Striking Irish Train Drivers

Karl Carlile dagda at
Mon Aug 14 16:26:32 PDT 2000

The ILDA Rail Drivers Strike Karl Carlile

For approximately eight weeks the members of the Irish Locomotives Drivers' Association have been on strike in defence of their living standards and conditions of work. The ILDA strikers are rail drivers employed by Iarnród Éireann , a state company. At the heart of the strike is the anti-democratic way in which Iarnrod Eireann has sought to implement new conditions of work and pay. The train drivers have been denied the opportunity to vote on the new proposals. ILDA, a trade union, that represents 48% of the train drivers has been denied the democratic right to express in a ballot their position in relation to the new proposals. The proposals have been anti-democratically forced through with the joint collaboration of the leadership of SIPTU and NBRU. The proposals are being implemented with less than the support of the majority of the totality of train drivers in Iarnrod Eireann.

The striking train drivers have had some support from other workers in the public transport sector. Many other public transport workers refused to pass the pickets -bus and rail workers from SIPTU and NBRU. Consequently there has been ongoing serious disruption of public transport services. Sections of the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie in Ireland have been using this service disruption as an opportunity to promote the neo-liberal agenda of both privatisation of state transport companies and the introduction of more competition into the transport industry.

The ILDA workers have had to face the savage hostility of the Iarnród Éireann management, the state, the employers, the bourgeois mass media and the official trade union leadership -particularly NBRU and SIPTU. Despite this they have remained steadfast. Many transport workers have shown solidarity by refusing to pass pickets and even, in some cases, joining the picket line. They have done this against the instructions of their unions -SIPTU and the NBRU. The Dublin Bus Workers Action Group have been a valuable agency in mobilising solidarity around the ILDA strikers. Brendan Ogle -the executive secretary of ILDA- , has been demonised by the bourgeoisie, the mass media together with the SIPTU the NBRU leaderships. Disinformation and confusion has been deployed in the campaign to break the strike. This ferocious attack by the forces of capitalism against the striking rail drivers is a response to what is essentially a challenge to the state and the reactionary leadership of the trade union movement. Their very act of unlawful secondary picketing is, ipso facto, a challenge to the state. So far the state has been reluctant to enforce the law. Its reluctance is an expression of its fear of the masses. It is afraid that enforcing the law may galvanise other sections of the working class into industrial action in solidarity with the ILDA workers. The state view the action of this incipient union as a challenge to its corporatist strategy to keep wages down and worsen conditions of work. Should such a breakaway union be successful it will encourage growing numbers of workers unhappy with the present trade union leadership to join ILDA or form militant breakaway unions. Such developments in the class struggle will render it more difficult for the state to continue with its very successful current anti-working class strategy of which the Partnership for Prosperity and Fairness is a concentrated expression. A victory for ILDA may lead to the undermining of the corporatist leadership of the trade union movement. The employers perceive such a development in the class struggle as a threat to their success in their intensification of the exploitation of the working class. The trade union leadership have formed an alliance with both the state and the bourgeoisie to crush ILDA. The President of SIPTU, Des Geraghty, has become so desperate that he has even urged, unsuccessfully, his members to perform the duties of their striking colleagues -to engage in blacklegging.

In contrast communists must support this strike. They must expose the reactionary role of the corporatist state and the trade union leadership. Communists support this struggle by showing the working class in general that the ILDA struggle is their struggle. By revealing the link that exists between this particular struggle and the struggle of the working class in general the working class can come to understand that the ILDA strike is their struggle.

Should the ILDA workers loose this struggle then this particular defeat is a defeat for the working class in general. It adds to the confidence of the unholy alliance of the reactionary trade union leadership, the state and the bourgeoisie. This encourages it in its strategy to further erode the living standards and working conditions of the working class as a whole. On the other hand a defeat increases demoralisation among the working class discouraging workers from mounting further opposition to the bourgeoisie and the corporatist state. It encourages conditions that favour a tightening of control by the pro-bourgeois trade union bureaucracy over the organised working class rendering the conditions for further opposition less favourable.

Communists must show solidarity with the ILDA workers to ensure that the strike is effective and call on the working class to generalise the strike into general opposition against capitalism in defence of its living standards and working conditions as a class. Support must be expressed at all levels: There must be support in the form of propaganda; agitation; fund raising; sympathetic strikes; participation in the ILDA picket lines and the organising of a defence militia; mass protests and meetings; the organising of solidarity groups in support of a settlement in which the demands of the train drivers are met. This is the only way in which the success of the strike can be both guaranteed and developed into a struggle to advance the class interests of the Irish working class.

The state, by means of the courts and industrial relations legislation, have restricted conditions under which workers can form unions and function as negotiating bodies. It has also restricted the conditions under which workers can picket-secondary picketing has been outlawed. ILDA is a victim of these oppressive conditions. Communists should demand that these restrictions be lifted. Workers must challenge theses impositions which would not have been introduced without the support of the trade union leadership.

The state must be forced to negotiate with ILDA. The absurdity of a situation in which the state and its subaltern, the Iarnrod Eireann management, cannot negotiate with ILDA, even if wanted to, should be exposed and fought against as one more oppressive capitalist contradiction. The state has been increasingly involved in the restriction and regulation of industrial relations which means that the state has been increasingly involved in the regulation and restriction of the class struggle. This interventionism is meant to limit the struggles of the working class thereby precluding their development into a revolutionary challenge to the capitalist state. These restrictions on the expression of the class interests of the working class form part of a systemic attempt by the bourgeoisie to prevent the working class from politically developing in a revolutionary direction. The working class must break these shackles. If the working class is to effectively organise and fight for the defence of its living standards and conditions of work then it is necessary that it extends its struggle beyond the procrustean limits imposed by the state. To break these fetters the working class must organise against the current trade union leadership. Without the connivance of this leadership no such limitations would exist. Indeed these restrictions are the form by which this reactionary leadership seeks to guarantee its own survival. The trade union leadership has formed an alliance with the state to constrain the freedom of the working class to struggle to advance its class interests.

The state, by placing legal impositions on the way the class struggle is conducted, has rendered struggle by the working class in defence of its living standards and conditions of work ipso facto a matter of direct confrontation with the state. The imposition of legal constraint on class struggle invests such struggle with an explicitly political character. Capitalism has thus put another nail in its coffin. Because of the growing inherent contradictory character of capitalism the bourgeoisie solve one problem by creating another. The state is forced to become increasingly more corporatist in order to protect itself from the working class. The struggle to defend living standards and conditions of work has increasingly acquired such a challenging character that the state is forced to regulate and restrict industrial disputes within the limits of the capital relation. This logically implies that the struggle to defend wages and conditions of work is implicitly a political issue and consequently a question of the nature of state power and in whose hands it should be.

The latest development is that the linesmen employed by Iarnrod Eireann have deferred their threatened strike action in view of an apparently improved offer by Iarnrod Eireann management. Clearly management were prepared to offer improved conditions to the linesmen in an effort to break the ILDA strike. The offer was made as part of a strategy to maintain and increase the isolation of ILDA. ILDA demands that the minimal condition for a return to work must be based on its former conditions of work. Furthermore ILDA must demand the democratic right to vote on the issue of any new proposals concerning working and pay conditions. ILDA must demand that all of the three unions involved in the matter organise a ballot of the rail drivers. Acceptance of the proposals must be accepted or rejected on the basis of majority voting. Before any proposals be put to the workers ILDA, NBRU and SIPTU must form part of the committee appointed to draft new proposals. ILDA must urge NBRU and SIPTU members to call on its leadership to put an end to their alliance with the state and the bosses and to desist immediately from activity that undermines ILDA. It must call on the rank and file of these two unions to condemn the treachery of their leadership towards the ILDA workers.

Karl Carlile

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