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Socialist Democracy Statement

Bus Eireann: Rank and file action puts defeat of privatisation on the agenda

4 April 2017

The action that can guarantee victory in the Bus Eireann struggle is the unofficial action taken by the drivers on Friday 31st March. The strike must be broadened. If it sits still, it risks being strangled.

Flying pickets should bring out Iarnrod Eireann, Dublin Bus and private bus services. Everyone’s wages and conditions will suffer if the strike is broken. Transport across the country must be brought to a halt now without a long delay for further votes. 

But that’s a big ask.  It’s a big ask for other workers to lose pay and take the risk of striking without the protection of an official dispute. It’s a big ask for travellers who may lose pay and suffer a great deal of inconvenience. 

The strike demands must put forward the needs of everyone: A decent wage for workers that is not pared to the bone in the interests of speculators. A national public transport system designed around the needs of the people that excludes privatisation. A broader call against the selloff of resources and services in the interests of vulture capitalism.

The top union officials are a major obstacle to success. Effective wildcat action is organised by the drivers while the officials wash their hands and condemn the pickets. They plan to ballot for extended strike action with implementation almost a month away. What sort of generals start to think about mobilising reserves when the main battle is already joined?

But the faults of the bureaucracy go far beyond go far beyond tactics and strategy. The aims that they put forward cannot lead to victory.  They have accepted that cutbacks are needed. They want a place at the table to decide where and when to cut. They want Shane Ross involved so that they can beg for a slush fund to ease the pain as wages and services go down the toilet.

Let’s face facts. This is a battle about privatisation. Transport stands with all the other services and resources in Ireland in that everything of value is to be sold and wages, conditions and services driven through the floor. This is part of the modernisation agenda agreed with the Troika. A National Transport Authority was set up in 2009 to gradually implement privatisation and the trade unions, represented by ICTU, sit on the advisory board. By agreeing that the dispute is about economic difficulties within Bus Eireann the union leaders are in fact agreeing that it is already a private company rather than a public service and continuing to go down the privatisation route.

The threats to bus workers are the threats to public sector workers, to housing, to education and to health services. Successful privatisation will balance the books. There will be glowing reports from the European central banks, dividends will go up and the Irish recovery will continue for an utterly corrupt gombeen class.  The rest of us, workers and transport users, will live lives of quiet desperation.

We must draw on the lessons of the great struggles of the past, for example the miner’s strike in Britain and the hunger strikes of the ‘80s in Ireland. We need strike committees in every area and alongside them support committees. The support committees should be aiming to mobilise every section of the working class and all the oppressed sectors of society in support of the strikers. We must link up with all the other struggles taking place today and with other workers across Europe to build a mass movement in defence of the workers. 

Many would argue that the Irish workers’ movement was dead and buried, yet within days we have rediscovered; rank and file action, the flying picket, the sympathy strike and the injunction; “thou shalt not cross a picket line!

In the words of Joe Hill:

If the workers take a notion,
They can stop all speeding trains;
Every ship upon the ocean
They can tie with mighty chains.
Every wheel in the creation,
Every mine and every mill,
Fleets and armies of the nation,
Will at their command stand still.

Workers of the world, awaken, 1914


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