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Interview with striking bus worker in Belfast

category ireland / britain | workplace struggles | interview author Saturday August 18, 2012 22:06author by Sean Matthews - WSM Report this post to the editors

In April this year over 100 bus drivers took successful wildcat action bringing Belfast city centre to a standstill in solidarity with a work colleague who was wrongly suspended by management without using the proper procedures. Independent Workers Union and WSM member Sean Matthews speaks to one anonymous driver from Translink about the action taken, wider working conditions and the possibility of solidarity and resistance in the future.

Standing together in solidarity with your work colleagues showed the company that we will not be walked over, and each one of us will stand shoulder to shoulder to fight for what we believe in and that we won't lie down and accept what is thrown at us.’

Could you tell us why bus workers decided to take unofficial strike action that brought Belfast city centre to a standstill, and what was the response from passengers and fellow colleagues?

The strike was called because a worker was wrongly accused of something in which he did not do. The management went about it the wrong way, he was suspended before investigation, and that is why the strike was called by his colleagues who are represented by different unions and had the support of their union representatives. Fellow colleagues were in agreement with the strike, as they could also be victimised under the same circumstances. Regarding the passengers many of them were not happy, but a lot were in support of the action being taken, as most of them are workers themselves.

Was this over a particular incident or are their wider grievances against management, for example the relations between the union and senior management?

This was over a particular incident, but the way in which management handled the situation at this time disgusted drivers, as they too could be a victim of managerial harassment. This incident was an isolated occurrence, and drivers were regretful that this form of action had to be taken to let management know that drivers won't lie down and take it, and they will fight for their rights regardless of management’s threats.

Do you think this part of a wider agenda from our local politicians and the company to privatise translink services and remove your union?

Personally I think this was a mistake on managements behalf to suspend a driver before an investigation into the matter, this is a reoccurring problem with management regarding drivers. Translink does not back up their drivers over certain matters; they take the public’s perspective on an incident before speaking to the driver in question. In regards to the politicians seeking to privatise the company and eradicate unions within the work place only makes for workers within the company fight harder for their human rights.

Given your wildcat strike action got results and provided a glimpse of what is possible if we act in solidarity, what advice would you have for other workers facing similar issues and what role can a union such as the IWU play in this?

Standing together in solidarity with your work colleagues showed the company that we will not be walked over, and each one of us will stand shoulder to shoulder to fight for what we believe in and that we won't lie down and accept what is thrown at us. We have to fight for our human rights and that the company needs to take this into consideration when suspending any driver without an investigation. We will take wildcat action again if needs be, as the disruption caused by the strike, showed management we are serious when we said we are willing to stick together. If bus drivers can stand in solidarity with their colleague I don't see any reason why other people shouldn't take action against their employers.

Meanwhile statistics revealed by the Office for National Statistics highlight that alomost 1.4 million working days were lost in Britain and Northern Ireland through industrial action last year, the highest total since 1990. There were 149 separate stoppages, with almost twice as many in the public sector as in private firms.

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