Wednesday 5 February 2020

A day off

Wor abaht the workers?
What about the workers indeed. This worker was down a day's pay and on the picket lines at 0830 yesterday because my Teachers Union of Ireland TUI called a one day strike, towards equal pay for equal work and similar slogans:
It's almost exactly 4 years since we last had a similar demonstration. The timing of the 2016 strike was a political disaster because the government chose that day to announce a general election, and so the strike received zero media coverage. Since we announced our intention to strike, the government called another general election, so everyone is too busy canvassing to pay any heed to an token action by one of the teachers' unions for one day. Middle-class professional unions are long on rhetoric but often unwilling to sacrifice their entitlements in support of the dispossessed.

Thus: “Our campaign will continue until the discriminatory two-tier pay system, unilaterally imposed in 2011, is finally abolished". Now lads, that is not strictly true, the the discriminatory two-tier pay system was not unilaterally imposed but rather signed off by the public sector unions as part of their strategy to minimise the hair cut for their members: they conceded the smallest increase in hours and the smallest decrease in pay. Somewhere along the negotiations in the smoke-filled rooms it was suggested that the government's wage-bill could be reduced if a swingeing 10% cut was imposed on people who were not members of the unions . . . yet. And it was so: anyone who started work in the public service after 1st January 2011 would start on a pay scale, with increments and prospects, that was 10% below that of people who started their contract before 31st December 2010.

Jaysus, that could have been me! I started full-time blob work at The Institute on 1st January 2013. But I made the case that, as I had been on the pay-roll in 2005-2007 for a total of 90 hrs (2/18ths of a salary to teach a single module for a year and a half), I should be paid in 'old money'. Without that I'd have had €20,000+ less to spend on fast cars and foreign holidays. Despite that frisson of empathy, I am not condemning the Unions from their decisions in 2011 - they saw their brief as protecting the interests of their members and that's a major aspect of the reasons for the existence of trade unions. What sticks in my craw is the high moral ground that is being adopted now as if the two tier system is an iniquity rather than an inequality and that it was unilaterally imposed.

But Institutionalised me is only going to blob about this anonymously, rather than confronting the local reps of the Union to ask them what they did in the war of 2011. Human memory has a tendency, almost an imperative, to be selective about events where the memory holder has behaved like a shit or failed to have the good ideas.

Mais revenons a nos grèves! It was not quite a perfect day because it was early morning - it wasn't fully light when I left home - in February: cold but it wasn't horizontal snow or raining stairs-rods. Being the first picket to arrive, I took delivery of a stack of laminated posters from our shop-steward and posted myself on the side of the gate where we would be most visible to the scabs, blacklegs and picket-crossers who came on campus for work or study. This was a bad move because our backs were to a wall which kept the sun off but provided no shelter from a whippy easterly wind. Having taken a semester of environment bio-physics in graduate school, I shifted to the other side of the entrance as soon as the sun came up. That made a big difference. When one of my colleagues chose to sit down on the low stone wall to rest his aged knees, I cautioned him about core body-temperature loss through the contact and shared my Finnish story about using a neoprene mouse-mat as a seat-cover in winter bus-shelters.

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