Badgerline: the right to strike

EASTERN NATIONAL, a subsidiary of bus giant Badgerline Holdings, was privatised in 1986, making the managing director, Robin Orbell, into a millionaire overnight. As reported in last week’s Weekly Worker, the same man sacked 96 bus drivers from their depot in Chelmsford last November.

The drivers, all members of the Transport and General Workers Union, took a few hours strike action over management demands to drive continuously for five hours without a break.

The often tortuous route from local to national action via the union bureaucracy has been made relatively painless as TGWU officers have thrown their considerable collective weight behind the Chelmsford branch. A strike fund has been set up and all TGWU branches are being circulated with financial appeals. Every Tuesday night strikers and their families get together to issue strike pay, socialise, plan picket rotas and organise the next step in the dispute.

The union has organised an alternative free local bus service using the same routes as scab buses. Support from the public queuing up to use union minibuses has been overwhelming. In the first six days of this service over £2,000 was collected in donations. The union intends to increase this imaginative action and is also organising training in public speaking for strikers.

This is all positive, but in itself will not win the dispute. Badgerline has over 24 subsidiary companies nationwide, from United Welsh Coaches to Linkline in North London. The TGWU has members in these companies and the union is currently writing to Badgerline employees asking them to support their Essex colleagues.

Regional officers are yet to clarify what they mean by ‘support’. The anti-trade union laws prohibit secondary action and it is hard to imagine the TGWU solicitors condoning any call for action that would risk a trip to the High Court. This really brings us to the crux of the matter - the right to strike - and, more importantly, the courage to collectively enforce that right.

The outcome of this dispute, like others in recent years - notably Timex, will be decided not on the courage and determination of the strikers, of which there is plenty, but the ability to organise and gain real industrial solidarity from bus workers across the country.

John Praven
Branch Secretary
TGWU 1/1148
South London