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September 29, 2008 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

President’s Column

Go Wellington have called off their lock-out of the 300 or so bus drivers. This is an amazing feat. A lockout is the ying to a strike’s yang. This has been building up for a number of years, with various bus managements incompetently antagonising the drivers.

Currently they receive $12.72 as a starting rate. This is the way in which we respect one of the key components of our mass transit system. Think about that next time a driver’s grumpy or short tempered. In my experience that’s not very often anyway.

The company restructured drivers’ timetables recently, cutting down their available overtime cutting average incomes by 19%, and it’s been the overtime that has allowed drivers to sustain an income to support their families. The excessive requirements to work long hours may provide financially, but this cannot provide socially.

These drivers have been in negotiations since April with little movement. 7% was offered, but for a bunch of people on $12.75 7% is shit all. Stagecoach/Go Wellington/NZ Bus/Infratil have displayed an arrogant disdain towards drivers and the wider public transport infrastructure. Buses are a core component of Wellington’s infrastructure and drivers should be reckoned as the determinant. Yet management are either blind to this or arrogant in their disregard. You have a call to make on profit or reinvestment. It becomes tighter and more difficult to placate both parts, capital and labour. But capitalism wins.

The same decision making process occurred with Unicomm, given a choice to reinvest profits or expropriate them to meet targets. Targets were met over the well being of students. In the process of capital accumulation and reinvestment, it is the human capital that is able to be skimped on. You can only build buses so cheap, you can only build walls so thin, as was found out at Unicomm. It’s the service provided to students, the lack of any sort of empathy or management support or compensation when issues were raised. A wall needs to be fixed if it’s broken, but Unicomm got away for a while with giving away ice cream. Go Wellington have got away with their profit creation through keeping the wages of the drivers down and keeping them beaten.

On Tuesday the Tramways Union gave notice for short-scale industrial action lasting an hour. That night they were informed that the drivers would be locked out on Thursday. After a stopwork meeting on Wednesday, it was a go. Thursday morning brought security guards and an expectation that the company could again lay its blame on the drivers. Unbelievably they could not see the latent support that was building back against Go Wellington and in support of the drivers. 300 odd drivers took part in pickets on Thursday, I was proud to be among them, giving back the support they provide to students in a number of fundamental ways. By 5pm the company realised the mistake they had made in locking out the drivers and in just 24 hours had revoked their lockout notice. The drivers have no pay increase though. Go Wellington have made their “final offer” and yet are demanding that the bus drivers come to the table to “negotiate”.

It is important in this instance that we realise and remember that we are part of this fetish notion of a “market”, as labour power capital and the basis of our economic system, we have power. While we provide the creation and production of values into the “marketplace” we are last in line to receive the benefits. In both the instances of Unicomm and the bus lockout. We have stood up and fought back. In situations like these, any fightback needs to be brought off by those in power in both open and underhanded ways. The $100,000 or so given to Unicomm residents was a recognition of their latent ability to fight back. The folding of Go Wellington in their calling of off the bus drivers lockout was the same.

We can’t keep just reacting and fighting back however, we need to move to the front foot and take on the system itself, we cannot allow ourselves to be repeatedly taken on, because we lose the majority of the time. We need to fight back. Students have fought back at a number of points and need to build on that. There are encouraging signs of that fighting spirit.


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