The Bus Éireann Strike Story
I have a tendency to view both sides of the argument when a strike is looming, as I did with the UK's Southern Rail disaster (that one lasted eight months, so Ireland has a lot work to do if it wants to take the crown of strikes).
Note I originally wrote this about Irish coach company Bus Éireann, whose employees were going on strike over plans to reduce the company's losses. However, you can replace that with the name of any bus company in Europe, especially in the poorly-managed UK and Ireland.
This time I wanted to look at Bus Éireann, and to start blunt: Europe is facing a crisis.
You already knew that. Population structures are changing, and that is putting immeasurable pressure on healthcare, the care system, pensions, and public transport.
In Ireland the issue with transport is very important because Ireland has an obsession with cars. I'm not calling it an "obsession" in a sanctimonious or a negative way: cars are great, if it was practical I'd drive everywhere, however the reality is that areas where people drive are places where the 'have nots' get left behind. And in a country with such large rural areas which can't justify a public transport service, in Ireland the people who rely on public transport are often left a long way behind.
Bus Éireann's issues are more evidence of a political crisis. Sticking with the elderly, when it comes to public transport they tend to use more than they pay. A bus full of people with free passes is, in business terms, money being poured down a train. Our capitalist society does not look out for these people. In the UK, parts of the country with a high proportion of elderly people such as Dorset and Cornwall have seen many companies go bust because there aren't enough paying customers on board.
Bus Éireann relies on state support, and if you're somebody who relies on their coaches, you'll be wanting that to continue. But it would be unfair of us not to mention that there are lots of other industries crying out for government support. Tax money simply won't cover them all, and there are millions of people who don't use Bus Éireann and would happily see its funding diverted elsewhere.
The phrase used in transport circles to describe this scenario is "socially necessary": there are a significant number of people who are dependent on Expressway services, not just the elderly but anybody who can't or won't drive, but simply not enough of them to cover the heavy costs of running a national coach service.
So what do you do? You could increase revenue by charging elderly passengers more. But that will not go down well with such an important section of the electorate. It also seems very immoral.
I'm not writing this to tell you whether Bus Éireann is important to your life or not. You can work that out for yourself. If it isn't, I can understand headlines about it may be irritating when you're more worried about the future of hospitals. But if it is, I beg you to spend every penny you can on the service, and to tell your story loud and clear. It's not just a few cuts that your fighting: cuts to transport services are the start of a slope which sees customer numbers fall and justifies more cancellations.
Finally we come to the most important people in this story. It is not easy for any employee to read speculators' pessimistic predictions for the future of your job. It gets worse when you have to accept you'll be providing your customers with a reduced service. Then you have to accept reduced circumstances for yourself. Maybe I'm wrong, but this time I can't see a case to make against the drivers going on strike. If they were to all quit it would make the government's budget cuts an awful lot easier. Who here wants that as an outcome?