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Bus Eireann Workers Betrayed!

A Bus worker speaks out...

22 May 2017

Let's not beat about the bush! The demobilisation of the Bus Eireann strike is an attack on the interests of the working class facilitated by the bureaucratic leadership of our trade unions. It is a betrayal pure and simple!

The methods that could deliver victory were presented before the watching world by the sudden eruption of flying pickets and sympathy strikes which were promptly and hypocritically disowned by the Union leaders but which had the capacity to impose the will of the strikers on the struggle.

From just one day of enthusiastically supported action we get a view of what class struggle tactics would look like and how effective they would be. We now also get a plain view that complying with the full time leadership's rules of engagement, agreed with the employers and the state, leads to defeat.

Leaders attempt at 'containment'

The Labour Court deal was clearly supported by the trade union bureaucrats from the beginning as their way out of a conflict they had tried desperately to avoid.  They had attempted to get the workers at Bus Eireann to roll over and accept the company's initial imposition of the cuts by agreeing that they would address 'inefficiencies' at the company but they were met with what they revealingly referred to as “uncontainable anger” from the workers.

They had refused to prepare for industrial action, arrogant in the belief that they could talk the workers out of taking any, and left the balloting of other transport sectors on taking action until the strike had started with the deliberate intention of isolating the Bus Eireann workers and controlling them.

Since the announcement of the Labour Court recommendations their hand in convincing the workers that there was no alternative was clearly visible. Having used every minor divisive offer thrown to them by a wily management the leadership were struck dumb during the voting period but emerged after the vote to shamelessly pronounce on the negative consequences of its acceptance as if they themselves had nothing to do with it, and the decision taken, by the narrowest of margins, was solely attributable to the workers.

Lies and Hypocrisy

Willie Noone of SIPTU hypocritically decried the deal as having “huge cultural, structural and financial implications for all staff”. While he described its acceptance as “a purely pragmatic decision” he inadvertantly revealed why some workers are likely to have thought that there was no alternative.  He brusquely swept aside as an option any pursuit of the other, much more pragmatic, course available to him, the mobilisation of the enthusiastic solidarity exhibited by workers in other branches of the public transport system.

His statement completely contradicted itself. If, due to the deal's acceptance, there were 'huge' implications 'for all staff' then why had he not campaigned against it? Why also did the acceptance of such a bad deal mean that the “need to involve” the other transport workers who had been balloted and were ready to strike had “now abated.” The need has not abated at all! Its a bad deal and it must be opposed and the widest solidarity is needed in that struggle. Core terms and conditions are under attack by the proposals the Labour Court recommends, they must be fought, and that necessitates rather than obviates the need to involve other workers in a fightback.
Likewise Willie Quigley of Unite mused that the deal was “unpalatable” and that “the Labour Court recommendation demanded heavy sacrifices of Bus Éireann workers.” He made clear his awareness that the working class was “picking up the tab” for “a financial crisis not of their making”, but at the same time persists with the notion that the corrupt capitalist system they claim to oppose is repairable if these sacrifices are maintained, a position agreed by all of the ICTU leadership. His solution to the attacks on bus Eireann workers is the mapping out of a “sustainable road forward for Ireland’s public transport system”. From their conduct during this strike and the proposals from the Labour Court we can be certain that that map leads towards the destruction of public sector jobs and a low wage economy.

The Unite leader's alternative to the wildcat strikes and the solidarity that made the initial phase of the strike so effective and inspiring is to demand that the government respects their place as partners in decision making by providing a place at the committee table, with Quigley “calling on the Government to state when the proposal for a stakeholder forum … will be implemented.” Unite's leadership is doing for the Bus Eireann workers what they have done in the North for the thousands of workers thrown on the scrap heap at Bombardier, Michelin and Gallaghers previously. Absolutely nothing!


The next round of talking shops and junkets, the result of the begged for 'intervention' by Shane Ross, with a place at the table for the union bureaucrats is in train, so we can expect more of the usual cant from the bureaucracy on how unacceptable the next slice of privatisation is, which this deal has actually pencilled for 2019, how reductions in wages are affecting morale and how the government must invest to save the infrastructure of “public transport as a public service”.

Meanwhile the workforce will grit their teeth as Dundalk garage closes and maintenance staff work more 'flexibly'; as part-time seasonal drivers  are used to undermine availability of overtime and facilitate redundancies with 200 people to go initially and as cooperation with new technology, the planned driver monitoring system, and the  catch all “other changes” further undermines working conditions. All contained in the Labour Court recommendations which should never have been allowed by any trade union leadership with a jot of loyalty to its own members to be put to a vote. The bureaucrats made it clear by their inaction that they were not interested in a fight and shrugged their shoulders dolefully until the slimmest majority of the workers could see no alternative.

Consciously calculated demobilisation

The contrast between the class struggle methods of flying pickets and solidarity strikes  and the deal negotiated by Siptu, NBRU and Unite officials could not be presented more clearly. This was a consciously calculated demobilisation by the trade union leadership of a workers' struggle which faced up to the fiscal strictures imposed as long ago as Maastricht and the fiscal compact, exacerbated by the financial crash, and signed off on and faithfully adhered to by ICTU. This conscious acceptance by the trade union bureaucracy that the needs and requirements of capitalism was of primary importance and that their members had to be cajoled into accepting defeat as the only alternative has a long history.

The leadership of Ireland's major trade unions, mainly because they agree with the capitalist's analysis of how to deal with the crisis, have no plans to resist. Cuts and austerity has lasted for almost a decade and the trade union leadership, as this latest debacle perfectly illustrates, has been instrumental in preventing any fightback. But no remedy to the crisis of capitalist profitability is in sight and the fact is, as another recession looms, that there is no 'recovery' for working people.

With this defeat further downward pressure will be heaped on wages that are not only still suppressed but are now on an accelerated downward trajectory towards the lower tier of a two tier wages system. Working terms and conditions will suffer even more. In the wider economy homelessness is at epidemic levels and workers who at first had to make sacrifices to resolve the banking crisis, now must make bigger sacrifices to maintain the 'recovery'.  A recovery that is at the expense of the working class and is only felt by corporations and the vampire capital that is inflating a new housing bubble is not a recovery, but is an intensification of the exploitation of labour. The employers and state know it and the trade union leaders know it but remain silent.

Resistance is inevitable

This short strike has provided two valuable lessons; firstly, that the trade union bureaucrats with a long history of class collaboration are unshakably committed to the capitalist's solution to the crisis. That involves increasing profits by driving down workers pay and decimating conditions. Secondly, the wildcat strikes and the solidarity exhibited in this dispute gave a brief glimpse of what the organised working class can do if they were to become independently organised at rank and file level.

After the strike the disappointment and anger of the Bus Eireann workers is plainly evident, but anger is not enough! Trade unionists are faced with two options, continue to allow the same leadership to make all the decisions and continue the race to the bottom of the wages scale, or begin immediately at workplace level to organise and take action against the cuts and catch the treacherous leadership that facilitates them in the crossfire. The bureaucrats have been successful in 'containing' the Bus Eireann workers anger but that anger must once again prove itself 'uncontainable', not just in public transport but across all unions.

What is certain is that this is far from over. The capitalist crisis demands that workers wages and conditions must be slashed further and kept permanently low and the union leadership cannot contain the fightback forever. Resistance is inevitable and that resistance begins with workplace level trade unionists organising in self defence independently of the bureaucratic structures of their unions. The mechanics of solidarity are there as this strike has shown, they must be built upon and that work must begin immediately.

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