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Passing pickets… that CPSU strike is causing cognitive dissonance at the Seanad… February 26, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Trade Unions.

Some might have noticed a short piece in the Irish Times reporting from the Seanad debates of the previous day on the Civil, Public and Services Union picket on government buildings, including Leinster House, today.

A wide range of opinions were on show according to the Seanad record, from Independent Senator Joe O’Toole who said:

I note the CPSU will engage in industrial action on Thursday which will mean there will be a picket at the gates of the House. Obviously, it will not prevent Members of the Oireachtas from conducting their business under the Constitution. However, Members of the Oireachtas should show solidarity with those people who oil the wheels of business in this House. I will certainly not pass the picket on Thursday and I would like to hear the Leader’s view on that. I understand there will be a picket outside the gates of the House from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday.

He was joined by Pearse Doherty of Sinn Féin who noted that:

The sitting on Thursday does not deal with any legislation. It deals with statements on the Middle East, which is something we can do after 6 o’clock this evening. I am asking the Leader not to force people to have to make a choice to pass a public sector picket on the gates of this House. That should not be a choice asked of Members of the House or of members of unions in this House.

And step forward an unlikely tribune of a risen people…

Senator Jerry Buttimer [Fine Gael]: I will finish by confirming that I will not pass the picket next Thursday.

An Cathaoirleach: Please, Senator.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: I will stand in solidarity with the ordinary people of Ireland——

An Cathaoirleach: I call Senator MacSharry. I ask Senator Buttimer to resume his seat.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: ——who want leadership.

Bloody hell. Following on from that PJ Stone interview last night on Six One News there’s some strange alliances being formed.

More predictably, perhaps was the contribution of Ronan Mullen, Independent Senator with a very Christian Catholic tinge to his platform…. and perhaps (in the corporatist sense) to his comments…

While I acknowledge that Senator O’Toole and others feel a need to pay their union dues, so to speak————it would be a bad precedent if we were to refuse to pass some pickets while, every other day, we come in and leave other people picketing at the gate. We have a job to do and we sympathise with people in their concerns————but we do not think that striking is appropriate.


While the usually dependable David Norris argued that although:

I respect my colleague, Senator O’Toole, and his decision not to pass the picket line… I will pass it. Last Saturday, I marched in solidarity with the ushers and other officials of the House, but I am paid by the taxpayer to attend and try to address subjects. God knows, we do not meet so often that we could afford to waste one day. I will be in attendance and, while I hope that I will not need to pass the picket line, it will be the first picket line that I will have ever passed. It is what I am paid to do. In this serious situation, it would not be proper for me in all good conscience to stay outside the House.

And from other Senators? Perhaps those of the left? Why not a word… at least not one I could see. Odd that…

Meanwhile I’m told on good authority that this ‘industrial action’ is causing a certain degree of heartache for government representatives whose very place of work will be picketed today. I’m also told that the unions onsite are experiencing a bit of cognitive dissonance. For those unaware of such matters while there are CPSU members in Leinster House, SIPTU is also onsite (as well as a number of members of smaller unions) and since SIPTU and ICTU are not involved the line is that SIPTU members can ‘report to work as normal… but cannot do any work done normally by CPSU members’. I’m also told that word went out that IR legislation only covers those who have balloted and followed the necessary processes.

A big disincentive for any sort of supportive action (or inaction).


1. Wednesday - February 26, 2009

It’s a pity that there wasn’t any kind of joined-up action. I understand that SIPTU staff are sick about this, as they’ve been told on no uncertain terms it is business as usual today.

TDs and Senators can rest easy though as a notice went out to members reassuring them that the bar and canteen facilities would not be affected.

– Wednesday, working from home today


2. smiffy - February 26, 2009

I think it’s more than just a pity. It’s a tremendously dumb move on the part of the CPSU. This action is going to be hard enough to win as it stands, particularly given the overwhelming bias in the media in favour of the ‘Eat your greens, swallow the levy’ brigade.

The only chance of success is through coordinated mass action across the public sector, of the type shown in last weekend’s march. It really doesn’t help if one union jumps the gun and goes out before others have even balloted on action.

That said, it seems to me to be the height of hypocritical hand-wringing for a Fine Gael senator to present a facade of solidarity in the relation to the picket (as opposed to the issues at stake), given that his party is four square behind the attack on public sector workers and have been clamouring for something like the pay cut for years.


3. Mark P - February 26, 2009


I think you have this the wrong way around. It is indeed vital that there is coordinated action. However, the way to achieve that is to put irresistible pressure on the bureaucrats in SIPTU and ICTU, people who have every intention of selling out as quickly as possible. The announcements by various unions that they were balloting for strike action was a key part of forcing ICTU as a whole to ballot for 30th March. It’s not jumping the gun – it’s forcing a reluctant starter to pull the trigger in the first place.

One day’s strike action, whether today or in a few weeks time, isn’t going to be enough to win anything though, and another beneficial element of having some unions move quickly is that it helps create a general sense of crisis in the government’s approach to the public sector and a general sense that the workers involved won’t take these pay cuts lying down.

The bureaucrats are of course still hoping desperately that the government will let them back to the “partnership” table and that they will be able to seize on some pathetic crumb to justify calling off the strike.

I think we can take it for granted, by the way, that a whole number of SF, Green and Labour representatives will have passed the pickets today and will pass whatever pickets are placed in their way in the course of this struggle. This will probably come as a surprise to the people here who continue to peddle the line that these are “left” parties for any meaningful value of “left”.


4. Wednesday - February 26, 2009

I think we can take it for granted, by the way, that a whole number of SF, Green and Labour representatives will have passed the pickets today

The SF representatives are honouring the picket line. Labour are not. I doubt the thought even crossed the Greens’ mind.


5. Leveller on the Liffey - February 26, 2009

Smiffy’s spot-on re Fine Gael. Let’s hope Senator Jerry Buttimer shows the same solidarity when his leader, Leo Varadkar et al pop up on the telly demanding the axing of thousands of public sector jobs.

Re senators passing pickets – I’m sure Ivana Bacik of Labour wouldn’t cross the line, although she does wear an Independent hat in the Seanad.


6. WorldbyStorm - February 26, 2009

I’m in two minds about today’s events. On the one hand I agree a broad generalised protest would be better. On the other no harm for people to get the message that the idea of public sector noses stuck in the trough of high incomes is simply wrong.


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