Wellington bus drivers fight back

- Spark Editors

Over the last couple of decades, workers have taken significant hits to their pay and conditions. The last nine years of Labour-led government has seen no significant improvement for the great majority of working people. That’s why some groups of workers, like the bus drivers, have started fighting back.

On 25 September 2008, the bus company Go Wellington locked out all its bus drivers, mechanics and controllers for 24 hours, in response to limited industrial action in support of the drivers’ pay claim. This is the first time that Wellington city bus drivers have been locked out. As this issue of The Spark goes to press, negotiations are continuing.

The Workers Party fully supports the Wellington bus drivers. Workers Party member Nick Kelly was recently elected president of the Wellington Tramways Union, the union of Wellington bus drivers.

Public support for the workers affected in this dispute has been strong. For example, a street collection for the drivers by Brass Razoo Solidarity Band and Workers Party members the day after the lockout raised $260 in less than an hour.

By contrast, there has been little public sympathy for the management of NZ Bus who locked out the drivers, and have constantly lied in the media about the drivers’ pay claims and what drivers currently earn.

Bus driving is a skilled job, especially around the busy and narrow streets of Wellington. But this skill is not reflected in the drivers’ pay packets. Wellington bus drivers start at just $12.72 an hour. The company keeps saying the drivers were greedy for rejecting a 7% pay offer, but as one driver put it at a recent stopwork meeting, “A 7% increase on an hourly rate of stuff-all is still stuff-all.”

The result of the 2008 general election is unlikely to make a great deal of difference to workers either. The only way for workers to fight against poverty wages is to stand together and fight. This is what the drivers at Go Wellington have done. The resolve of the union membership has been to stand strong against the company in the face of threats, intimidation and outright lies.

Members of the Tramways Union, along with the mechanics and shiftmen covered by the Manufacturing and Construction Union, who are on the same collective, have not only issued a challenge to their employers by rejecting low pay offers. These union workers have also put up a challenge to the rest of the working class to stand in solidarity with the drivers in this dispute. Union workers need to be looking at what support and solidarity action they can be taking.

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