Today, as certainly all Irish readers of this blog will know, has been a day of strike action organised by Irish public service trade unions in protest at cuts in funding for public services, expected salary reductions and reductions in staffing. As a result more or less all of Ireland’s public and civil service offices and institutions were shut down, from government offices to schools. Most universities and colleges were also shut, with the exception of DCU and the University of Limerick, where staff voted not to join in the national strike action.
It was impossible to travel anywhere around Dublin today without seeing groups of people picketing workplaces. Some were low key, but many were very active. As I passed Trinity College’s various entrances by car, for example, it seemed to me that there were very large numbers on picket lines, so that access (even if the gates had been open) would have been difficult, and would certainly have required strong nerves.
And even before the day was over, it was announced by the trade unions that another such day was being planned for December 3.
The day of action, and the seemingly strong participation in it, arose from a feeling amongst public servants that they are the victims of mismanagement by others; that government, banks and business leaders behaved recklessly and lost large sums of money, and that those responsible are being protected or cushioned from the consequences and that public sector employees were being asked to pay for all this. Others also believe that the poor are being targeted while the wealthy are protected. A very significant number of posters being carried on picket lines today demanded that the rich should be taxed more in order to resolve the national economic problems.
No doubt the anger, fear and resentment are understandable, and perhaps the day of action provides an opportunity to let off steam and allow people to express their frustrations. Whether the assessment of our problems on which at any rate the picket line posters are based is accurate is rather another matter. According to the Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan TD, 4 per cent of Irish taxpayers provide almost half of all income tax receipts, while half of the country’s income earners pay no income tax at all. As for the public services, the claim now is that pay levels for public servants are substantially above what is earned by public servants in other comparable countries and also above what is earned by those in the private sector in Ireland; indeed the claim is that this was the case even before substantial increases were applied earlier this decade through the process of benchmarking. At two picket lines today I saw members of the public expressing their anger at the picketers in fairly colourful terms.
Obviously, tempers are hot, and there is a sense that the work being done by public servants is not appreciated – and so it seems to me that a process of reassuring them that this is not so is a step that needs to be taken. A situation where both media comment and political actions seem to be suggesting constantly that public servants are exploiting national resources for selfish ends has not been helpful. On the other hand, it is not likely that actions such as today’s will strengthen the position of public servants, at least not if the rest of society withhold their backing and sympathy. The potential of strikes is that they will alienate the general public rather than encourage them to feel solidarity.
This may be a good time for all sides to think again about their tactics.Explore posts in the same categories: economy, politics comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.