Solidarity with Sydney Bus Drivers

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We are publishing below an article we have just received from comrades in Australia about the recent bus drivers' strike in Sydney.

ICC


On Monday, August 24, 130 Bus Drivers in Sydney staged a wildcat strike in defiance of and denounced by bosses, state bureaucrats and the union alike. The Busways workers at the Blacktown depot in Sydney's west walked off the job at 3:30am, causing the cancelation of peak services in the Blacktown, Mount Druitt and Rouse Hills areas.

The workers' decision to strike was made after a breakdown in the negotiation between unions and Busways management over timetable reform, due to be implemented in October. Facing an economy in ruin and a public transport system in shambles, private bus operators, hand-in-hand with the state government, are attempting to slash costs and impose speed-ups through the proposed changes. Drivers have protested the new timetables arguing that they represent an attack upon drivers' working conditions and will be impossible to meet, impinging upon break periods and putting pressure on drivers to exceed speed limits, putting themselves, passengers and other motorists at risk. "The new timetable means less time to complete our routes. We will run late and be blamed by the public. Because we'll run late, there'll also be less break time", one worker explained. [1]

For months now the TWU (Transport Workers' Union) and the company have been in drawn out negotiations over the new timetables which were unable to come to any positive conclusion. More than this, the TWU has also been complicit in the attacks upon transport workers' living and working conditions in recent years, notably through the various measures of increased ‘flexibility' in conditions. Following the complete breakdown of the negotiations, workers angered by the lack of support from, and outright betrayal by, the union, made the decision to walk off the job without consultation with, and in defiance of, the TWU and Busways management. "We are fed up. We have been through the system to try to get changes and nothing ever happens. We can't get the union to do anything about anything. The purpose of unions was supposed to be to increase conditions, not decrease them", one worker is quoted as saying [1]; another that: "The union blamed the workers for going on strike. We decided that we couldn't wait for the union. The union is only worried about the $60 a month we pay in dues".

The response of the bosses and the union to the strike was to bring it to an end as quickly as possible. Within hours Busways management and the TWU made an about-face, agreeing to further talks over the proposed timetables, drivers making the decision to return to work at 9:30am, after 6 hours, having sat out peak morning services. Despite this decision, drivers expressed their intention to take further strike action if the company refuses to drops its reform agenda. However, these prospects were met with threats of repression and the decision by the Industrial Relations Commission to ban further strike action.

The rapid response of the union to contain and shut down the strike confirms that only by workers taking the struggle into their own hands, as the drivers did, can the defence of living and working conditions be made effective. However, the result of the strike has not yet been victory for the drivers. The renewed round of talks between the TWU and Busways management concluded with an agreement to proceed with the timetable reform as originally planned on the cynical condition of a review conducted by the company after its initiation.

We extend our solidarity to the Busways workers and recognise the strike as an important moment in the context of class struggle in Australia. In response to the bankruptcy of the capitalist system and the attacks upon workers by capital, the working class must gain confidence and strength in itself and its struggle, both in order to defend itself on a day-to-day basis and ultimately, to assert offensively its own class-interests. For this task it is absolutely essential that workers take the struggle into their own hands, and more than this, fight to extend and generalise this struggle. Isolation, such as the drivers' found themselves in - compounded by the hysterical spectacle of denunciation of the "bolshie", "rogue" drivers within the ruling class mass media - is a fundamental cause for the curtailment of the struggle. Only by taking the struggle directly in hand, outside of the union framework, and generalising it across all social, sectoral and geographic divisions, can the working class build the strength necessary to win these struggles.

Nic. 09/09/09


 

[1] - WSWS, Australia: Bus drivers strike in defiance of union, 26/08/09 (http://www.wsws.org/articles/2009/aug2009/wild-a26.shtml)



 

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