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(en) Australia, Rebel Worker Vol.23 No.1 (184) April-May 2004 - N.S.W. Train Drivers' Direct Action Movement

From Jura Books <a-infos-@chaos.apana.org.au>
Date Fri, 16 Apr 2004 16:42:03 +0200 (CEST)

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The Real Story Behind the N.S.W.‘Rail Crisis’
**How Rail Drivers got organised and made themselves heard**
Rebel Worker: The big question on everyone’s lips is what is the real
story behind the so called ‘Rail Crisis’? I hear that 300 drivers
booked their day’s off, and they nearly brought down the Carr
Government. Who was behind the action?
Train Driver: It wasn’t any individual. It was a collective thing.
Word got around and people thought it was a good idea. And it wasn’t
just 300 drivers it was at least 50%, which means at least 600
drivers. In some depots 90% of drivers booked their days off. I saw
the rosters.
RW: When did drivers first start talking about taking action it?
Train Driver: It was probably late last year, and people started talking
about ideas, then someone mentioned signing for days off, and it sounded
like a good idea and took off really quick.
RW: What was the appeal of signing for days off?
Train Driver: It was a reaction to all the overtime we were being pushed
into, and that train crewing staff were being treated badly by
management. It’s not all management, in fact it was just a few of them
who give the rest a bad name, and really make our lives hell. We were
also angry about the treatment of drivers in the media the media
mistreatment and the way they portray us as just trying to make the
public’s life difficult.
RW: So what is the real story that you don’t read in the paper?
Train Driver: They talk about us in a negative light all the time, and
say we’re doing it to deliberately mistreat the public. The real story
is that us drivers have a right to have days off. I think it’s
important to have time off so that you can have some rest and recreation
and see your family. It’s also a matter of increasing fatigue, which
eventually leads to more accidents. We saw that in Herman’s accident
[The Waterfall crash, where Herman the driver, and a number of his
passengers were killed].
RW: How do you think that fatigue played a role in Herman’s crash?
Train Driver: He started work at 3am, or something like that, in the
morning. The crash happened at half-past six, which is when the sun is
coming up, and your body is going through really strange feelings. It’s
the time your body is normally waking up, and he’d been up for half the
day, and his body is probably going through a down phase. He was
operating a train, four hours into a shift, at the time he’s normally
just waking up, and he was supposed to be operating at peak capacity.
Also, he was just back from holidays. Chances are his body was having
trouble re-adjusting to the very strange work patterns of a RailCorp driver.
RW: Back to the story of the 300 drivers who signed their day’s off.
Train Driver: Well we said it wasn’t industrial action, it was just us
drivers exercising our right to retain our rostered days off.
RW: How did you guys communicate before the action?
Train Driver: It was mostly just word of mouth, but later on some people
put up anonymous fliers in meal rooms and stand by rooms. These said
“If you can afford to sign your days off in the first full fortnight of
February and first full fortnight of March.”
RW: Were there particular depots which led the action?
Train Driver: Not really sure. There were some people who were vocal,
but they might not have been the instigators.
RW: What about the issues of drug testing?
Train Driver: These were all issues that lay behind the actions by
drivers. We were angry about a lot of things, and the stuff that got
talked about was just the tip of the ice berg. It all contributed. Any
worker expects respect and to be treated decently.
RW: So what happened?
Train Driver: I thought it was an absolutely perfect action. We did
what we wanted to do. We showed that the staff shortages are as bad as
we said they were. Management comes out and says that the shortages
aren’t that bad, but they are. Ever since the Olympics, there has been
a staff shortage. Before the Olympics they went through a massive
recruitment program with a drastically shortened recruitment program,
but since then it’s been a steady downhill slide. Most recruitment has
just been internal. The other problem is that the privatisation of
FreightCorp means that internal transfers from FreightCorp to RailCorp
are closed off now they have to apply like internal applicants.
RW: When you started the campaign, how did management and the union react?
Train Driver: Management immediately tried to blame us and say it was
industrial action, but we didn’t have a leader or anyone who management
could pick out and blame. It was just a collective consensus of
opinion. This meant that they couldn’t take us to the courts. Last
week you saw the Rail maintenance workers who went out on strike. They
were taken to the industrial relations commission the next day, and told
to go back to work. They couldn’t do that to us.
RW: Did management put individual pressure on drivers?
Train Driver: I don’t think they put undue pressure on any individual
drivers. I’m sure that inspectors and other management would have been
asking questions and try to find out information.
RW: Management must be really scared of drivers then?
Train Driver: They just under estimate the effectiveness of collective
RW: They don’t any more?
Train Driver: Yeah, we showed them our power.
How did the Union react to Drivers’ Action?
RW: What about the Union’s reaction?
Train Driver: The union copped a lot of flak from us because they were
so slow to react and like other ‘famous’ happenings over the last few
years, we’ve been left to fend for ourselves and the Union hasn’t
defended us.
The most obvious example of this last year, was those three pages of
pictures in the Daily Telegraph, mid last year, slandering us train
drivers. For three days the Union said nothing. The Union should have
immediately done a press release and said “How can you accuse us of this
with out a proper investigation. The majority of drivers are good
people and this is just slander.” Instead the Union appears to have
done nothing until there was that much pressure from the membership,
that they realised that they had to come out and save face. They were
just protecting their own credibility and not doing anything for ours.
So in the end we had to defend ourselves. So with the photos in the
paper, many of us wrote letters to the paper and defended drivers’
RW: Back to the actions this year: The Union seemed to condemn the
drivers who booked their day’s off for the first week and they are still
running around saying it was illegal.
Train Driver: They were trying to distance themselves from the action
and say that they didn’t organise it. But the reality was that the
action was completely legitimate. We were just using our rights and
entitlements we have as train drivers.
What the Union should have done is come out straight away and said “Our
members have a right to sign their days off, and if they want to they
are allowed.” It would have had to be worded really well, so that Vince
Graham couldn’t have taken us to the industrial relations commission,
and said that we didn’t give 72 hours notice of industrial action.
RW: Did a majority of drivers participate in the action?
Train Driver: Yeah, definitely. At least more than 50 percent
participated. I know at one of the smaller depots, there are 20 lines
of work, and 18 of them signed their days off. In the larger depots
there might have been more apathy, but there has to have been, overall,
more than 50 percent of who participated in booking the action.
I know that in the first week of that fortnight, there were no stand-by
drivers sitting around. They were all working because so many drivers
had booked their days off.
The Power of Collective, Direct Action.
RW: What do you think other rail and bus workers can learn from this?
It seems to me that it shows the power of collective direct action by
workers, and the need for workers to get organised themselves, and not
just rely on the Union Officials.
Train Driver: Yeah exactly. If the Union Officials actually stood up
and fought and took action quickly, then it would be a different story,
but this wasn’t the case. Workers’ have to do it themselves, and get
collectively organised.
RW: Lots of people talk about how the Union isn’t really interested in
pushing management, and they work too closely with the State Labor
Government. Lots of people seem to despair at this, and think there is
nothing they can do. But this experience seems to show that rail and bus
workers have the power to do things despite the Union, Management and
the Government all working together.
Train Driver: Yeah right. I can’t remember a time that an action has
had so much effect. It really raised the issue of short staffing. We
showed that management exploits our willingness to do overtime to cover
up for their lack of long-term planning.
The Real Forces behind the Cutbacks to Public Transport
RW: Do you think it’s just about ‘lack of planning’, or isn’t it also
about the general cut backs in funding to social services like public
health, public schools and public transport?
Train Driver: I don’t hear anything about this, but I imagine at the
Ministerial level these forces could be driving things.
RW: Over the last 20 years there have been big attacks across Australia,
New Zealand, the US and Britain on basic services for working people.
While the tax rate for big corporations has dropped from 48% to 30% over
the last 20 years, the basic wage for the bottom 50% of working people
has not really moved (if you take out inflation).
Train Driver: This is why people are so dirty about doing so much
overtime. Once you start doing overtime, you move into the top tax
bracket, but loose most of it in tax. You are getting double time, but
taxed at 50%, so you are effectively getting nothing.
RW: On the issue of attacks on basic public health, education and
transport, there have been big attempts by government to roll back a lot
of basic rights of working people. You’re kids now have to pay
$15,000-$50,000 to get a Uni degree, and in public transport, it’s been
starved of proper funding, just so that big corporations don’t have to
pay any tax. In some places, such as Victoria, it’s even been
privatised, and sold to big multinational corporations.
Train Driver: The bigger picture is important. People ignore these big
forces, but they are important, they effect our day to day lives.
Take a look at Britain, where they’ve privatised the trains. Because
the management of the rail system is private business it’s just
interested in quick bucks, they didn’t invest in decent transport.
Just like where Telstra is heading they don’t care about their
customers, and to a degree, they have to care about their workers, but
they try to squeeze them.
Where to Now?
RW: So where too now for the dispute?
Train Driver: There have been a lot more meetings at depots, called just
by ordinary staff, not necessarily Union Officials or Delegates.
They’ve talked about all the big raft of issues, including the outcomes
of the inquiry, safety stuff, staffing... all the stuff we’ve talked
about today.
RW: What about linking up with guards, stations assistants and bus drivers?
Train Driver: There is now more communication with Guards. Station
Assistants, we don’t really know what their issues are, but management
is trying to push through job and work redesign for stations, and that
will have a big effect on Station Assistants. There have been a few
suspicious things happening to suggest that RailCorp are doing something
suspicious. Several Station Master positions have come up because of
staff retiring, but the positions aren’t being filled. Management says
that there is ‘no suitable applicant’, but we think it’s because they’re
planning a big restructure.
RW: To be straight, do you think that Train Drivers are interested in
linking up with guards, station assistants and bus drivers? Together
you would be stronger, but are drivers willing to join with other groups?
Train Driver: Yeah, I think it would be a good idea to link up with
other public transport workers, especially since each area is feeling
the same sorts of pressures for ‘more productivity, less expenditure’.
Sure we have different issues, but mostly it’s the same sorts of
pressures on us all, with just slightly different angles. I think if we
got together we could really make a difference.
Drug Testing on the Railways
RW: What’s happening with the drug tests?
Train Driver: Lots of people are worried about signing over your private
medical information. I can see how it’s a two edged sword management
needs to know if people are healthy enough to do the job. There is the
other issue though, of privacy.
In terms of drug tests, there are lots of concerns about what the
procedure will be. How will they protect the samples? Who are they
contracting out to do the testing?
RW: A lot of people smoke marijuana on their days off. It’s pretty wide
spread practice, but management are saying that if you’ve got it in your
blood, even 30 days after you smoked, then you’re going to “face the
possibility of disciplinary action”. How are people reacting to that?
Train Driver: The policy which management has adopted is ‘zero
tolerance’, then they start asking questions. If someone is a frequent
recreational user of a substance then I don’t know how management will
Management has asked drivers to ‘self-identify’ if they have a problem,
but it’s unclear to me that occasional recreational use isn’t a
‘problem’ or a ‘dependence’. They are trying to make the rules cut and
dry, but it isn’t possible.
RW: For Firefighters and for Construction workers, their are tests which
are basically competency tests based on doing the job itself. So if
someone suspects you are under the influence of a drug and can’t do the
job, then they have a standardised set of tests which reflect the job,
and if some fails this they are sent home. If they fail three times,
then they are sent a special drug and alcohol rehabilitation unit in
Rozelle (the old psyc hospital). Since Random Drug testing was
technically possible from the mid-1980s onwards, big corporations,
especially in construction and mining, have been pushing to introduce
random testing. Some good Unions (like the CFMEU) have been, actually
quite successful, in stopping this from being just another tool of
management harassment.
Train Driver: If our management does use this as a tool of harassment,
then it will be detrimental, and it won’t improve things in the long term.
RW: A lot of union arguments revolve around the fact that the abuse of
drugs and alcohol are often a symptom of bigger problems in people
lives. The unions have also said that workers’ problems often are a
result of long, stressful working hours, lack of control over their
lives, etc.
On the railways, lots of drivers complaints recently have actually
revolved around the inability of train workers (bus drivers) to have
normal lives, with their families, friends, etc., and the stress of
abnormal working hours. In these conditions, substance abuse is
probably quite likely.
Train Driver: I agree. A lot of people turn to alcohol and drugs when
they face stress in their life, and let’s face it, railway workers face
stress. Perhaps our union should look into fighting for similar tests
to what they have in the Construction industry or for Fire Fighters.
From "Rebel Worker" Vol.23 No.1 (184) April-May 2004, Paper of the
Anarcho-Syndicalist Network, Subscriptions: $12 pa in Australia,
and $25 airmail pa overseas. Address PO Box 92 Broadway 2007 NSW

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