‘People power’ as strike action paralyses public services

March 16, 2015

Friday’s day of action brought much of the north to a standstill in one of the biggest public sector strikes in years, affecting health, education and transport.  Schools closed, public transport ground to a halt and medical appointments were affected as thousands of union members stayed away from work in protest against spending cuts and Stormont’s budget.

Bus stops were empty and Newry train station was deserted as Translink workers joined the one-day walk out.  Picket lines formed outside schools across the area as teachers and education staff protested against sweeping cuts and impending job losses.

A decision by Northern Ireland Ambulance Service to declare a major incident in response to the number of ambulance staff striking meant staff who had planned to strike were required to turn up for duty.  With an estimated 60 per cent of accident and emergency workers and 80 per cent of rapid response paramedics having planned to take part in the industrial action, the decision caused deep resentment amongst Unison members. Unison officials said the move taken just two hours before strike action was due to commence had resulted in a “serious loss of good will” among staff.

In Newry, Unite in the Community members held an anti-austerity rally in the grounds of Daisy Hill Hospital in a show of solidarity with the Unions.

The group’s vice-chairman, Independent Councillor Davy Hyland, said protesters were sending a “crystal clear message to the Tories” that “enough is enough”.

“We are sick and tired of your unwarranted attacks on the weak, the unemployed, the sick and the most disadvantaged in our society,” Mr Hyland declared during a rousing speech where he also called on local political parties to avoid being the “implementers of the dirty work of the Tories”.

Congratulating those present for taking to the streets in such great numbers and demonstrating “people power” Mr Hyland said the political establishment’s portrayal of Friday’s strike action as “hurting the ordinary people” was far from the truth.

“The reality is that a stand against these unjust austerity measures and draconian cutbacks has to be taken.  Enough is enough.  The people have spoken.  We cannot and we will not take any more.”

SDLP Westminster candidate Justin McNulty and party colleague Dominic Bradley also joined picket lines across Newry and Armagh on Friday to show solidarity with public sector workers.

Speaking following the main rally at Daisy Hill Hospital, Mr McNulty said the strike had highlighted “the serious risks to local jobs and local services if Stormont continues to implement Tory policy and cut budgets”.

“Workers deserve a fair deal and local people deserve access to the highest standard of public services. To continually cut budgets is putting all our future and our children’s future at risk.  I am out today to how solidarity with our public sector workers and to emphasis that I will fight with them against cuts to the Northern Ireland block grant on the floor of Westminster,” he said.

“We all must stand together to support our public sector and to say enough is enough.”

SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley said it was important that the strong message coming from the strike action was acted upon and reiterated his party’s stance against the austerity budget.

“The SDLP voted against the draft budget at the Executive on 30th October and against the final Budget at the Executive on the 15th January. The SDLP voted against the budget on the basis that it is anti-poor and anti-worker – and these issues must be addressed in any revised budget.”

Meanwhile, it has been reported that a second day of action is planned ahead of the general election on 7th May.