On the morning I started writing this article, I was lying in bed listening to the rain and thinking I’m glad I don’t have to get a bus today. I work from home most days, but the bus strike has affected me as well. I’ve had to cancel meetings and on Cultural Night I walked to, fro and around town. I ended up with bloody legs from walking so much. True story. So, those of you that have to struggle to find the means just to get into to work have my sympathy. After a while, a public transport service is something you just take for granted. When this is taken away, it can cause enormous problems.
Then there is the economic impact. Some retailers have reported that their takings were down between 35-60%. This is an added financial strain that these already under pressure retailers could do without. With a further 11 strike days planned next month, is there any reason a long suffering public should support the bus drivers and their unions? Yes.
Before I get into the reasons why people should support the strikes, let’s talk about the media’s narrative on this and strikes in general. I often hear people criticise bus drivers over issues that have no relevance to them. For instance, the conditions members of the medical staff work under, particularly junior doctors. This has nothing to with bus or Luas drivers. I think the assumption is that if junior doctors can work under dreadful conditions everyone should just get on with it. This is like saying a woman that gets beaten up by her husband every weekend should not go to the Gardai because a woman down the road gets beaten every night. You are not ‘allowed’ complain about your own issues if it is deemed somebody else is worse off than you. You would think that in a country that nearly had its cultural totally eradicated would want to challenge these narrow, patriarchal views a bit more. How are we ever going to move forward as a society if we take the old fashioned approach of anytime some bad fortune befalls a person that it has been divinely ordained?
We should expect this given who runs the media in this country. Most of the biggest selling papers belong to either Denis O’ Brien or Rupert Murdoch. I’m not going to say that there is a neocon conspiracy out there, but O’ Brien and Murdoch are not going to allow their publications produce stories that will hurt their interests. People standing up for themselves challenges the status quo. RTE, even though it is heavily funded by ordinary citizens, does not give its audience a full account of the facts. Consider the Irish Water protests for example. The protests had been going on for at least a couple of years before RTE ever mentioned them, and when they did, they lied about the number of protesters. So much for fair and balanced independent journalism.
What Dublin Bus drivers are asking for is not excessive. They are looking for a pay increase of 15% over the next three years, which is something most unions are looking for too, and the 6% agreed upon but they never received. This has to be taken in the context of constant fair hikes. The fares had increased by 8% between 2010/15, but the bus drivers’ wages have depreciated by 13%.
The cuts really play a massive part in this. The Government cuts have led to unsafe working conditions. A few years back, a bus hit a bridge because the proper maintenance was not done on a bus and its anti-roll mechanism failed to work. Part of the the unfair conditions are the savage work hours. Some bus drivers have worked in excess of 60 hours and this has been an influence in some accidents, like those with the Luas. Also, many drivers, and some have been at the company for years, are unaware of the hours they will work until the night before. Is this fair?
No, it isn’t. The cuts play a huge part in the conditions and the cuts were brought in, like Irish Water and many unjust taxes, to cover the banking bailout. In this time, bankers’ bonuses have increased. Who wouldn’t be upset?
No other European country would accept working conditions like this. Why should we? When I get on a bus I would like to know that the bus drivers are relatively happy in their working conditions. Because I’m not a dick. There is also a practical side to all this too, even if you’re not too keen on bus drivers. These cuts have led to unsafe conditions, for driver and passenger alike. Surely this must interest those customers that are against the strike. The buses are unsafe.
Too often we turn our back on those that have legitimate grievances. Look how unhappy Irish society is. Mass demonstrations and strikes. And Dublin Bus drivers have suffered their share of this too. How much are we willing to put up with as a nation? Everyone should get behind this strike because they are only looking for what is fair.