25 May 2011

London drivers demand Olympic parity

London’s bus drivers have voted unanimously to demand that mayor Boris Johnson give them the same treatment already agreed for the tube and rail workers during the Olympics. Drivers will have to carry up to one million more passengers during the Olympics, and deal with roads heavily congested by games-related traffic.
Peter Kavanagh from Unite said, “It is only right that some of the money generated by the London 2012 games goes towards rewarding those who will keep the show on the road.” With the current attack on bus drivers’ pay and conditions, it is crucial that workers avoid no-strike deals and retain their full rights to take action—especially when the employers are vulnerable.

24 May 2011

Dundee drivers may strike again

Bus drivers could take part in further strike action in Dundee as a dispute over an increased working week continues. This comes as National Express Dundee revealed it is investigating what happened during the industrial action last week.
The drivers walked out on Thursday over a change to their conditions, and the suspension of their union representatives. Although the drivers returned to work on Friday, the issue of an increase from a 40 to a 43-hour working week has still not been decided with management. It is understood this could lead to the Unite branch balloting its members for further strike action in the future. The pair who were suspended over the initial wildcat strike have yet to be reinstated to their jobs.

23 May 2011

Background to Dundee wildcat strike

A woman with a family member employed at the Dundee depot has said bus drivers are being victimised and spied on. The drivers have taken exception to representatives from Birmingham coming to Dundee, shadowing staff and noting "petty" grievances.
"They put people on the buses this week from Birmingham and they are spying on the drivers," she said.
"It is victimisation and absolutely disgraceful planting these people on these buses and taking notes on how the drivers operate. "It is hard enough what bus drivers have to put up with due to roadworks making them run late and abuse from customers... It is an absolute disgrace what they have to put up with."
She was also critical of the shifts being operated, saying that, while there might be a 10-hour break between drivers getting in their cabs, they aren't getting 10 hours' rest. The concerned relative explained that when a driver finishes work, he or she has to get home, get to bed and then get up and get to work for the next shift. "The shift pattern is an absolute disgrace," she said. "Half the time they are exhausted."

Wildcat strike at National Express Dundee

Hundreds of rush-hour commuters were left stranded on Thursday evening after National Express Dundee bus drivers staged two wildcat strikes in one day, bringing chaos to the city.
Only school services and a handful of buses completed their routes in the afternoon, leaving lengthy queues at dozens of bus stops around the city. The impromptu strike began in the morning in a dispute over terms and conditions, but gathered pace in the afternoon after two drivers' union representatives were suspended for what National Express claimed was "unauthorised" industrial action, which The Courier understands involved using the company's radio system to call in drivers.
It is understood the dispute began after National Express Dundee said the working week is to increase but for no additional pay. Following talks with Unite branch chairman Rob McKelvie, drivers agreed to end their walkout after just 20 minutes.
However, after management decided to suspend Mr McKelvie and another union representative, drivers were given a second call to drop off their passengers and return to the company's East Dock Street base. By 3pm, around 40 drivers had formed a picket line at the entrance to the depot on Peep O' Day Lane and cheered each returning vehicle as it passed through the gates. Two hours later, it was estimated that all but a handful of the 80 to 90 buses that were supposed to be on the streets of Dundee were instead parked inside the depot.
Drivers did not want to speak to the press given Mr McKelvie's suspension, but the Rev Allan Webster, Dundee's workplace chaplain, said, "As I understand it drivers were called into a meeting and told about changes to their terms and conditions - going from a 40-hour week to a 43-hour week.
"Two union officials called a meeting with staff which management said was unauthorised industrial action and suspended them. There will be more meetings taking place between management and unions, but everyone wants to see this resolved. There is a lot of anger, which doesn't help the situation."
One driver said, "This has been brewing for a while. They want us to work longer, do compulsory overtime and pay us less if we go off sick."
Another said, "There are loads of things going on just now -- you wouldn't believe the half of it." The driver added, "Drivers are permanently on edge. Some are scared for their jobs."

17 May 2011

National Express challenged by Teamster union

At its AGM, National Express's board was quizzed over its perceived hostility to union representation in its American school bus division. The AGM was conducted in a media blackout.
Members of the Teamsters union flew in from the US to complain that local managers told workers "you do not need a union to represent you". One bus driver, Gina Beck, said her normal working day on the group's Durham school bus subsidiary consisted of leaving home at 3.30am and not returning until 6.30pm. "I answered a job advert that promised great pay and benefits – but those promises soon fell short, the benefits were few," she said.
"I decided to join with my co-workers in trying to form a union in order to give us a voice and some dignity at work but met with strong opposition from management," she told the meeting in a prepared statement.
The response of chairman John Devaney and chief executive Dean Finch to her comments cannot be reported, however, because the company took the highly unusual step of barring all media from the annual meeting. Any reporter entering the room was ejected.

Egypt: independent bus union flourishes

The Cairo bus workers’ strike, in the week before Mubarak fell, helped take the revolution out of Tahrir Square and spread it across the city.
Bus workers were organising before the revolution—and once Mubarak was gone they turned networks of activists into an independent union. Elected committees represent each bus garage. They can make their own decisions about strikes. Members can easily call their officials to account and recall them if necessary. The reps are closely attuned to the rhythms and moods of the workplace.
The Egyptian state sees the bus workers as a real threat. Ali Fattouh, a leading activist, was summoned for trial at the State Council on 7 May. The case was then postponed until 4 June.
His charges are highly symbolic of the continuity between the old regime and the new military rulers. Ali faces the sack under a charge brought through pre-revolutionary legislation of what we would call “bringing the company into disrepute”. He could also be jailed for incitement to strike under new laws brought in since the revolution.
Email messages of support for Ali Fattouh to menasolidarity@gmail.com

11 May 2011

Fight is on for Abdul Omer

The campaign to reinstate Unite union convenor on Sovereign buses, Abdul Omer Mohsin, has been reinvigorated in the past two weeks—a year after his sacking. 
Workers at Harrow and Edgware bus garages in north London met in the last fortnight and voted to back Abdul Omer’s campaign. In Edgware drivers demanded that no new convenor elections take place until the case is resolved. And in Harrow, drivers agreed to be balloted for industrial action over his reinstatement.
Abdul Omer has fought to get his job back for over a year. His Unite union has consistently stated that he was sacked for his trade union activity. Unite members at Sovereign have already called for a ballot for action in his defence—but no ballot has been organised.
Abdul Omer told Socialist Worker, “I met with Unite officials in February. “I have asked for a serious campaign to be launched by Unite over my case. That should be followed by a consultative ballot on industrial action for my immediate reinstatement.
“Drivers demanded a mass meeting to support my campaign. The response was fantastic.” Abdul Omer has a track record of winning gains for drivers. Since he was sacked, conditions have worsened. Bosses want him to go quietly. “I have no intention of going away,” Abdul Omer added.
The campaign for Abdul Omer’s reinstatement is about the right to organise a fighting union. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey has given his support to the fight. But the battle for reinstatement has dragged on for too long. Drivers have shown that they want to fight for their convenor. It is vital that Unite move quickly to organise a widespread campaign, as quickly as possible, to highlight Abdul Omer’s case, and begin to move towards a ballot that can win his reinstatement.

5 May 2011

Egypt: new bus union faces crackdown

Egypt’s workers have reclaimed May Day as a celebration of struggle and solidarity. May Day was a fake under the dictator Hosni Mubarak, who ruled with the close support of the West until the revolution three months ago. It saw state-run “unions” praising the regime that oppressed and brutally exploited the working class.
But the revolution has changed that. The centrepiece of Monday’s demonstration in Cairo’s Tahrir Square was thousands of members of the new unions that are independent of the state, the bosses—and NGOs. Some of these, like the tax collectors, existed before the revolution, and played an important role in its development. Others, like the bus workers, the rail workers, the postal workers and the teachers, have emerged since Mubarak’s overthrow.
They are asking sharp social questions. Everywhere there are calls for better pay. Many workers get only £40 a month and they are demanding three times that as a minimum. Everywhere there are demands to drive out the autocratic mini-Mubaraks in workplace—managements who were imposed under the old regime—and in some places they have gone.
Hope and freedom are in the Cairo air. But there are formidable challenges ahead. The military remain in charge and are trying to tame the radical elements of the revolution. A key test is the attempt by the state to smash the powerful bus workers’ union. Its leader, Ali Fattouh, faces prison on 7 May if he is found guilty of inciting strikes. 
Please send messages of support for Ali to menasolidarity@gmail.com

Petrol prices boost profits at Go-Ahead

Public transport firm Go-Ahead has reported a surge in passengers numbers as high petrol prices have forced motorists to ditch their cars. The Newcastle-based company, which operates three train franchises - Southern, Southeastern and London Midland - and eight bus companies, said it had seen ‘impressive growth’ across all its businesses.
In the most recent quarter, Go-Ahead said passenger numbers on its deregulated bus services jumped by 7.2 per cent, leading to an 8.3 per cent rise in underlying revenues.
The company's bus services include Metrobus in Sussex, Plymouth Citybus and the Oxford Bus Company. Go-Ahead shares jumped more than 7 per cent following today's update.

3 May 2011

Army used as strikebreakers

Iloilo City, Phillipines
Yesterday the 301st Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army deployed its vehicles to ferry commuters stranded by the transport strike in the city and province of Iloilo. The strike action has been staged by the different transport groups to protest against hikes in fuel prices.
Military spokesperson Major Andrada said the transport strike was being conducted peacefully and he estimated that it paralyzed 60 to 70 percent of public transportation. The military will remain on red alert until the situation returns to normal, he added. The Department of Public Works and Highways also dispatched its shuttle bus and dumptrucks for the two-day strike.

"Let them drive their own buses"

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania 
Passengers for upcountry and neighbouring Uganda, Kenya and Malawi were yesterday stranded for about eight hours at the Ubungo bus terminal in Dar es Salaam after bus drivers began a strike to demand attractive contracts from their employers. Bus departures were delayed as the anti-riot police manned the bus terminal to ensure that there was no physical confrontation between the passengers and drivers.
The drivers blamed their bosses for not employing them on a contractual basis, which was making life difficult for them.“We are tired of the sufferings. I think this is the best option, let them drive their own buses,” shouted one of the irate drivers.
The strike is reported to have spread upcountry, where truck drivers likewise suspended their services demanding new contracts. The go-slow forced the Dar es Salaam special zone police commander, Mr Suleiman Kova, to convene a meeting with leaders of the bus drivers.