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John Downing: 'This dispute will follow the same pattern as all the other ones'

  

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The politics of a big strike - those noises off in the Dáil, newspapers, radio and television - more usually follow the same pattern as the strike itself.

The Opposition piles in behind the aggrieved union, blames "government intransigence", praises the modest demands of the workers, and in vain urges a prompt intervention of the relevant line minister, or even the Taoiseach.

Far-left TDs and Sinn Féin, who like to lay claim to a leftist space, dust down their proletarian 'assassin of the worker' language and pump up the volume. All sides, government and opposition, apologise to the public deprived of services.

Last week, as this stoppage by 10,000 health-care workers originally threatened, there was a sense of passion and drama about it at Leinster House. There followed an 11th-hour intervention and new talks to avert the strike.

Everyone assumed that it was pretty much the last we'd hear about that one. But as talks collapsed, today's strike hurtled at an unsuspecting public.

Thus it was, as that American king of the malapropism and baseball Yogi Berra famously said, "déjà vu all over again". And face it, it's often hard to find passion second time around.

So, let the set pieces begin: Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin urged Government intervention to avoid huge disruption. "The union doesn't trust the Government on the issue," Mr Martin offered.

Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said patients would suffer needlessly from the strike by nursing aides, porters and catering workers. A second stoppage lasting three days is due next week.

Mr Doherty said the staff were low-paid and the entry-level rate for a health care assistant was €28,000 per year. Even with a number of increases due this year, the salary would still not top €30,000 per year.

"So, nobody is getting rich here - the demands of the workers are more than modest," the Sinn Féin deputy said.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar issued the 11th-hour plea to the workers to call off their strike and take their case back to the Labour Court. "The strike is not inevitable - the Labour Court is the next stop," the Taoiseach told Mr Doherty.

Mr Varadkar said this dispute turned on the timing of pay rises already agreed. The money would be paid between now and 2021. The unions want the money delivered faster.

Time ticked on, other topics were broached, and today's strike moved ever closer.

Now we're back to the anatomy of the dispute itself.

Things will get worse before they get better. Patients and their families will undoubtedly suffer. Low-paid workers will struggle with the risk of loss of earnings.

Then there will be a settlement. For the umpteenth time, we'll wonder why it so often has to come to that.

Then cue the next dispute.

Irish Independent