On Friday, the 1st of May Dublin Bus commenced a 48-hour industrial action. No bus routes were in operation for the duration of the strike and it disrupted the transit of an estimated 85,000 people and a loss of €120,000 over the two days. The strike is in protest of a proposal to privatise certain bus route.
Objections have been voiced against the strike. People have been deriding it claiming that unions are ruining the economy by holding the strike on a busy bank holiday weekend, and bemoaning the fact that there is yet another obstacle between them and getting down to Tesco and buying a bag of frozen oven chips.
A similar situation arose in April when 6,000 Dunnes Stores workers held a strike in objection to exploitative low hour contracts. As with the Dublin Bus strike, there were objections from the general public. A common line voiced was that the Dunnes workers should be grateful to have a job at all, that their strike was a result of meddling unions, and that they were interfering with honest citizen’s attempts to procure bags of frozen oven chips.
Whatever your opinion on the privatisation of bus routes you should never criticize employees and unions taking industrial action against their employers. Industrial action is an important democratic tool, work to rule, slowdowns, picketing are all important in getting a worker’s voice heard and to underline the conviction of their grievances. Strikes, in particular, are a last resort. They are only enacted when it is clear that a resolution cannot be reached through negotiations alone.
In this harsh economic climate, employers have a disproportionate amount of power over their employees. This has led to a proliferation of exploitative practices; wage drops, redundancies, and zero-hour contracts.
One way an employee can address this imbalance of power is to join a trade union. A trade union is an important democratic body that helps protect workers rights, improve safety standards, and push for better working conditions. Those who rail against the idea of these unions would do well to remember that without them workplaces would be a very different environment.
The Dublin Bus drivers aren’t ‘throwing the toys out of the cot’, they aren’t being capricious, they are merely trying to ensure that they have secure jobs, fair wages, and fair treatment.
The strikes have caused an inconvenience, but that’s sort of the point. The plight of the Dublin Bus staff has made the national news, forcing a discussion, and showing that there is conviction.
At the end of the day, workers demanding better treatment from the government and from their employers sets a good precedent for the entire workforce. If we demand better treatment and show that we are serious we’ll get that. And I think we can all agree that’s a bit more important than your bag of frozen oven chips.