Saturday 23 September 2017

Explained: They wanted a 'grenade' - How a group of workers brought the country to standstill

More wildcat strikes likely but union leaders wash their hands of action that left 160,000 stranded

Commuters at Hueston Train station following secondary picketing relating to the Bus Eireann strike in Dublin's city centre. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Commuters at Hueston Train station following secondary picketing relating to the Bus Eireann strike in Dublin's city centre. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

Bus workers who organised via social media for pre-dawn wildcat strikes which brought the country to a standstill have threatened to do the same again.

Hardline members of the National Bus and Railworkers' Union (NBRU) were intent on ramping up industrial action across the entire public transport sector.

A week of industrial action at Bus Éireann had failed to yield any resolution and sources said that some members of the NBRU wanted a "grenade" to make Dublin sit up and take notice.

Between 4am and 4.30am, they began mounting secondary, unauthorised pickets at train stations across the capital and beyond. The two busiest stations, Connolly and Heuston, and Dart depots at Fairview and Bray were among the first. They also showed in Athlone, Cork, Westport and Galway, and from 5am, they arrived in Limerick, Sligo, Longford, Tralee, Waterford, Rosslare and Ballina.

Over the same period, others went to the seven Dublin Bus depots across the capital. The timings were designed to prevent drivers from taking vehicles into service, and upping the ante in the bitter Bus Éireann dispute.

"They showed up in stations and put up signs and banners," one transport source said. "The purpose was to block drivers' entrances. It was specifically aimed at drivers."

Darren Maguire, Alan Dardis, Pat Doyle and Bernard Campbell of Broadstone Depot picketing at Conyngham Rd, Dublin Bus Depot, in the capital yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney
Darren Maguire, Alan Dardis, Pat Doyle and Bernard Campbell of Broadstone Depot picketing at Conyngham Rd, Dublin Bus Depot, in the capital yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney
Commuters take to cars and walking to get to work and school in Dublin. Photo: Mark Condren
The spillover pickets have caused travel delays for thousands

The pickets appeared to have been solely mounted by members of the NBRU, and they caused huge disruption. Fewer than 10 of 150 scheduled trains ran, discommoding some 40,000 passengers. Dublin Bus said 80pc of its early morning services were hit, affecting 120,000 people.

Dispute

It will cost both companies - neither of which are involved in a dispute with the unions - "hundreds of thousands" in lost fare revenues. Both firms will also be hit with a reduced payment from the National Transport Authority, which contracts them to operate services. Union leaders denied involvement in organising the wildcat actions but warned that more were likely.

Read more: Kevin Doyle: Ross needs to change his tune because right now he's his own worst enemy  

Read more: Donohoe chose to 'suppress' report on the crisis at Bus Éireann, claims FF 

"It's clear this is more than likely going to happen again," Siptu's Willie Noone said. Another source in the NBRU added if it could happen once, it could reoccur.

But both were quick to criticise the actions of the drivers, saying the secondary picketing was unauthorised.

"This was unofficial action. We just can't condone it," NBRU general secretary Dermot O'Leary said. "I've been warning people for a number of weeks that there was a danger this would stray into something bigger. The Government has responsibility here.

"I've been all over the country on picket lines. I went to gauge the mood of people. The anger is building, and there had to be a release valve."

Some suspect the action was mounted because the NBRU simply does not have the financial resources to fund prolonged strike action.

"The big thing here is whether the NBRU will run out of money to pay the striking workers," one Department of Transport source said. "This is an attempt to raise the stakes. They had to do something because nobody was taking any notice."

There is unlikely to be any major comeback for those involved in the wildcat action. One legal expert said it was "unlawful", because union members don't appear to have been balloted to mount secondary picketing. "There is a possibility the union could be sued for loss of earnings," one said.

But they added: "It doesn't tend to happen, it's a pretty nuclear option, but there is a vulnerability."

The Government refuses to get involved, with Taoiseach Enda Kenny calling on both sides to negotiate and saying the State could not prop up the loss-making company.

Read more: 'It's a real trek - and even if I can get a taxi, I won't be reimbursed'

Read more: School transport services for 115,000 under threat with drivers set to hold strike ballot 

Irish Independent

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