College strikes prove controversial

College ground to a standstill last week as hundreds of Trinity staff took part in a nationwide boycott. Despite sacrificing a day’s pay and disrupting most student services, they were among the quarter of a million protesting against government proposals to reduce public sector pay.

Lectures and laboratory sessions were cancelled as almost all 2,676 staff members decided to say “no way to low pay”. Students were unable to gain access to the Library, Sport Centre, Catering Service, ISS Helpdesk and administrative services. The 24-hour computer room remained open, however, and students entering College were able to cross the picket line unhindered.

Chief Operating Officer Tony McMahon says due to the “widespread disruption” of the strike, the College was forced to remain closed. “Professional advice tells us that the risk to health and safety is unacceptably high,” says McMahon. Tutorial and Seminar Assistants were left in the dark as to whether to hold class meetings, many of which were cancelled just the previous day.

Whilst some strikers decided to spend the day off shopping in Newry, most were rallying on the streets of Dublin, picketing outside Leinster House and Trinity College. Senator for Dublin University Ivana Bacik expressed her support for the strikers and trade union staff, and did not cross the picket line across Leinster House “on principle, and out of solidarity”.

Essential student services such as College Health and Student Counselling remained open for “cases requiring urgent assistance”, according to McMahon. College residents were inconvenienced by the ban on overnight guest arrangements on Monday 23 and Tuesday 24, as issued by the Registrar of Chambers Dr Emma Stokes.

Meanwhile, in University College  Dublin, buildings and services remained open despite the staff shortage. Although the day of action saw a picket line of protestors, students were able to gain access to the Belfield campus. Plans for a university-wide boycott in University College Cork, however, were cut short due to flood damage which has destroyed lecture halls and student houses after the river Lee burst its banks.

Students’ Union Education Officer Ashley Cooke says he believes “Trinity handled the strike in a competent manner”, complimenting the College for “working well to make sure  services for residents on-campus were available”. When asked if the strikes were fair on the students they affect, Cooke comments: “Prior to the strike the Students’ Union spoke to teacher unions to make sure students experienced minimum disruption on the day”.

The Union of Students in Ireland openly expresses its support for the public sector strike. USI President Peter Mannion says he is “urging students to join the strikes organised around the country”.He says the cuts are “a further stifle to the recovery of the economy”.
“The USI represents 250,000 students nationwide. Our students will be tomorrow’s graduates and any changes in pay or working conditions in the public sector will directly affect them in years to come”, says Mannion. According to the USI, a slash of the public sector wage bill by €1.3 billion “will only lead to further unrest among the teachers of Ireland”.

Support for the boycott was not universal, however, as a petition to ‘End Public Sector Strike Action’ was created last week. A Facebook group protesting against the embargo says the strike action is “ridiculous and unacceptable”. Over 100 Facebookers on the TCD network have joined to date.

Teacher unions describe the continued proposals to reduce pay as “beyond belief and without any justification or analysis”. It is understood the trade unions will be organising a strike next week in order to further pressure the Government to maintain public sector salary levels.

“Singling out teachers and public sector workers is unacceptable. An alternative approach to economic recovery must be adopted to ensure the burden is shared fairly”, says Union spokesman Mike Jennings.