Belfast Telegraph

As walkout creates chaos, we ask: Should strike have gone ahead?

By Staff Reporter

Yes: My first point is that 20,000 jobs are due to go as a direct consequence of the Stormont House Agreement and our public services are already under severe pressure and can barely cope.

After the general election, Northern Ireland MPs will be pivotal and they need to go and get a better deal out of Westminster than they have done since the Good Friday Agreement.

I was based in Belfast for the strike action but from reports across Northern Ireland there was massive support from union members and the public and all the rallies went extremely well.

The turnout in Belfast was particularly impressive and an online poll showed that 83% of people - both union members and the public - supported the industrial action.

We feel certainly there is overwhelming support from the public, saying they understood why the unions have taken their action and it's time our politicians stood up and stopped their political bickering.

The strike is just the beginning of a campaign of action and unless those in the Executive wake up and smell the coffee they will face further action. The strike is just the start of this campaign and from talking to my own and other union colleagues we certainly believe we have our own members and the public behind us and we will continue to take our challenge to the Executive and those standing as candidates in the forthcoming Westminster general election.

  • Bumper Graham is assistant general secretary of Nipsa

No: So the strike went ahead yet the peculiar thing is the evidence suggests most union members agreed with me that it shouldn't have. How so?

Figures suggest that in two cases, unions went on strike with votes from less than a fifth of membership. In Nipsa's case, it appears the figure supporting strike action was barely 10%.

Support for other options, notably for work-to-rule, was also significantly higher.

Thus the strike was the extreme option with relatively little overall support. Most marked of all was that the number of votes cast, as a share of membership, was very low.

The level of disruption of course was very high.

One reason for little interest in voting on action was surely the lack of clarity of the goal.

If the objective was indeed "tax dodgers", it seems unreasonable to take action which impedes law-abiding taxpayers.

If it was "to tell the politicians", it seems odd that politicians who voted through the Assembly Budget at every stage were allowed to join.

If the objective was to "fix democracy", it seems strange that the action was based on such a low democratic mandate.

The unions could gain public sympathy by engaging in transparency themselves. If concerned about finances, let us see the salaries and benefits of trade union leaders.

If concerned about democracy, let us see what share of each union membership voted at all.

If concerned about the Budget, let us see their plans.

By making such move, the unions' leaderships would be making a significant step towards real influence over public discourse and political debate.

  • Ian Parsley is a commentator

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