Why Irish Rail workers are right to strike

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The Workers Solidarity Movement extends its solidarity to all workers at Irish Rail. A series of one-day stoppages and pickets to secure pay rises are planned over the months of November and December. The sought-after pay increases (3.75 per cent annually) are in line with pay increases secured by other transport workers in Dublin Bus, Luas, and Bus Éireann, all of whom secured these victories following collective industrial action and numerous strikes.

 

The workers at Irish Rail have not received a pay rise since 2008. Instead, they have seen their workloads increase and retiring staff not being replaced. Dermot O’Leary, NBRU general secretary, points out that passenger numbers and revenue at Irish Rail are now on a par with Celtic Tiger levels but workers’ pay and conditions have not similarly improved.

The bosses at Irish Rail repeat the standard line that the company has no money, arguing that increasing employee compensation will drive it into insolvency. Conversely, SIPTU and the NBRU claim that the National Transport Authority (NTA) is directing the profits currently being generated at Irish Rail into increased consultancy and external employment in managerial roles. Over the coming weeks, if the strikes go ahead, we can look forward to a deeply unimaginative and lazy regime media trotting out the usual line about traffic chaos and commuters being inconvenienced. We should remember that the same media remain silent as we have to endure an inadequate and underfunded transport network every other day of the week.

Public transport in Ireland is chronically underfunded. The state does not invest in public transport to anywhere near the same level as other European Union states. Similarly, Dublin has a rock-bottom level of public subsidy to transport when compared with other European capitals [1]. From 2008 to 2014, the chronic became acute as successive Fianna Fáil/Green and Fine Gael/Labour governments cut some €10.6 billion from spending on public transport. As the state subvention has fallen, transport companies have increased fares and sought to minimise employee compensation (wages, PRSI, pensions).

Restore the subvention to public transport and it’s possible not only to improve pay and conditions for workers but lower ticket costs for commuters and improve services generally. (Some 30-40% of workers’ pay increases go right back to the government in increased income taxes anyway). It seems straightforward so why isn’t this happening?

The transport strikes of recent years take place within a wider political battle going on over the future direction of the EU’s and Ireland’s political economy. Simply stated, the approach to resolving the crisis of capitalism of 2008 has been to socialise the costs of the financial crisis, to reduce public expenditure on public services, and to push for new routes for capital accumulation. In Ireland, this approach underpins the confidence and supply agreement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil which is premised on ‘meeting in full the domestic and EU fiscal rules’. The EU’s fiscal rules curtail increasing public subventions while also encouraging competitive tendering of public services, including transport. The EU’s parties and policymakers of the right continue to advocate privatising public transport, notwithstanding much evidence, experience, and common-sense to suggest that public sector provision is as good if not better. In fact, a growing number of cities across Europe have mobilised to take back into city or public ownership formerly privatised transport networks.

There is a real battle going on here over what kind of society we want to live in. Do you want to live in a society where corporations and shareholders effectively dictate to us what kind of workplaces and public services we will have? If you do, then accept the regime’s sound-bites and join a race to the bottom for all workers. If you don’t, then support the resistance.

Don’t cross picket lines!

Image of Dublin Mayday march 2015 being led off by striking bus workers opposed to privatisation h/t Andrew Flood

I've written about resistance to privatisation of public transport here, resisting regime media coverage of transport strikes here, and the connection with environmental struggles here

 

 

[1] Figures taken from Michael Taft’s Notes on the Front. See http://notesonthefront.typepad.com

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