From Socialist Voice, May 2005

CIE workers’ success shows it can be done

The proposal of the former Minister for Transport, Séamus Brennan, to abolish the CIE holding company, break it up into three separate companies and competing entities and franchise out 25 per cent of Dublin Bus routes has been shelved. The unions have been advised that these proposals are still part of the Programme for Government but are no longer a priority and are to be “parked.” This, the unions believe, is diplomatic-speak for “scrapped.”
    This about-turn by the government is very welcome, and credit should go to the workers in the industry who campaigned vigorously against the Brennan proposals. The workers in the CIE group of companies were well aware of the consequences of the Brennan proposals, which were to be the first step in the privatisation of at least two of the operating companies—Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus—and the part-privatisation of Iarnród Éireann.
    The workers in the industry were very clear about their opposition to privatisation, because they knew, based on the British experience, what it meant. It would result in higher costs, lower wages, less democratic accountability, worse terms and conditions of employment, and worse services to the public, in the form of regular fare increases and reductions in services, affecting the ability of communities, particularly working-class communities, to move around cheaply and efficiently, which in any civilised country is considered a basic human right.
    The campaign organised by the unions was very effective. It combined industrial action with a public awareness campaign to advise the public of the issues by placing leaflets on buses and trains. The very novel “no-fares day,” when services were provided to the public free of charge, gained a lot of public awareness and attention in the media. The industrial action taken by craft workers over Iarnród Éireann’s decision—under government pressure—to privatise the new maintenance depot in Drogheda was brought to a successful conclusion.
    Socialist Voice and the Communist Party salute the CIE workers for defending their jobs and for keeping public assets public, and we are proud of our contribution to that campaign with the publication of a comprehensive discussion document, Public Transport: Keep It Public or Lose It to Private Profit.
    The current proposal from the government is to amend the Transport Act (1932), which covers the licensing of bus operators. This act, according to officials of the Department of Transport, is out of date, and new regulations are required, with modern criteria. It is the intention of the government to introduce a regulator into the industry, who will regulate fares, subventions, and licences.
    The unions are now in a position to influence the amendments to the 1932 act and the role and power of the regulator and to campaign for a modern transport system that is reasonably priced and efficient, with integrated ticketing arrangements, in a calm atmosphere, without the mayhem that would have transpired if the government had decided to continue with the Brennan proposals. These proposals have been exposed as nothing more than an ideological drive to destroy public enterprise.
    This ideological drive, represented by the Progressive Democrats and their supporters in Fianna Fáil, continues, with particular pressure being placed on Aer Lingus at this time.
    Though the government’s change of policy in relation to road and rail transport is to be welcomed, it should be noted that this change did not occur in a vacuum. There is no substitute for a well-organised campaign of industrial actions coupled with a campaign to recruit both public and political support for the struggle.
    The focus is now on Aer Lingus. However, it would appear that even this government couldn’t stomach the proposed management buy-out, which was clearly driven by greed. Aer Lingus is a profitable company, and there is no apparent reason to privatise it. If the problem faced by Aer Lingus is one of investment, according to a press statement from the ICTU on this subject, there is no impediment to the government making that investment under EU rules on the “market investor” principle.
    A paragraph from that press statement is worth quoting. “Privatisation is an idea whose time has come and gone. There is no longer any significant public support for it. The Eircom experience has put paid to that; only those with a vested interest or a strong ideological prejudice advocate it.”
    But there is little point in the ICTU developing policy and issuing press statements condemning the privatisation of Aer Lingus unless it is prepared to use its resources to mobilise industrial, public and political support in defence of it. The workers in Aer Lingus should emulate the CIE experience and see what lessons can be learnt to support their campaign to defend their jobs and the selling off of this very valuable public asset.

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