April 2017        

Transport war declared

Jimmy Doran

Bus Éireann workers have mounted pickets on all depots, as the management left them with no other option when they attempted to force cuts to pay and conditions without agreement.
     This is now a transport war, as the management have fired a salvo into the workers’ ranks. The gloves are off; workers will not give up their hard-won terms and conditions without an equivalent fight to retain them.
     There is a long tradition of struggle by transport workers for their rights, going right back to the 1913 lockout and beyond. This dispute is now a lockout as the management try to impose change without agreement, and the main shareholder, the minister for transport, Shane Ross, refuses to engage.
     It is not acceptable that a state-owned company would be run as a cheap, no-frills, poorly paid business—quite the opposite, in fact: they should be setting the standard for good business and employment practice.
     When Ray Hernan, former director of finance at the notorious Ryanair, was parachuted into the job of CEO last January the plan for Bus Éireann became very clear. It was a race to the bottom. Rural transport services would be slashed. The social contract between citizen and state was to be ripped up along with the terms and conditions of the employees.
     If this were achieved, Bus Éireann would be ripe for a quick sale to the highest bidder, or, more likely, to the flavour of the month in the Golden Circle, who could sell it on in a few years to international capital at a massive profit.
     The workers and their unions have said No and are now on all-out indefinite strike. Ray Hernan is about to realise that he is not in Ryanair now: he is in a company where all workers are organised in trade unions, and that when they say No it means No. There will be no return to work on his terms.
     Bus Éireann has been underfunded for decades by successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael-Labour governments: in fact the state subvention it receives today is a fifth less than it was eight years ago.
     The recession was not wasted either: it was used in all three CIE companies as an excuse to slash and burn workers’ pay and conditions over the last decade. This is a carefully planned financial crisis; it did not happen overnight.
     Trade unions and their members have had a number of significant victories over the last year, not least in transport services, with Luas and Dublin Bus securing substantial pay increases, along with the Gardaí, fire brigades, and manufacturing. Both the public sector and private sector are gaining confidence and regaining some of the ground lost during austerity.
     It is not part of the establishment’s plan to have a strong and confident trade union movement; but the citizens have seen through the lie that was austerity. Ordinary people reject the narrative bandied about by politicians, business, economists and the establishment media of the necessity for cuts, privatisation, and the general push towards a low-pay economy.
     Bus Éireann workers have not had a pay increase for nine years and are now long overdue a pay increase—not a reduction. These workers are entitled to decency in their terms of employment. It is not up to bus workers to subsidise poorly funded public transport through pay cuts.
     This is an attack on the entire working class. If they get away with their plans in Bus Éireann it will be a turning-point in workers’ rights and for everyone.
     Once again the reports from the picket lines of the support from ordinary people is fantastic, despite the inconvenience the dispute is causing. People know that this battle is for workers’ rights in every industry and to save the rural transport system from the destruction that privatisation would cause.
     It is complete nonsense that the main shareholder, the minister for transport, is refusing to come to the negotiating table. He must engage in intensive negotiations to lead to an agreeable conclusion to this dispute. A sectoral employment order has to be agreed for transport workers to stop the race to the bottom. Existing levels of service to rural Ireland have to be maintained, as a minimum. A complete review of funding needs to be carried out.
     The people of rural Ireland are not second-class citizens and are entitled to a properly funded first-class rural transport system. Rural Ireland is under attack from all angles with the closure of post offices, bank branches, and Garda stations. Now more than ever they need a proper transport system to allow them to fulfil their daily needs.
     Solidarity with the workers and their unions!

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