BUS AND rail workers in Ireland paralysed transport in the capital, Dublin, last week. Rank and file drivers for the Dublin Bus Company extended an official three-day stoppage by taking effective unofficial action. It was the most militant action by workers in Ireland for many years. At one point on Tuesday of last week a senior trade union official told the press, "No one is in control. "Everyone knows people are coming out but nobody knows how or when they are going to get back to work."
The upsurge reflects the growing bitterness among workers in the Irish Republic. The economy has been growing steadily for six years. Commentators have compared it to the Asian "Tiger" economies, which grew spectacularly in the 1980s. They have dubbed the Irish Republic the "Celtic Tiger". Growth has brought huge profits for companies. But workers have been forced to accept a "partnership deal" which has meant longer hours and worse pay.
Eugene, a Dublin bus driver, told Socialist Worker's sister paper in Ireland, "I have not had a day off since Christmas. There are many others like me, working seven days a week just to earn a living wage." Tory government ministers slammed the bus drivers as greedy for demanding a 20 percent increase. Irish MPs have just put in for a 28 percent pay increase. That fuelled bus workers' determination on their three-day official strike. They mounted unofficial pickets on the Tuesday, bringing out workers on DART (the local rail service in Dublin), Irish Rail, and Bus Eireann (the national bus service).
Some 800 rail maintenance workers struck unofficially and defied a high court injunction. They are paid appallingly low wages and discovered that workers for private contractors were on more than they were. The strikes by rail and bus workers came together and won solidarity across the transport industry. Bus drivers placed a bus on rail tracks to stop the last local trains in Dublin. Drivers for Bus Eireann picketed out private coach firms in Limerick. Some 400 bus workers packed into a mass meeting in Dublin on the Tuesday. A bus worker from Donnybrook said that if there was any attempt to bring in the army it would be met with mass physical resistance. Another bus worker won huge applause for his call for a mass demonstration on parliament.
The strike was called by the NRBU union, but some drivers are members of Ireland's largest union, SIPTU. SIPTU bus drivers supported the strike unofficially and some of them were at the mass meeting. Ireland's bosses and government faced the prospect of a hugely popular all-out strike across the rail and bus industries. The Irish Times complained, "The National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) leadership is having to run very fast to stay ahead of its own militants." Rail bosses immediately withdrew the injunction on the maintenance workers, promised to look at their grievances and pulled out the private contractors. The climbdown was enough to allow union leaders to regain control of the strikes and get workers back to work on Friday when the bus workers' official strike ended.
Emergency talks at the weekend brought a deal, which bus workers were voting on as Socialist Worker went to press. It included a �28 a week pay increase, about 8 percent, and the setting up of a commission to look at bus workers' conditions. Bus workers could have won a lot more. But the strike has had a huge impact.
It came four days after the Irish equivalent of the TUC signed yet another partnership agreement with the government. That put a 5.5 percent cap on pay increases. The bus workers have blown a hole in that agreement. Many other workers are hoping to follow their example.
- FURIOUS bus workers' shop stewards at Yorkshire Traction have called on their leaders for a ballot for all-out strike action. Three months of talks have failed to produce any improvement in pay and could mean longer hours. Strike action was called off before Christmas to allow negotiations.
- A mass meeting of bus workers employed by Stagecoach's firm in Ayr, Scotland, was set to take place on Wednesday. Workers were due to strike on the same day-their fifth one-day strike to force Western Bus to increase its pay offer.