Eyes wide shut
Nurses strike blind to hidden enemy
7 April 2007
Over 40,000 Irish nurses began a work-to-rule on Monday 2nd April after more than three weeks of talks with the Health Service Employers (HSE) collapsed on April 1st.
Nurses and midwives in hospitals, psychiatric services and community facilities will not answer telephones, except in emergencies, or use computers in Accident and Emergency Departments to input clinical information. A ban on administrative work and other duties applies. The unions say the work-to-rule will continue until their demands for a 10% pay increase and a 35-hour working week are met.
the INO General Secretary, Liam Doran, and the Nursing Union executives are playing the narrow ground, hoping that public sympathy for the nurses and the looming general election will wring concessions from the Fianna Fail coalition government. It’s a strategy that has already run into trouble. Not only did Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Tanaiste Mary Harney immediately reject any compromise, the HSE and a number of papers launched a counterattack, claiming that the nurses were damaging patients interests and that they had behaved badly towards cancer patients.
The Nursing Unions have replied to their critics and promised to step up their action, but have ignored completely the political and economic base on which the attacks are based – the armour of social partnership that encircles government and employers and that is designed to hold workers in shackles of steel for the next ten years
Bertie Ahern spelt it out explicitly. There were no circumstances on which he could meet the nurses demands because he was bound by the partnership agreement with employers and unions and the Nurses demands were well outside this agreement. He urged them to enter the partnership framework and they could then achieve their objectives through the benchmarking mechanism built into the national agreement – a productivity mechanism that resources pay and conditions through speedups and job cuts.
This can hardly be a surprise to the Nurses. On November 10th last year the Labour Court rejected pay demands by two of the main nursing unions, saying their claim could only be addressed through the public service benchmarking process. Labour Court Chairman Kevin Duffy said it would be neither desirable nor consistent with the terms of current or previous agreements for the court to supplant the exclusive functions of the benchmarking body.
This is an astounding judgement that shows
how utterly workers rights have been removed. Even though the Nurses
did not agree to social partnership they are apparently to be bound by
it. Social partnership is now deemed to have something like the force of
the law of gravity. A victorious campaign must aim to threaten the existence
of the government if it hopes to succeed.
The Nurses themselves need to decisively
take direct control of the campaign and to launch a nationwide call for
mobilisation and for solidarity. They should look to the rank and
file of other unions to organise support, rather than rely on the duplicitous
bureaucracy. The aim of such a broad movement should not be so poor
as to focus on the HSE. The government, the employers in general
and their allies in the trade union movement must all be confronted.