Republican News · Thursday 24 Novemeber 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Strikes are about sharing the wealth


other week of industrial disputes has left tens of thousands of rail travellers without services for two days while hundreds of thousands of secondary school students were again sent home because of industrial action by the Association of Secondary School Teachers in Ireland (ASTI).

To add to this, hundreds of taxi drivers also caused disruption to Dublin's midweek morning rush hour in protest at Dublin Government plans to deregulate the taxi industry. Other disputes at Aer Lingus, Dublin's DART service and Ryanair are still simmering.

Three common themes run through most of these disputes. First is that the industrial action is driven by the pressing need to ensure that everyone is benefiting in a rapidly growing and ever more wealthy economy. A growing number of workers, particularly in the public service, believe that this is just not the case.

The second theme is that most of these disputes could have been avoided if successive Dublin governments had shown a bit more foresight. For example, it was clear that Dublin needed more taxis and for years the problem was allowed grow unchecked. Add in growing traffic gridlock plus an underfunded public transport system, lack of government foresight again, and you have a serious problem.

The third theme is that with so many disputes there is an obvious need for leadership from the wider trade union movement. This is particularly important because it is only months since employers, government and trade union leaders agreed the terms of the Partnership for Prosperity and Fairness. There has been an absence of direction from the Irish Congress of trade Unions (ICTU) on these important issues.

We can either look forward to a winter of escalating industrial action or instead take a different route in negotiating a real partnership agreement that can tease out the principles of social justice that seem to have been lost in the economic boom.

For example, signallers held a two-day stoppage this week because a change in their working conditions could leave some of them up to 3,500 a year worse off. Who really expects workers to agree to such terms?

For years it was common knowledge that taxi drivers were paying extraordinary sums for licence plates in Dublin. Yet for years local and central government stood by and did nothing. Their belated attempts to impose a solution have left hundreds of taxi drivers fearful of financial ruin as well as causing huge bitterness in the industry.

Teachers too have been knocking on the government door for years and again much of their justified complains have gone unheeded. In recent weeks, the Dublin Government has scoffed at the ASTI campaign for a 30% wage rise.

The government position was that the ASTI should join with the two other teaching unions in the benchmarking scheme. Now one of those unions, the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI), has made a 40% wage claim through the bench marking body. So who is scoffing now?

The position adopted by both the ICTU and Dublin government of taking each industrial dispute as a stand-alone case is doomed to failure. It will lead to even more industrial unrest. Such a tactic will lead to the dreaded round of knock-on claims and counter claims. It is time to go back to the drawing board and establish the first principles of how to ensure all workers, in the public and private sectosr, get a fair share of the wealth that is being generated today in the tiger economy.

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