Thursday 20 October 2016

Our bus drivers could learn about hearts and minds from the post office workers

Published 05/05/2015 | 02:30

Siptu negotiator Owen Reidy
Siptu negotiator Owen Reidy

How was the long weekend for you?

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Any plans for a back garden barbecue probably went out the window as the rain bounced off the streets and for many of us, even the prospect of getting the bus into town was also off the menu - not because of the lousy weather but because of the industrial action which meant that you couldn't get a bus into town. Or to the airport. Or, if you managed to get into town, you were probably in for a nasty shock when you discovered that the Nitelink service had also been hit by the strike.

In all, it's estimated that at least 850,000 commuters were adversely affected by the two-day stoppage which was organised by the NBRU and Siptu and ensured that there was no public transport during one of the biggest bank holiday weekends of the year.

Bus drivers are complaining about the proposal to privatise 10pc of the routes and so, with dreary inevitability, the reflexive response of the unions was to strike, and ruin the weekend for tens of thousands of people.

The right to strike is something that's ingrained in our psyche and whenever someone admits that they are opposed to a particular strike, they're invariably accused of being some neo-Thatcherite free market monster who despises the working class.

But who were the people hit the hardest by this piece of industrial action?

That's right - the working class. The people who wanted to get into town to work, but were faced with either losing two days of earnings or having to fork out for a taxi. The shop owners in Dublin, some of whom are down 50pc on their usual takings for the weekend. The people who live in the Dublin sprawl and hoped to get into town to do a bit of shopping or just go for a few drinks with their friends.

Or what about the people who needed the Airlink bus to the airport?

None of the above people qualify as fat cats, or belong to the management classes, or could in any way be described as The Man.

Yet, as always happens in these cases, they were the ones who suffered.

Of course, in the warped pathology of Union-speak, the drivers are the real victims in all of this. That's why Siptu negotiator Owen Reidy was able to hold a straight face when he said: "We regret that management has chosen not to seize the opportunity provided by Siptu to address these issues... our members have been left with no option but to embark on a campaign of industrial action which will cost them financially and cause severe inconvenience to the travelling public which they are proud to serve."

So, they're sorry that they've gone on strike and caused 'severe inconvenience' to everybody else.

But they're not that sorry, not really. And they obviously aren't really that 'proud' of the job they do or the people they serve.

Because how can you possibly accept an expression of regret when the people apologising knew exactly what they were doing?

Frankly, the mealy-mouthed efforts of the unions to try to claim solidarity with the very people they were shafting was almost heroic in its stupidity.

Even better is the fact that they have planned five more days of industrial action throughout the next month, including a three-day stoppage on May 29-31, so at least they seem to be coping with their 'regret' rather well, thank you very much.

If the purpose of this strike was to embarrass the Government, then it has failed spectacularly. If it was to enrage their own customers, then it has been a resounding success. After all, I'm sure Siptu's crocodile tears and expressions of regret weren't much consolation to the tens of thousands of people who spent their weekend cancelling plans or trying to come to new arrangements.

Compare that to another sector of workers who also feel aggrieved at this Government.

The Irish Postmasters Union (IPU) held their conference in Kilkenny over the weekend and they're understandably irate about the continuing closure of rural post offices around the country.

Rather like the bus strikes, the issue of rural post offices is a niche one - if you don't use them you won't really care, but if you do rely on them then it's a massive deal.

So, are the irate posties going on strike? Are they going to issue statements of 'regret' to isolated people who now have to trek to the nearest large town to conduct their business? In short, are they going to deliberately cause as much inconvenience to their own customers as they possibly can?

Not a bit of it. Instead, they've announced that some IPU members are going to stand in the next general election "unless the Government takes the necessary steps to protect the post office network".

That's what you call thinking outside the post box.

The one thing any government hates is being embarrassed on the campaign trail.

On the other hand, strikes which directly impact on the rest of the population serve only to alienate the people and turn them against you and your cause.

So, while the bus drivers may or not have a point, people don't care about the nuances of certain routes being privatised. They only know that they have had their day ruined because of a row that is not of their own making.

The IPU, on the other hand, obviously realises that the best way to get popular support is not to spit in the public's eye, but to get them onside by highlighting their beef without screwing everyone else in the process.

The unions could learn a thing or two from that approach.

But will they?

I won't be holding my breath.

Irish Independent

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