Article from the October 2005 edition, the Socialist
paper of the Socialist Party, the CWI in Ireland.

ESB dispute

United action needed to stop privatisation

By Councillor Mick Barry
SEPTEMBER'S THREE-day ATGWU network technicians' strike at the ESB is likely be a sign of increased industrial volatility at the company as the countdown to privatisation advances.

The first ESB strike in 14 years took place when the ATGWU, representing 1200 network technicians, placed pickets in protest at the privatisation of work outsourced to private contractors.

More than 1700 outside technicians now work for the company and although ESB's agreement with the private operators ran out 18 months ago, the company was clearly planning to increase their role.

Scandalously, instead of supporting the ATGWU's action against the use of private contractors, Siptu and TEEU officials called on their network technician members to pass pickets! Despite this scandalous action, the first day of the strike saw cross-union support for pickets at rank-and-file level. ATGWU power station workers issued a statement that they would show a "positive approach" if asked for solidarity action.

TEEU officials went all-out on day two to get their members across the picket lines. There were still whole areas of the country where they failed to do so. However, with many pickets being passed and a vicious media offensive, the strike began to weaken. To a significant degree this was due to the strike not being prepared properly. ATGWU Regional Secretary Brendan Ogle had shown a willingness to fight but had not prepared the ground sufficiently with a full discussion among the members about the issues, strategy and tactics. When the ICTU leadership stepped in and applied further pressure, the strike was called off in return for negotiations on the disputed issues.

ESB linesman, picket organiser and Socialist Party member Dave Keating sums up: "Although the strike should have been better prepared, it can act as an important warning shot to the ESB. The ATGWU meeting in Cork which was attended by both technicians and power workers is unprecedented and significant. There will be other big hurdles on the road to privatisation including continuing price rises for consumers and a 2% rise in workers' pension contributions in return for an end to fixed pensions and pensions being dependent on the fluctuations of the market.

This strike could be the first of many battles against outsourcing and a worsening of conditions as they attempt to move us down the road that the Irish Ferries workers have been forced to go down."

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