RTE News reports that the public servants in the Passport Office who have been involved in the industrial action that has caused massive delays for those wanting to obtain or renew passports were given a standing ovation today at the conference of the Civil Public and Services Union conference in Galway. Clearly the trade unions, fearing that they have been unable to influence events over the past year and in particular to protect the pay and conditions of their public service members, are looking for ways to be more effective at this time. And it is hard to deny that the Passport Office action has been effective. What is less clear is what that effect will turn out to be. Walking past the queues at the office earlier this week I was able to hear some very colourful opinions by members of the public, and it has to be said that these were overwhelmingly negative, mostly unprintable, about the industrial action by the union. There is therefore a risk that the action will actually widen the gulf between the public service workers and other members of society, which is not good for anyone.
I am hoping that talks between the government and the unions will recommence. But I am very sceptical as to whether industrial action can advance the unions’ case right now. I fear that the opposite is happening, and that this may give further strength to the anti-public sector case, including that which has been so damaging to the universities.