it happened after much sabre rattling. Bus workers
in Ulster went on strike, legally for the first time
in over ten years.
between the company and the unions broke down, and
even Translinks last minute appeal to the courts
failed. So on Friday 17th October, instead of the
usual dawn chorus of sixty-three 23.000cc diesel engines
firing up coughing out their poisonous fumes over
the Falls Park we had the sound of silence.
for many working class people in Ulster the price
of silence was expensive. Unable to get to work or
get their children to school many people were forced
to take a day off work and many thousands of students
were forced to miss school, although not all were
disappointed with the bus workers strike. For the
socialists parties it was as if all their Christmases
and birthdays had come at once: 'a strike and the
opportunity to talk to workers on the picket line,
sell them a paper and sign them up for the revolution.'
After driving a bus for thirteen years I could have
told them they were wasting their time. Odds on they
didnt sell a paper.
to the local news reports, many people held the drivers
to blame. But nothing could be further from the truth.
The only people who should be held to blame for the
misery caused by the industrial action is the union
officials at ATGWU and GMB and Translink.
Unions have manipulated the workers and have pushed
through the easiest industrial action option, a one-day
strike without an overtime ban, which means the passengers
it was intended to target, the students who travel
home from the universities and colleges on Fridays
will travel home on the Saturday instead.
I were still a bus driver I would be asking the union
officials why they did not call an overtime ban and
a work to rule. The drivers would have their flat
week to live on, 'instead of losing one fifth of their
wages and worse if the dispute escalates and just
before Christmas.' And an overtime ban would keep
the public on board. Translink would lose all their
private hire, 'all the W.I and church shopping trips
to Dublin ect,ect.' And there would be abandoned buses
causing massive traffic congestion in every town and
village in N.I.
Chairman of the Citybus branch ATGWU deliberately
mislead bus workers by claiming that the European
directive on driving time will affect the drivers
European Working Time Directive was introduced in
1998. Many workers hoped it would mean the end to
backbreaking hours. Britain is the only country that
allows workers to sign individual opt-out clauses.
Under pressure from the bosses New Labour exempted
some groups of workers from the legislation altogether.
These included transport workers. It took until 1
August this year to end the exemption, and the opt-out
clause still means these workers are caught in the
trap of working long hours. Junior doctors will have
to wait until 2009 before the 48-hour working week
law covers them. Britains opt-out clause is
due to be reviewed next year. Already bosses are lobbying
to make sure New Labour keeps it. They want to continue
getting away with low pay to force workers into overtime.
John Cridland, deputy general secretary of the CBI
bosses' club, defended this 'flexibility' last month,
saying, 'overtime is the icing on the cake for the
majority of workers-they love it.'
bus workers should remember that their full-time official
has a salary of £36.000 and a free car. He wont
be going without this Christmas. A series of one and
two day stoppages is dramatic, but as last Friday
proved the travelling public can cope with that type
of action. And the bosses are able to point the finger
of blame at the workers.
union officials know a one and two day stoppage will
hurt the bus workers more than the translink bosses.
Workers think of your families - an overtime ban and
work to rule will hurt Translink more than you. They
will have to force the issue, you will be the good
guys, and the public will see what a bad employer
I think of the drivers and their struggle, a struggle
against their bosses, not helped by union bureaucrats
and careerists, an old adage comes to mind: 'Keep
your enemies close and your friends closer.' And remember
the sacked Belfast International airport workers.
And who was their fulltime ATGWU official?
as an afterthought, will the unions refund the drivers'
union dues during the dispute?
writer is a former City Bus driver
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