Transport privatisation: working conditions under attack

Reduce wage costs, increase fares, cut back on less used routes. That's the plan for the bus service. The government wants to privatise it, beginning with a sell-off of 25% of Dublin Bus routes.

Airport workers are also looking at worsening conditions with the threatened break up of Aer Rianta. Why is this happening to a successful company? It's simply so that the bank accounts of profiteers like Ryanair's Michael O'Leary can be stuffed with even more cash.

Politicians and business people have consulted, discussed and decided. The people who actually work in and use these services don't get to decide anything. Nothing unusual in that - it's the bosses' idea of "democracy".

Many union officials in CIE and the airports are trying to divert the struggle away from the issue of privatisation. Instead they want 'guarantees' that will protect the wages and conditions of existing staff, regardless of who the new boss is. Whether such 'guarantees' would add up to much after a few years of privatisation is unknown.

What is known is that any new workers would not be covered and we would end up with a two-tier work force, where new workers get lower pay, worse conditions and have fewer prospects for advancement. This is quite a radical departure from the old trade union slogan "an injury to one is the concern of all".

Why do we run away from confrontation and always seek a deal, no matter how crap it is? Well, it is undeniable that there is a much lower level of confidence than there was years ago. Almost two decades of 'social partnership' agreements and very few major strikes have led to a feeling that not much is possible. We are supposed to be satisfied with a few crumbs rather than looking for a big slice of cake (and only a small minority has the audacity to talk of taking over the whole bakery!)

If we are 'partners' with the government and employers, why would we engage in a serious fight with them? Surely we can sort all this out in the Labour Relations Commission? That's how many union officials see it. And that's why, despite occasional fiery speeches, they don't want to see the sort of strike action that could win and topple the whole 'partnership' apple-cart.

CIE workers showed great imagination with the 'no fares' day. And they stuck together despite management threats to refuse to implement the agreed wage increase. Aer Rianta workers know they have the power to close down the airports.

Buses, trains and planes need drivers, booking clerks, mechanics, cleaners and all the other workers who maintain the service. Without transport workers there would be transport chaos. That would really put the government on the defensive, we would be looking at stopping privatisation rather than merely seeking better terms for when privatisation happens.

As the IWW songwriter Joe Hill put it:
"If the workers took a notion they could stop all speeding trains;Every ship upon the ocean they can tie with mighty chains.Every wheel in the creation, every mine and every mill;Fleets and armies of the nation, will at their command stand still."

See also

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This edition is No80 published in March 2004

Workers Solidarity No80