The first driver was suspended, in Phibsboro garage, when he was giving out IWU leaflets after he had finished his day's work. Two senior managers, Joe Kenny and Mick Matthews, arrived and ordered the driver to go to the local manager. As he was not allowed to have his IWU representative accompany him, he refused and was then ordered off Dublin Bus property. Three more IWU members were also subsequently suspended.
This is an attack on all bus workers. Management is deciding which unions will be allowed to talk to workers and which unions will not be allowed to organise. It doesn't matter whether we think the IWU is a good initiative or we think that workers should remain with SIPTU and the NBRU in order to change them from the inside. The issue here is about free speech and the right to join the union of your choice.
The Independent Workers Union was formed a couple of years ago, after a dispute inside the ATGWU. Left wing officials Mick O'Reilly and Eugene McGlone had been victimised for accepting the breakaway Irish Locomotive Drivers Association into the union. They were also seen as too responsive to their members and too supportive of workers who are prepared to take on their employers. Although Mick and Eugene were reinstated after a long campaign inside the ATGWU, the Cork butchers and home helps had already decided to leave and set up a more militant union.
The IWU is a small organisation but one which worries the more conservative officials in many other unions. It is far more democratic, it is opposed to 'social partnership' deals, and it stands for traditional trade union principles. Whether it will grow significantly remains to be seen. What is certain is that a lot of workers are becoming dissatisfied with their unions' caution and moderation in the face of increasing management attacks on job security and working conditions, not to mention the small pay rises we are fobbed off with when the economy is booming.
And some union bureaucrats are afraid that if the IWU gets organised inside one of the bigger jobs, it might become a beacon for many of those who are unhappy with their own organisations. That's why neither the NBRU nor SIPTU have lifted a finger in defence of the suspended IWU drivers. It's as if they share a common agenda with management to control the workforce and pave the way for a smooth privatisation (despite union conference policies opposing privatisation of public transport!) Is it any surprise that some drivers want a new union?
by Joe King
Solidarity Messages can be sent to:
Dublin Bus Division,
Independent Workers Union,
61 North Strand Road, Dublin 3
This edition is No83 published in November 2004