“Our Union, Our Choice”- Interview with Tony Gregg, NASRA Branch Secretary

Thanks for talking to The Socialist, Tony. On the 31 May we saw the seventh day of strike action of ambulance workers organised by NASRA. What is the dispute about and what is its significance?

The dispute is essentially about workers’ right to choose the union that represents them rather than the bosses or employers choosing their representation for them. Up to now, the ambulance service, HSE and the government have chosen the unions who they think will best represent us. Obviously, people have a right to join those unions, but equally we have a right to join our union. Employer and government have stonewalled us. Essentially they have used a union-busting tactic, by refusing to continue to deduct our union dues at source as they have done over the last nine years.

This happened when it became clear that we were the majority union in terms of membership in the ambulance service. We actually feel a specific responsibility towards a new generation of workers, who are now starting to join the trade union movement. We need to protect their democratic rights and we are particularly motivated to make sure they aren’t sold out.

The government has tried to dismiss this dispute as an inter-union dispute, but you have repeatedly explained this is a misrepresentation of the facts. What is really going on?

The PNA have been representing workers in the health service for the past 49 years. NASRA is a branch of the PNA. The PNA is recognised within the HSE, there is no reason why they couldn’t represent us. These days, many unions are run from the top down. One of the things we like about the PNA is that is it members’ driven, it is run from the bottom up.

You have emphasised the message again and again that this is a seminal dispute for all trade unionists. What concrete support are you asking your trade union comrades to extend?

We are not writing to the unions, we are asking workers to raise from the shop floor up through the structures of their unions the need to support our struggle. This dispute has garnered support internationally, as far as Boston and New York. Now workers in trade unions here need to demand of their union leaders solidarity and practical support. Stand in protest with us, join our picket lines and swell them. Send a clear message to other unions and the employers that the unions belong to the workers and that their strength lies in their membership. Trade unions are nothing without the workers, and we want to demonstrate that to those in power.

Solidarity TDs and Socialist Party members have raised this issue repeatedly in the Dáil, and ambulance workers have been no stranger to the Dáil gallery to put pressure on the political establishment. What are your plans to ratchet up the pressure on the HSE and the government in the next few weeks?

We have extended our industrial action from 10-hour strikes to 24-hour strikes and are not afraid to intensify our strike action further if needed, to rolling 24-hour strikes. This puts real pressure onto the employer. As well as further strike action in the next few weeks, we are planning another protest outside Dáil Eireann to put pressure on government to tell the HSE to engage with us. TDs from across the political spectrum have not dared to speak out against our claim, as we are standing up for our basic democratic right to choose our representation, a right that has widespread public support. Now we need the HSE to be instructed to recognize the PNA as the union of our choice.

Join the NASRA lobby outside the Dáil, Kildare Street on 3 July, 12.30pm