Striking during Centenary derailed support for Luas workers

While the Luas strikes have been an ongoing background piece for the last few months, the decision of the Luas drivers to strike during the 1916 centenary commemorations has pushed them to the controversial forefront of public opinion.

In a poll by the Journal.ie asking: should the Luas drivers be striking on Easter Sunday and Easter Monday? The answer was a resounding ‘no’. 65% felt it was disrespectful and unfair to the public, while 24% acknowledged they had a right to strike but still felt it wasn’t right to strike during the occasion. Only 8% of the poll answered positively.

This tactic, to strike on an important date, raises two questions. Has this been effective in other situations, and, does public opinion matter to these unions?

In November 2014 Mauerfall German train drivers, a 20,000 member union operating within Deutsche Bahn, commenced a 4-day strike action. It was billed to be the longest in German rail history and would hit Berlin during the 25th anniversary celebrations of the fall of the Wall. Like with the Luas drivers and Transdev, there had been attempts to negotiate a compromise but the union sought collective action when their full list of demands was not met.

As in Dublin, people’s opinion towards these public transport workers soured pretty quickly. Angela Merkel echoed the Journal.ie poll in saying workers have the right to strike, but that right should be used responsibly. She said there was a “common responsibility” for the union and company to reach a compromise.

Deutsche Bahn sought an injunction against the union to stop this strike, stating it was disproportionate to their grievances due to the level of damage it was doing to both the German economy and the inconvenience done to the German people. This was struck down and the union’s right to strike was supported by the court.

What the GDL did next marks a difference between the Berlin and Dublin situations. Having done their damage to the company in their strikes on Wednesday through Friday and won their case in court, GDL called off their strike early on Saturday. The head of the German train drivers’ union Claus Weselky called this a “gesture of reconciliation”. Where has this gesture been in our situation? There has been none so far, the Luas drivers striked on Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, and are now set to strike again.

November 2014 did not mark the end of GDL’s strike actions against Deutsche Bahn. For the next year Berlin and Germany were marred by occurring strikes and failed negotiations. The people of Dublin may be in for a similar experience if these disputes continue. In light of that the unions in question will need some modicum of public support and some small gesture of reconciliation may go a long way.

Sean Looney

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