Irish Rail strike: Workers take a stand to defend pay & conditions

By Katia Hancke

Irish Rail workers are due to go on strike at the end of October. The attempts by sections of the mainstream media to portray this as workers demanding a wage increase that the company simply can’t afford are very disingenuous.

In reality, workers in all three sections of what used to be CIE – Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and Irish Rail – have been the subject of a concerted campaign over the last number of years to drive down wages and conditions. When workers stand up against this onslaught, we should support them in every way possible as their fight is also a fight to defend public transport against a neo-liberal agenda of privatisation and a race to the bottom.

Management in Irish Rail in its WRC proposals is effectively proposing a wage cut of €60or more per week for many workers in Irish Rail. As well as that, they are demanding increases in flexibility – including the threat to move workers’ work station at a moment’s notice across the country – and attacks on the workers’ pension scheme. In total, there are no less than 18 conditions attached to the derisory 1.5% wage increase proposed.

Underinvestment in public transport

Irish Rail has lost up to 5,000 staff in the last ten years. The yearly state subvention is still €90 million below what it was in 2008. Yet passenger numbers are going up year by year – from 2.3% in intercity services to as much as 7% in DART services in 2015 alone. Up to 155,000 passengers now use Irish Rail every day. Clearly the demand for public transport is higher than ever, with people being driven to live further away from their workplace in the cities due to the housing crisis.

Irish Rail management and this right-wing government continue to drive home an agenda of under-funding, outsourcing and privatisation that has as its logical conclusion a Ryanair model. Considering Michael O’Leary – for all his anti-union bluster – is at risk of ending up with an airline without pilots, it is high time we prevent a similar disaster striking our public transport services.

No to Ryanair model

The experience of privatised railways in Britain proves the bankruptcy of the model. But let’s also learn a lesson from what is happening in Britain now – over 76% of the public support re-nationalisation of the railways. A political push to boldly and strongly argue for public transport to be developed on a similar basis here in Ireland would provide the basis upon which fares could become more affordable, services could be improved and workers’ pay and conditions could be safeguarded.

The upcoming strike in Irish Rail should be used by the unions to combine a bold industrial strategy, linking the issues in the company with the similar problems in Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus, with a political campaign exposing the thwarted logic of the Ryanair model and instead demanding government investment to develop a public transport system that respects its workers and delivers an integrated service for people. This means workers getting ready for solidarity action across the three branches of CIE and engaging the public in a campaign to defend public transport to put pressure on the political establishment for increased funding.