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Boost for nurses’ campaign April 30, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Health, Irish Labour Party, media, Media and Journalism, Progressive Democrats, Sinn Féin, Trade Unions.

While most of us are focused on the elections, and the announcement yesterday that the longest election campaign in history now has an end date, the nursing unions will be immensely buoyed by a report in today’s Irish Times (Sub required) that shows that 65% of voters back their demands for a 10% wage increase and a 35 hour week.

Even better, a clear majority, 58% of voters, also back industrial action in pursuit of their claims. Even with the general instinctive sympathy towards nurses that exists in Irish society it is staggering to see people not just support their campaign, but support the use of industrial action to achieve the objective. I can’t remember an opinion poll that showed support for strike action in a long time and it’s a far cry from the public’s reaction to the ASTI dispute, with which it has some similarity.

Much as with the ASTI, the nurses have enjoyed the experience of being repeatedly kicked in the face by the media. The Evening Herald and the Irish Daily Mail have been sticking the boot into the nurses Work-to-rule campaign, now in it’s fifth week, on an almost daily basis with harrowing tales of callous nurses sneering as old people gasp for air on the hospital floor and so on. Newstalk’s Claire Byrne has given them a hammering in her column for the Tribune and on the airwaves. The more ‘liberal’ papers have pushed Benchmarking as the solution.

While on a local level the lunchtime protests by nurses outside the hospitals, suspended now while negotiations are underway and due to resume tomorrow, have been attended by Government and Opposition TDs and candidates, so far Sinn Féin is the only party to give the nurses wholehearted support. Labour’s instinctive sympathy for the nurses and desire to put the boot into Harney over this is blunted by their need to keep the SIPTU/ICTU leaderships onside.

Beggs and O’Connor are worried that the end-run by the nurses has the potential to undermine Partnership and the Benchmarking process. As SIPTU Nursing President Mary Durkin put it at SIPTU’s National Nursing Convention in Castlebar at the start of the month, “The pay anomaly which exists between some staff nurse and childcare workers can be dealt with through the Benchmarking process, in my view….this round of Benchmarking should rectify that anomaly.”

Interestingly, SIPTU went so far as to issue a clarifying statement last week in an effort to correct various unspecified ‘misunderstandings’ that had appeared in the media.

So Labour’s hands are tied a little on this, but from the polls, 71% of their supporters, and 79% of Sinn Féin’s, back the nurses. In fact, majorities of voters backing every party bar one back the nurses and there will be no prizes for anyone guessing that it’s the Progressive Democrats. So despite the fact that our political leaders have, for the most part, not been backing the nurses, or in some cases actively opposing them, the nurses retain massive public support.

And they’re likely to need it. According to the Times again, the talks between the unions and the Health Service Executive Employers Agency are at an impasse, with the reduction in hours believed to be the main stumbling block to a resolution. If the nurses have to back to the picket line, it will be interesting to see how solid their support remains, and whether much like the ASTI, they will be abandoned by the other unions and their political leaderships.

And on a slightly related note, congratulations to all who turned out for the May Day march yesterday in Dublin. Turnout was about twice as big as last year and it was clear that the boys and girls of Liberty Hall and Parnell Square actually put some effort in this year, even if they designed some of the least eye-catching posters in Europe to publicise it. There are pictures up on Indymedia.


1. Ed Hayes - April 30, 2007

The ICTU will be among those slightly unnerved by this level of support. They are worried that the INO will destroy partnership and privately believe that Doran can’t ‘control’ his membership. Maybe he can’t but surely militant union memberships are a good thing? Clare Byrne, (wonder how much she earns) isn’t the only media type attacking the nurses. Eoghan Harris was praising Harney for standing firm last week and imploring the nurses that there was more to public service than money. Rich, coming from some one who again, I would guess, earns more than any nurse and has never done a day’s public service in his life. BTW hadn’t a clue that the Mayday event was on yesterday.


2. franklittle - April 30, 2007

I doubt you were alone in that.

The details were put up on Indymedia (http://indymedia.ie/article/81659) and they had some posters up on commercial hoardings, but the posters were terrible things with very small print.

More than five feet away from it and you wouldn’t know what it was for. See it here: http://www.ictu.ie/html/news/May%20Day%202007.pdf


3. chekov - April 30, 2007

Good post – I wrote about the media’s treatment of the nurses in this months village (which is out on thursday btw). One of the interesting things is that almost across the board, the media was reporting that the nurses had lost public support – even in the first week of the dispute – and it was all based on… media reports!. Now, five weeks later, we have the very first bit of actual evidence and despite the fact that support normally lags during industrial disputes that drag on, they have overwhelming support.

The media coverage was pure mendacious propaganda – but that’s what should be expected from the fifth estate whose raison d’etre is to serve as the PR wing of the ruling class.

Also, I was at the mayday march and while I’d agree that the DCTU publicity was terrible, at least they tried – they’ve probably got very little know-how anymore when it comes to organising public events, so I wasn’t particularly surprised that they didn’t get it quite right. I still think that, if SIPTU wasn’t so tied into the partnership process and had more of a broad and non-sectarian view, they could have turned the mayday march towards support for the nurses and got thousands out.


4. franklittle - April 30, 2007

Look forward to the piece in the Village, I always find the media monitoring stuff you do very interesting.

On the May Day march, while is was organised under the DCTU umbrella, my understanding is that 90% of the work was done by ICTU Youth. Still,as you say, better than previous efforts.


5. Mark P - April 30, 2007

so far Sinn Féin is the only party to give the nurses wholehearted support

The only major party perhaps, but it goes without saying that the Socialist Party, and the smaller left parties, also give them full support.


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7. franklittle - May 1, 2007

“…it goes without saying that the Socialist Party, and the smaller left parties, also give them full support.” – Mark P

Sorry Mark, it was an inadvertant slip and I should have included the SP. As for the ‘smaller left’ I think there has to be a cut-off point where it doesn’t make any difference what their position is.


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