Workers Hammer No. 239

Autumn 2017


Irish bus strike sold out

Irish bus workers waged a solid 21-day strike this spring which resonated with many workers across Ireland. Workers from other public transport companies, who are facing threats of privatisation themselves, were chomping at the bit to join their union brothers and sisters on the picket lines. A large majority of union members at Dublin Bus voted to join the Bus Éireann workers in solidarity strikes, as did rail workers from Iarnród Éireann and school bus drivers. Solidarity was also expressed by transport workers in London, with the RMT’s LU Fleet branch making a donation of £200 to the Irish strikers.

Committed to maintaining class peace, the bus workers’ union leaders pulled out all the stops to get their members back to work before the results of the solidarity strike ballots were known. When the state’s Labour Court issued a recommendation on 13 April that included the redundancy of over 160 workers, the closure of a garage in Dundalk and pay cuts of up to 10 per cent for some grades, the union tops quickly ordered a return to work, pending a ballot. Many workers were reportedly furious that the strike was called off on the basis of this rotten proposal and vehemently stated that they would not vote for it. Aware of the workers’ anger, the trade union bureaucrats dragged out the pre-vote discussions for weeks, while the company kept claiming it would be insolvent if the deal wasn’t accepted. Militant-talking NBRU general secretary Dermot O’Leary toured the country trying to sell the deal at branch meetings. It seems he got an earful, tweeting that various meetings included a “Full & Frank exchange of Views”, “Lively debate” and “Strong views expressed from the floor”. The trade union misleaders succeeded in grinding down opposition until morale was so low the rotten deal was accepted.

We print below a 4 April Spartacist League leaflet, which we distributed to striking bus workers in Ireland, as well as to workers in Britain.

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Since 24 March, 2600 workers at Bus Éireann, Ireland’s national bus service, have been on strike to stop a brutal company attack on their livelihoods. Bus Éireann is seeking to better compete with low-wage, non-union private bus companies by taking it out of the hide of the workers — unilaterally imposing casualisation and redundancies and cutting wages and benefits by an estimated 8000 euros annually per driver! The strikers, primarily organised in the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) and SIPTU (Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union), have shown their strength and militancy, halting the coaches that ply the arteries between Ireland’s cities and towns and the North and provide local transport in rural areas. In an impressive show of solidarity and in defiance of the government’s anti-union laws, transport workers in Irish Rail and Dublin Bus have refused to cross Bus Éireann picket lines. On 31 March they shut down much of the country’s rail network as well as transport in Dublin in wildcat strikes.

The state-owned CIÉ group, which owns Irish Rail and Dublin Bus as well as Bus Éireann, is suing the NBRU for millions of euros in compensation for “unlawful picketing” over the wildcat strikes. The capitalists’ anti-union laws ban secondary pickets in order to cripple and isolate union struggles. Joint union action to defend the NBRU and tear up the anti-union laws would strike a powerful blow in the interest of the working class as a whole. But the general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Patricia King, has no such perspective. Instead, in a 2 April RTÉ radio interview, King complained that the secondary strikes delayed any third party intervention by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) or the Labour Court. The WRC and Labour Court exist to enforce anti-union laws and prevent class struggle. In Ireland like in Britain, the unions need a leadership that puts all its confidence in the fighting power of the working class, and no faith in these agencies of the bosses’ government!

The European Union, that bankers’ and bosses’ club, is justly hated by many Bus Éireann workers. The pay cuts imposed on Bus Éireann workers in 2009 and again in 2013 were part of the Irish government’s plan to fulfil EU austerity directives. The privatisation of transport, carried out under the EU banner of freedom for capital, represents a drive to squeeze profits out of the workers in this industry. By striking a blow against EU austerity, the Irish workers are fighting in the interests of working people all across Europe. Down with the EU! For a workers Europe! It is in the direct interest of British workers, who are faced with the same union-busting attacks from the capitalist exploiters in this country, to support the Bus Éireann workers’ struggle. Victory to the Bus Éireann strike!