By Katia Hancke
On 19 July, ambulance workers across the country organised in Nasra, a branch of the PNA, are once again going on strike. This is the eighth day of strike action these workers have to engage in – to win the right to be represented by the union of their choice and the right to engage in collective bargaining. In 2009, the NASRA branch was set up as an alternative to the management-dominated SIPTU representation in the National Ambulance Service. Since then, report after report has exposed the serious issues of bullying and harassment in the service. These workers need effective representation and that is what is at stake here.
Stepping up action
Industrial action has been stepped up from ten-hour strikes to 24 hours, and a further stepping-up of the action may be needed to force the HSE to listen – including rolling strikes. But as emergency personnel these workers also depend even more on solidarity from the trade union movement and from workers in general.
Nasra activists and Socialist Party members, together with trade union activists, organised public awareness activities in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway. The response was impressive – in just a few hours we collected thousands of signatures calling on the Minister to instruct the HSE to recognise the union.
The issue of trade union recognition struck a chord with hundreds of (often unorganised, young) workers who took leaflets for their workplaces and trade unionists who promised to take the issue into their union. Over the summer, we commit to assist further with such activities so come the Autumn the Minister for Health can be confronted with at least ten thousand signatures in support of Nasra.
At long last, the isolation of this dispute has now been broken with Unite the Union coming out in support with the Nasra workers. In the North, the issue is being discussed in NIPSA with the health workers’ division coming out in support. Socialist Party members at the recent ICTU biennial conference were the first to raise the issue and others followed in support. Other union branches should follow this example and pass motions of solidarity and practical support. This is a battle none of us can afford to let be lost. Five hundred workers are standing up for the fundamental right to be represented by the trade union of their choice. If the HSE, a public employer, gets away with ignoring this right, what message does it send to the private sector? In an era of declining trade union membership and activism, with entire sectors of the economy organised with anti-union policies, a battle such as this goes to the heart of what many workers face: the fight for trade union recognition is still ongoing in 2019 and any group of determined workers leading the way should get our full support.