Around a quarter of a million workers took to picket lines across the Twenty-Six Counties on Tuesday as public sector staff struggle to protect their pay and conditions.
Nurses, teachers, firefighters, civil servants and other workers all joined the stoppage in protest against plans to cut 1.3 billion Euro from the public pay bill in the state.
A decision on a second stage of industrial action is expected to be announced by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions soon, which could involve a rolling series of regional stoppages or a further, state-wide 24-hour strike.
Firefighters were the first to go on strike at midnight, while hundreds of primary school teachers marched to the Twenty-Six County Department of Education headquarters at Marlborough Street in Dublin later in the morning.
A second public service workers’ strike is set to take place on Thursday, December 3rd, if talks fail to produce an alternative to compulsory redundancies and pay cuts, it was announced on Tuesday.
Speaking at a press conference, committee chairman Peter McLoone said workers had demonstrated their feelings through the “State’s largest ever strike” in which he said well over 250,000 people had participated.
This showed leadership was coming directly from the workers who had “the resolve and the strength to resist the government if it pursues an unfair and counterproductive course of further pay cuts”, he said.
Mr McLoone said talks would have to address whether an agreement could be found “on some temporary measures to cut pay costs in 2010”.
But he said the committee did not want to go into negotiations with the government “saying you’ve had your strike and your bullets have all been shot”. The strike had not been “a one-day wonder, but hopefully December 3rd will not be necessary”.
Almost all the unions involved in the strike have mandates from their members for further strike action.
Sinn Fein TDs expressed their solidarity with striking public service workers by refusing to pass their picket at the Dublin parliament.
“Workers in the public service have been left with no choice but to resort to industrial action given the intransigence of the Fianna Fail/Green government,” said Sinn Fein Dail leader Caoimhghin O Caolain
“We reject efforts to demonise public service workers and to create false divisions between those in the public and private sectors. These workers come from the same families, the same households, the same communities. Many are on low or modest incomes and are struggling to meet mortgage payments and the cost of rearing young families.”
eirigi chairperson Brian Leeson stated the party’s support for the strike.
“The public sector staff who are today on picket lines around the Twenty-Six Counties deserve the support of every other working person,” he said.
“Ordinary workers should not be expected to take pay cuts while bankers and business men and women are allowed to ring fence their extortionate profits.
“The inequalities in Irish society are growing not decreasing - the disparity in income between the rich and the rest of us has continued to rise over the last 20 years. Why is it then that those who benefited the least from the recent economic boom are those who are expected to pay for the bust?”