Fragile bond between unions will be tested as bus row heats up
Published 17/09/2016 | 02:30
The Luas dispute was driven by a small but powerful cohort of shop stewards among the drivers whose political motivation was questionable.
THE Luas dispute was driven by a small but powerful cohort of shop stewards among the drivers whose political motivation was questionable.
They belonged to an organisation of activists who wanted to "reclaim unions" from their current leaders.
As that dispute went on it became quickly apparent that Siptu had no control over the ringleaders.
It was not behind the eyebrow-raising claim for a pay rise of up to 54pc that was initially lodged with Transdev.
The drivers did not show up to union meetings, and they ended up making their own announcements and going on the airwaves to voice their grievances. The Anti Austerity Alliance was their trusty cheerleader. This dispute at Dublin Bus is different.
It is being led by the unions with shop stewards rallying behind.
Although there are a few very wealthy individuals among their ranks - thanks to a recent Euromillions win - the vast majority of the workers are frustrated.
This was amplified earlier this year when the Luas drivers won a pay rise worth 18pc up to 2020, or 3.8pc a year.
The publication of the wages and terms and conditions of the tram drivers that had been previously little known showed there was already an enormous gap between their wages, and that is about to balloon even further due to the recently won pay hike.
It hasn't helped that the tram drivers' employer suffered losses last year, while theirs - namely Dublin Bus - is back in profit.
As Ringsend driver and National Bus and Railworkers' Union (NBRU) activist, Sean Yeates, put it: "Members are sick to their teeth. When you equate what the Luas pay award was ...there is a difference of over 1pc between what the Labour Court recommended for them and us, and the money paid to Transdev is coming from the same National Transport Authority pot that they are telling us they don't have money for.
"Ringsend has had reps who are well able to speak up for themselves. You could call them militant."
Although the Harristown depot got a name as a breeding ground for the so-called 'Trots' about 10 years ago, that is no longer the case. Sources said there are still a few extreme left-wingers out there, but they are scattered throughout the seven depots, including Ringsend and Phibsboro.
The quietest garage is apparently Donnybrook, which fits in with its leafy suburban Dublin 4 image, while the maintenance division in Clontarf has a reputation for being "very vocal".
"There are some hotheads, but no garage is like an island doing its own stuff," said a union source.
But there are clear signs that left-wing groups are trying to get a grip on the powerful transport unions and cultivate a close connection with the strikers.
Earlier this week, the Anti Austerity Alliance put out a statement condemning Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary for recommending "organised strike breaking" and announced that deputies Mick Barry, Paul Murphy and Ruth Coppinger would be at the Conyngham Road depot on Thursday morning.
Union sources are highly critical of the party for jumping on the bandwagon. "They would slag off the unions at the same time, and will say it's a sell-out no matter how good a deal they might get," claimed one source. The same team at Siptu that represented the Luas drivers is now fronting this Dublin Bus claim for a 15pc pay rise over three years.
However, it has not placed the same emphasis as the NBRU on winning the Luas increase. Led by Owen Reidy, who is tipped as a contender for the Siptu top job when Jack O'Connor retires, it also includes old hands in the transport division, Willie Noone and John Murphy.
But probably the most recognisable face of the pay claim that is bringing Dublin traffic to a halt is the Cork-born leader of the NBRU, Dermot O'Leary.
An Irish Rail worker for 23 years, he is never shy of a colourful quote. He was first off the mark even before the Luas dispute ended and predicted there could be a series of strikes similar to Luas in this newspaper in an interview last month.
His union, which was founded in the early 60s by a splinter group of busmen from Clontarf garage, is seen as the most militant in the transport sphere and is not affiliated with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.
It has more drivers among its members than Siptu, but Siptu has more members overall. Privately there is a long-running rivalry between the two unions, but publicly they are singing off the same hymn sheet. This will be tested in the coming days as we wait to see who gives in first.