31 Aug 2011

El Salvador drivers strike against extortion

At least two bus routes around San Salvador have been hit by drivers striking to demand that the authorities protect them from extortion demands by gangs.
According to El Salvador’s
La Prensa Grafica, the drivers of the 119 route from Chalatenango to San Salvador have all but stopped working for the last week, providing “irregular” service in order to draw attention to their cause. They were joined this week by drivers in Soyapango, a crime-laden municipality in the San Salvador area.
As is the case in much of Latin America, drivers are frequently targeted by gangs. In El Salvador this includes the MS-13, who regularly charge them “protection fees” on penalty of death or injury. 625 bus drivers have been killed since 2006, 29 of whom died in the first three months of 2011 alone. Extortion of buses and delivery trucks is a highly profitable venture for street gangs, because drivers generally carry their day’s earnings in cash on their persons.

Sovereign drivers to work longest hours in London

Drivers on Sovereign buses in London are preparing to fight back against management attacks. New rotas are due to be unilaterally imposed at the company’s Harrow depot this Saturday. They will squeeze drivers’ vital rest and recovery times. This includes meal breaks and shorter breaks between routes—to stretch, go to the toilet and have a drink.
In 2009 Sovereign drivers won a number of concessions over working hours from management through strikes. But management have been clawing back those gains ever since. The new rotas will mean that the firm’s drivers will work the longest hours with the least rest time across all London buses. Drivers’ Unite union reps were meeting management on Tuesday.

22 Aug 2011

Sovereign drivers reject pay offer

Drivers on Sovereign buses have voted by nearly 90 percent to reject a management pay offer. Bosses say their two-year pay deal is good for drivers. But it amounts to a pay cut.
Drivers would get a 2 percent increase in the first year and a 3.2 percent increase in the second. But the devil is in the detail.
“Management want to introduce a new rate for beginners,” Robert Laird, the rep at Edgware garage, told Socialist Worker. “It is unfair. They want to extend the probation period for new starters from six months to one year. And then in the second year they will still not get equal pay, but an ‘intermediary rate’.” New starters at Sovereign are already the lowest paid in London. 
The Unite union will now be organising mass meetings to discuss how to take the campaign forward.

Stagecoach hands £340m to shareholders

Stagecoach has risked the ire of passengers, green campaigners and trade unions with plans to return £340m to shareholders – including an £88m windfall for the brother and sister who founded the group.
Under the shareholder payout, worth 47p a share, Stagecoach's chief executive, Sir Brian Souter, will take away £51m and his sister, Ann Gloag, will earn just under £37m. The announcement comes just days after commuters learned that they faced the highest rises in rail fares since the industry was privatised in the mid-1990s.
Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT trade union, said: "If anyone wanted concrete evidence that transport franchising in the UK is a licence to print money, then here it is. This is a third of a billion pounds stripped out of transport services and dumped straight into the pockets of shareholders rather than reinvested in services." 
Revenues at the group's rail business grew by 8.4% in the three months to end July while turnover at Virgin Trains, which it co-owns with Sir Richard Branson, increased by 11.1%. 
Last year Stagecoach's rail division, comprised of its two wholly owned franchises, made an operating profit of £48.4m. However, its buses are Stagecoach's biggest profit driver, delivering an operating profit of £153.1m.

12 Aug 2011

Row breaks out over Souter's peerage

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond is at the centre of a row over the SNP Government nominating the party’s biggest donor for a knighthood. Government officials recommended an honour for controversial bus tycoon Brian Souter weeks before he poured £500,000 into SNP coffers. However, a spokesman for Salmond last night insisted there was no ministerial involvement in the nomination process. But a Westminster civil servant has stated in writing that the nomination of Brian Souter “came from the Scottish Government”.

8 Aug 2011

Strike hits prestigious train route

South Africa
Less than a week after the much anticipated Gautrain Pretoria to Johannesburg route was launched, Gautrain feeder service bus drivers are about to embark on a strike today.
Shop steward Vusi Ngobeni said the reason for embarking on a strike was low salaries and poor working conditions. “We have to arrive at our work stations by 4am and most of the drivers don’t have transport to get to work that early. When we asked the company for transport we were told it was not up to them to provide workers with transport to get to work,” said Ngobeni.
He said drivers from other companies earned much better salaries compared to what they we getting. According to Ngobeni, drivers earn just R4600 (£405) per month and they do not get a transport allowance. “They have not included family members on our medical aid. They are cheating us out of our benefits,” said Ngobeni.
A bus driver who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of being victimised said the timing of the strike so soon after the launch of the service was meant to maximise impact as people had responded well to the route. “If we don’t use this opportunity our grievances won’t be heard. We apologise for disruption but we also have children to feed and we can’t do that on a salary of less than R5000,” said the driver.

3 Aug 2011

Unite must throw weight behind Abdul Omer

The campaign to reinstate Abdul Omer Mohsin, the sacked Unite union convenor on Sovereign buses in London, has dragged on for more than a year. The situation has forced Abdul to publicly demand that Unite act in his defence.
The emotional and financial strain on Abdul is enormous. He faces eviction from his home as he cannot afford his mortgage payments.
And Abdul has been hospitalised three times in the past month, diagnosed with a serious heart condition linked to stress. Shockingly, the first hospitalisation came during a union Region Industrial Sector Committee (RISC) in June. Abdul, an elected committee member, was told that he could not raise his case as he is no longer a union member. He was denied travel expenses.
After the meeting, the Unite region sent Abdul a letter stating that his membership subscription was in arrears and he could lose all financial support from the union for his legal fees. This added enormously to his distress. Abdul was around £20 in arrears, not over £200 as claimed.
When Abdul was sacked, Unite argued that it was because of his union activity. It rejected management claims that he had intimidated a witness while representing a worker at a disciplinary hearing.
Unite praised Abdul as a leading militant. His face adorns union posters from the London pay campaign, which was launched with a protest outside Transport for London in 2007. 

Strikes and protests continued throughout 2008. Thousands of drivers took part. At its height the campaign saw drivers at First, Metroline and Metrobus set to strike together. But the threat of legal action saw the union call off the strikes. And they were never put back on. Despite this, in September 2009 drivers occupied Transport for London’s offices to demand centralised pay bargaining. Abdul led the occupation.
In October 2008, Abdul and other activists convinced drivers at Sovereign to reject an appalling pay offer. They voted by 98 percent for a strike ballot and struck in January 2009. But management undermined the union by making a pay offer to drivers individually, and the union, worried about division, suspended the action. Abdul fought hard to get the strikes reinstated.
It was in this context that Abdul was sacked. Sovereign management were desperate to break the drivers’ militancy—sacking Abdul was an opportunity to do so. But drivers wanted to fight. As recently as May, Sovereign drivers voted for a campaign to be launched in Abdul’s defence.
Drivers have rejected moves to elect a new convenor until Abdul’s case is resolved.
Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary, said that Abdul had his “unequivocal support”. But Unite has failed to organise a ballot for action over his reinstatement. At different points there has been confusion over the direction of the campaign. Sometimes the Unite officers handling it have disagreed sharply with Abdul over the way forward. This is bound to happen in a difficult situation where the sacked worker is under enormous strain. But no matter what the disagreements in the past, Abdul deserves support from his union—and the union needs militants like Abdul.
Bus drivers in the capital face serious attacks on their pay and conditions. If Sovereign succeeds in sacking a well-known activist it sends a message to other groups of workers. “I want to be fighting the Sovereign managers who sacked me, not my trade union,” Abdul told Socialist Worker. “There is so much to fight for—I want to be part of that, but that means getting my job back.”
Abdul wants a ballot for his reinstatement, if there is a serious campaign to win it. “We need to put pressure on the company,” he added. “The last year has been incredibly stressful. But if we make my case public we can show that the company has behaved disgracefully. I think we can win. This will mean running a vigorous campaign.”
The London-wide action in 2008 showed that bus drivers are powerful. With the Olympics on the horizon, they are in a strong position to fight management attacks. A campaign uniting bus workers across the capital could turn back the employers’ attacks. Defending Abdul must be a priority for Unite if it is to show the bosses that it means business.

Donations payable to Mr A.I. Omer, Barclays, account 20408859, sort code 20-69-15. 

Copies of Unite branch cheques should be sent to Peter Kavanagh as the union has promised to match donations: Unite, Woodberry, 218 Green Lanes, Finsbury Park, London N4 2HB.

Solidarity messages and donation pledges to Abdul at omermohsin2@yahoo.co.uk