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Shameless!  Social partners lock-out offensive on bus workers

On October 16th Noel Dowling, a retired SIPTU official, and management consultant Ultan Courtney issued a report recommending a resolution to the on-going dispute at Dublin Bus. The report was the result of partnership collaboration between the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the government and the employer’s organization IBEC. 

From a workers perspective what needed to be sorted out was constant attempts by the unions to force them to accept a €12 million cut in wages and conditions. 

Needless to say, that's not how the partners see the problem. The fiction that Dublin Bus is an independent company is accepted. The need to balance the books in the provision of a public service is accepted - hardly surprising when all the partners are members of a 'modernisation' programme, led by the Troika, which plans mass privatisation of Irish public services. 

From their point of view, the problem is that workers keep giving the wrong answer when asked to agree cuts in their wages. 

From this point of view Noel Dowling was the perfect choice. In 2004 he negotiated a sweetheart deal with LUAS that corralled workers into SIPTU in exchange for a no-strike deal. The agreement actually noted that any employee who did strike would be the subject of instant dismissal. 

It comes as no surprise then to find that the report boils down to a series of threats. All the partners have agreed to the cuts. Dublin bus will be wound up and privatised immediately if the cuts are not agreed. Despite the most recent ICTU congress declaring its total opposition to government’s draconian Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (FEMPI), emergency powers brought in to impose extra cuts in wages and conditions on those who voted the wrong way on the Haddington Road Agreement, are part of the report with the threat to extend these to Dublin Bus. The workers must see sense and accept their lot. 

The report was immediately backed up by subsidiary threats from Ministers Leo Varadkar and Alan Kelly and threats from Dublin Bus. SIPTU announced yet another vote to force the right result from the workers. 

Is this just inevitable? Should the workers just give up? Is there an alternative? 

The starting point is to reject the lies on which the attack is based: 

Dublin Bus is not an independent company, but a public service. 

The €12 million cut is not a problem of accounts, but an austerity cut by the government. 

The aim is not to balance the books, but is part of an already agreed programme of privatisation. 

The issue is not simply one of the rights of bus workers. Privatisation will affect all Dublin workers, not just the employees. 

The dispute throws up two further issues. One is open collaboration of union bosses. Even as they wrap Liberty Hall in giant banners commemorating the heroic struggle in 1913 they engage in a sordid conspiracy with the government and IBEC to issue bus workers the same type of ultimatums and threats that William Martin Murphy issued 100 years ago. Capitulate or a Lock -Out! 

The second issue is the threat of the extension of the government's new emergency powers that allow them to punish workers who reject further impoverishment and the downward spiral into a new form of economic slavery. 

Stating the problem points the way to a solution: 

The workers must organise their own committee against wage cuts, privatisation and union corruption. 

They should campaign for a public transport programme for Dublin designed to meet the needs of working people and to preserve the local environment. 

The issues of collusion, privatisation and FEMPI emergency powers are issues for the working class as a whole. We need to mobilize other union members in a solidarity movement that involves political and community activists alongside trade unionists and avoids being locked inside the union structures dominated by the committee men and women. 

Having crushed any opposition, ICTU were able to turn the commemoration of 1913 into a pantomime. It's time we reminded them what the real tradition of 1913 looks like.



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