we now live in, and we have to be ready to defend ourselves when we come under attack. The Irish Citizen Army was set up to defend workers from physical attack in the past; today workers are being attacked with a chequebook and a pen.
     If workers are to achieve their share it’s essential that they have the financial support for taking on the employers. Strike pay on its own is not enough to tide workers over during a strike. A national strike fund should be set up by the unions for this purpose, and all union members should give an extra contribution to finance it. There should be regular fund-raisers to add more to the fund, which would also have union members getting together at social events and building relationships among them.
     Employers won’t be so cocky when they know we can strike indefinitely; that’s the way to fight back in today’s world. This will give workers confidence and a heightened sense of fraternity and collective action, as they would know that the national strike fund is being used by them and their fellow-workers in the battle for workers’ rights.
     It’s time that workers’ solidarity was rediscovered among the working class, and with it great things can be achieved. A victory for one group of workers benefits all workers, so it’s a no-brainier to set up a national strike fund to defend all workers from this sustained attack.
     An injury to one is an injury to all!

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