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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
The Sound of Silence
Sean Smyth • 19 October 2003

Well it happened after much sabre rattling. Bus workers in Ulster went on strike, legally for the first time in over ten years.

Talks between the company and the unions broke down, and even Translink’s last minute appeal to the court’s failed. So on Friday 17th October, instead of the usual dawn chorus of sixty-three 23.000cc diesel engines firing up coughing out their poisonous fumes over the Falls Park we had the sound of silence.

Only for many working class people in Ulster the price of silence was expensive. Unable to get to work or get their children to school many people were forced to take a day off work and many thousands of students were forced to miss school, although not all were disappointed with the bus workers strike. For the socialists parties it was as if all their Christmases and birthdays had come at once: 'a strike and the opportunity to talk to workers on the picket line, sell them a paper and sign them up for the revolution.' After driving a bus for thirteen years I could have told them they were wasting their time. Odds on they didn’t sell a paper.

Listening to the local news reports, many people held the drivers to blame. But nothing could be further from the truth. The only people who should be held to blame for the misery caused by the industrial action is the union officials at “ATGWU and GMB” and Translink.

The Unions have manipulated the workers and have pushed through the easiest industrial action option, a one-day strike without an overtime ban, which means the passengers it was intended to target, the students who travel home from the universities and colleges on Friday’s will travel home on the Saturday instead.

If I were still a bus driver I would be asking the union officials why they did not call an overtime ban and a work to rule. The drivers would have their flat week to live on, 'instead of losing one fifth of their wages and worse if the dispute escalates and just before Christmas.' And an overtime ban would keep the public on board. Translink would lose all their private hire, 'all the W.I and church shopping trips to Dublin ect,ect.' And there would be abandoned buses causing massive traffic congestion in every town and village in N.I.

The Chairman of the Citybus branch ATGWU deliberately mislead bus workers by claiming that the European directive on driving time will affect the driver’s overtime,

The European Working Time Directive was introduced in 1998. Many workers hoped it would mean the end to backbreaking hours. Britain is the only country that allows workers to sign individual opt-out clauses. Under pressure from the bosses New Labour exempted some groups of workers from the legislation altogether. These included transport workers. It took until 1 August this year to end the exemption, and the opt-out clause still means these workers are caught in the trap of working long hours. Junior doctors will have to wait until 2009 before the 48-hour working week law covers them. Britain’s opt-out clause is due to be reviewed next year. Already bosses are lobbying to make sure New Labour keeps it. They want to continue getting away with low pay to force workers into overtime. John Cridland, deputy general secretary of the CBI bosses' club, defended this 'flexibility' last month, saying, 'overtime is the icing on the cake for the majority of workers-they love it.'

The bus workers should remember that their full-time official has a salary of £36.000 and a free car. He won’t be going without this Christmas. A series of one and two day stoppages is dramatic, but as last Friday proved the travelling public can cope with that type of action. And the bosses are able to point the finger of blame at the workers.

The union officials know a one and two day stoppage will hurt the bus workers more than the translink bosses. Workers think of your families - an overtime ban and work to rule will hurt Translink more than you. They will have to force the issue, you will be the good guys, and the public will see what a bad employer Translink is.

When I think of the drivers and their struggle, a struggle against their bosses, not helped by union bureaucrats and careerists, an old adage comes to mind: 'Keep your enemies close and your friends closer.' And remember the sacked Belfast International airport workers. And who was their fulltime ATGWU official?

And as an afterthought, will the unions refund the drivers' union dues during the dispute?

The writer is a former City Bus driver



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

27 October 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Pulling the Guns Over Their Eyes
Anthony McIntyre


Time for the Media to Take a Different Spin

Brendan O Neill


Die Hard. Die Harder!
Kathleen O Halloran


The Sound of Silence
Sean Smyth


The Raison d'Erte of 'Dissenting Republicans'
Liam O Comain


Figures of Dissent
Liam O Ruairc


The Occupation Runs Out of Gas
Stan Goff


The Letters Page has been updated.


24 October 2003


Lies, The Lying Liars Who Tell Them and the Law of Unintended Consequences
Tom Luby


One More for the Road...And Another. Come Back Tony & Bertie, the Crack's 90

Anthony McIntyre


On the One Road
Mick Hall


Conduct Unbecoming
Kathleen O Halloran


A Political Nightmare
Eamon Sweeney


Ireland: Repression, Violence, Segregation - The Realities of the Sectarian State
Paul Mallon


When the Drugs Don't Work
Sean Fleming


Last Week, It Happened Again. In Bolivia.
Michael Youlton




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