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Dublin Bus: resistance from the workers, capitulation from the bureaucracy

25 August 2013

In five years of austerity in Ireland there has been little in the way of industrial action. One public sector day of action was quickly followed by the union bureaucracy climbing back inside the tent with bosses and government.

In this landscape two recent strikes by Dublin Bus workers stand out like beacons. 

What is it that the bus drivers want? What are the obstacles in their path? How can they succeed?

It isn't hard to find out what the workers want. They are the targets of cost-cutting proposals that would reduce overtime, increase hours and reduce holiday entitlement - all based around the fiction that Dublin Bus is a private company rather than an essential public service.

In their defence they have fought disciplined and universally supported strikes. 

Unfortunately the discipline has been under the direction of the SIPTU and NBRU bureaucracy, and they have very different ideas about the nature of the dispute. The concern they express is that their place is recognized and all changes are negotiated.

So the first strike ended when negotiation rights were extended. Unfortunately the bureaucracy had already agreed that the €12 million cost cutting programme was necessary.

That meant there was little to negotiate. If the budget is to be cut to that extent the only source is the worker’s wages and hours. The bureaucrats sat on their hands. The bosses lost patience and threatened to impose the cuts.

A second strike was called then delayed to allow Labour Court intervention, then implemented. Again a disciplined display from workers trying to defend their livelihood. Again the issue for the union bosses was the right to negotiate. 

Negotiations were successful. The settlement was - exactly what management had demanded, decorated with a "fairness" addendum that saw a cut in wages for managers.

In a typical manoeuvre the union bosses present the offer without a recommendation and also without any proposals for carrying on the struggle. Despite the trickery drivers voted overwhelmingly to reject (66% rejection by NBRU, 72% rejection by SIPTU). The management are waiting for smaller unions to vote and hoping to massage the figures so that in practice the vote will be ignored.

This is the Croke Park 3 sell-out writ small. The issue now for the social partners is how to get the drivers to change their minds.

The bus workers need to put forward their own demands: 

  • demands starting with utter repudiation of the cost-cutting programme as an extension of the bail-out and the privatisation programme of the Trioka.
  • Widened the basis of the struggle by demolishing the fiction of Dublin bus as a private company and mounting a call for a public transport available to the working class.
  • Above all they need independent rank and file committees representing their needs rather than those of the bureaucracy. These can appeal for support organizations in the broader union movement and in the community.

The betrayal of Dublin Bus is Croke Park III writ small. Independent organization, a programme of resistance and the rediscovery of solidarity could mean workers resistance writ large.


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