Stagecoach - Bus drivers Fightback

In the latest battle for the driver’s seat of Auckland Public Transport Services, the union has made good progress compared with previous strikes. Drivers have so far refused to settle for any of the deals made between union officials and Stagecoach. But they need to do more to win. Drivers have to ‘own’ this dispute!

A Strike Committee made up of rank and file delegates must take over the negotiations. These delegates must be held to their mandate or be replaced. The Strike Committee must build mass pickets, get other unions involved, and negotiate from strength! A fightback based on mass unity, militancy and solidarity is the only way to win!

Picketline Solidarity

The combined unions have built effective pickets – on this strike there were no Stagecoach buses at all on the road –compared with other strikes when the Yellow Bus Co was able to get some drivers scabbing. This time Stagecoach couldn’t organise scabs. Workers were united and no scabs were brave enough to run the picket line! The solidarity was high and there were drivers of many nationalities on the picket line fighting together against the multinational company Stagecoach.

National solidarity

Wellington Stagecoach workers and other Tramways members pledged solidarity and offered financial support. Public support was overwhelmingly high despite the disruption to travel for several days. But this level of solidarity has not yet been enough to win what the drivers want.

The Next Step

Strike committee

All up meetings must elect strike committees to run the struggle, between the all up meetings. Every member must have the right to speak at all-up meetings.
The strike committee must report back to the all-up meetings – and committee members that are not doing what members want, should be recalled from the strike committee. Negotiators must report back to the all-up meetings and provide time for workers to use the open mike to question the progress in negotiations.

All up meetings

It is difficult to organise when workers are so rarely together at the depot. The driver’s work is an individual role driving on the roads. All up meetings of members are vital to plan and organise the fightback. The all-up meeting must be the highest democratic decision making body of the union membership to which delegates and officials are answerable.

“Combined Unions”

As a consequence of past defeated struggles the Tramways union was split. The majority of workers stayed with Tramways while others went to BEES (Bus Employees Enterprise Society), Akarana Drivers Association, and some to the Engineers Union.

Breakaway unions weakened the workers ability to fight.

The BEES tried to find a legal solution without success. Akarana scabbed on previous strikes years ago. Akarana had signed a new contract without referring to the majority of drivers in the union – undermining the Tramways union’s ability to negotiate, and to win a strike. An injury to one is an injury to all – scabbing is an injury to all of the working class. Scabbing divides the strength of workers.

These groups are now re-united for negotiations as well as on the picket line and striking together. But is this unity one of strength or has it just poured polyfiller into the splits between workers? All drivers should be members of the Tramways Union! Those who are not should join now!

Rebuild the union as a fighting, democratic union!

Demand Tramways Union opens the books and declares how much their officials are paid. Officials pay should be on the same scale as workers. We know these officials have political affiliations, including to the Labour party. Opening the books will make all political donations transparent.

Demand all donations are voted on at the all-up meetings.

Build a new union on a new constitution based on:

Open books, recallable officials, a standing delegates committee, and regular all-up members meetings.

Elect all officials at all-up meetings on a show of hands.

Turn mass sympathy into mass support!

Build Strike support

Invite all workers along to support the pickets, especially workers in struggle (nurses, bank workers, Gilmores etc). When we build a mass picket we mean the majority of a working class community coming out to defend the picketline – like the Australian working class did for the Maritime Union in its struggle with Patricks in 1998.  Working class communities can unite around defense of picket lines. Other workers will contribute food and cash as acts of solidarity and drivers need to be open and ready for donations.

Mass Pickets

Through a telephone tree the strike committee can organise mobile pickets prepared to strengthen or set up a picket at short notice in case of any threat to the picket lines. They can also use the mass media to organise – radio stations can be used to send messages around the community, broadcasting a need to strengthen a picket at short notice.

Strike Funds

A task of the strike committee is to distribute a ‘strike wage’ and donations according to workers need. Build a strike committee with support funds, paying a strike wage to workers and organizing real relief within the striking workers. Organise receipt books on the picket lines to account for donations and help distribute them fairly. For a strike committee centre at each depot picketline, and in between strike action and pickets, at the union office.

CTU role

Council of Trade Unions’ president Ross Wilson volunteered to support the struggle by playing a support role in negotiations. This is the job of the strike committee, not a top official committed to building partnerships with the bosses! The CTU should build mass pickets of all union members! Lets see some real support! If striking drivers got regular donations into their strike funds collected from 30,000 CTU members at only $1 each per week – that would make a strike fund! That would be the real sort of practical support that could assist workers to win this fight. Let us see money & muscle, not the mouth coming from the CTU!

International Solidarity

Put the Tramways union website under the control of the union rank and file and use it to make links with the international working class. Stagecoach is an international company. Workers in Sweden and Scotland have also fought the Stagecoach company. Build international links with the unions of these branches. Link your websites and use the International Transport workers’ Federation to make the links. The Public Services International also covers public sector transport workers.

Public Ownership

Taken back under worker’ control, transport planning can end the daily commuting grind. Return the buses to public ownership! No compensation for stagecoach! No subsidies to local, national or international capitalists! For workers councils to run the transport system and organise bus routes and timetables.  

Barriers to overcome are:

Labour Government

In the run up to the election, the Labour party will want to keep a lid on workers struggles. That will mean that union officials who are Labour party members will be prone to selling out, and may need throwing out. Demand that all negotiators are up-front about their party memberships. Be prepared to replace Labour party members in the negotiation team.

Defend workers taking industrial action

When workers take any form of industrial action (eg. refusing to cash in) and are sacked for taking that action, the rest of the workforce must demand any individual victimised is re-instated. Do not abandon individual workers to the processes of industrial law or mediation. The legal road is the bosses road. In Auckland there is a history of individual drivers being sacked and failing to get reinstated along the legal road.

An Injury to One is an Injury to All! When a worker is isolated from other workers they are vulnerable to being picked off by the bosses. Don’t accept any sackings without a workers’ controlled review committee – don’t accept workers being labelled “trouble-makers” by bosses or their lackeys. Do not abandon your workmates, be prepared to strike until victimised workers are reinstated.

Strike Support

Drivers need to organise a community strike support committee. Working class communities can rally around in defence of our fellow workers and public services – a recent example was the support committees at the fire stations, when the fire fighters were in struggle. A weakness of striking workers has been the type of go-it-alone “staunch unionism” that is not ready for support and help from other workers.

Workers strength is other workers, we need to communicate with one other.

Ritchies' drivers

The NDU covers Ritchies' workers, however this group of workers has already settled for a lower rate (see box). This divides Auckland’s bus drivers and weakens the fight against Stagecoach (and the council funders). Drivers’ needed to communicate so as not to undermine each other. The Labour law gives opportunity for Multi-Employer and Multi-Union Collective Agreements (MECA’s and MUCA’s). Workers need to unite in one driver’s union – under one banner.

Drivers Unite to Fight For

  • A Strike Committee, Mass pickets, A strike wage, Regular donations into strike funds
  • A community led strike support committee - Unite to fight!

  • A living wage! No broken shifts: workers control of shifts and rosters!
  • A 4 day (32 hour) working week. Social wages – free & quality education and healthcare. Return buses to public ownership, without compensation, and under workers control.
From Class Struggle 61 May-June 2005

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