Ireland's public transport workers saved us this week — remember that next time they strike 2 years ago

Ireland's public transport workers saved us this week — remember that next time they strike

On an October Wednesday in 2017, more than 100,000 Irish commuters were affected as Irish Rail staff took strike action following years without a pay increase.

Public transport strikes have been a recurring story in the Irish news over the past two years. Employees of Luas, Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann have also resorted to industrial action over what they feel is insufficient compensation for their work.

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Given the arterial importance of public transport workers to the functioning of any modern society, the inconvenience caused by a strike of any branch of Ireland's public transport often has disastrous consequences for workers, businesses and entire industries across the country.

A common theme throughout each strike has been a vast outpouring a public anger directed towards the striking workers from certain members of society. Many beat their chests in agreement when Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary said of Luas drivers that it "takes about two-and-a-half nanoseconds to learn how to drive a tram", and asserted of the striking drivers that he "would have sacked the whole lot of them."

Indeed, before he became Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar promised that if chosen for the office, he would introduce legislation to prohibit striking in "essential" areas of the public sector, an announcement which raised the hackles of many in the public sector unions.

But it seems paradoxical that a worker can all at once be acknowledged as "essential," yet prevented from using traditional means of industrial action in order to better his circumstances. After all, once the snow starts coming down, it isn't the TDs or their six-figure advisers who'll give you a piggyback from Dublin home to Dundalk or from Portlaoise to Cork.

Of course, on a Wednesday in February 2018, the attitude towards Ireland's public transport workers was seismically different. After all, it's harder for bankers and solicitors and doctors to gripe about the demands of bus drivers and train conductors when they've to travel 20 miles or more but don't fancy taking their Merecdes-Benz out on the ice. It's easier to recognise the contribution of Iarnród Éireann's most dedicated when they're clearing frozen spots on the track so that they can get your son or daughter home from their university halls half the country away.

It's not often that Ireland will be snowed under as it is this week, but on those rare occasions when we find ourselves in an emergency, we're left in the hands of public servants who yesterday proved again and they will do their utmost to keep the country running smoothly — despite very real risk. Trains and buses ran throughout most of February 28, despite the fact that Met Éireann issued a Status Red weather warning that came into affect at 5am that morning. On a day when driving was downright unsafe, these lads proved themselves the heroes of the story (though they perhaps share that title with Ireland's breadmakers, many of whom have since likely collapsed of exhaustion.)

Thankfully, the plaudits that Ireland's transport workers have received on social media have come in no small measure. Many have noted that services like Irish Rail also came to the rescue during the fatal Storm Ophelia towards the end of 2017.

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While it's entirely appropriate in the moment that there should be a deluge of gratitude for the efforts of Ireland's public transport workers, it is now incumbent upon the Irish public to remember this week the next time we hear a voice on the TV or the radio reminding us how long it's been since our train and bus drivers have had a pay increase. It's incumbent upon the Irish public to remember that the next time Minister for Transport Shane Ross tries to wash his hands of an industrial dispute, it wasn't him who got our midwives and our doctors and our pharmacists to work and back on a rickshaw during Storm Emma.

It's incumbent upon the Irish people to push back against any possible future legislation that would curtail the rights of workers that come through for the country when we need them the most.

The efforts of Ireland's public transport workers throughout Storm Emma were a reminder, because apparently one is so sorely needed, that without people to drive buses and trams, conduct trains, and clear the roads, vast swathes of the country would be left standing, stranded, frozen-toed in the snow. And not just this week, either.

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