Build solidarity with sacked busworkers

Bill Horslen, one of the sacked busworkers from Chelmsford, reports on the Badgerline group delegate conference of the Transport and General Workers Union

BUSWORKERS from the Badgerline group gathered for what was a very positive conference last Wednesday. Over 100 delegates represented workers from around the country and were agreed on the need to respond to the challenge given by management to workers at Chelmsford who were sacked last June. All delegates pledged to go back to their branches to win support for Chelmsford.

We began a tour of Badgerline garages in Bristol, Swansea, Birmingham and Yorkshire, asking for solidarity action to win our jobs back. We know that while we can organise levies, etc, this alone will not win the dispute. We need to take a leaf out of the postal workers’ book and take actual solidarity action.

Most delegates were very positive about the idea of taking action. The only ones who weren’t were those from our own fleet at Eastern National in Braintree, Clacton and Colchester garages. They actually felt that the 10 minibuses we are running were jeopardising their jobs.

We had to point out to them that Badgerline directors have already closed three garages: they’ve sold off Chelmsford, Clacton and Bishop Stortford bus stations. This is not because of our 10 minibuses, but because of the asset stripping of the Badgerline group. They should be fearing the actions of Badgerline directors, not Chelmsford busworkers.

But apart from this small section of the conference I was very heartened by the whole thing. There was a real recognition that if they did not support Chelmsford workers, management would just railroad over them when their turn came.

The conference agreed that what we need to do now is to get the widespread support of members around the country, which is what the tour is about.

I put a motion for a ballot of all Badgerline group members for industrial action and a one-day strike to take place on March 25. The view was that it was a bit premature to do that. We need to work on members more before we put it to a ballot so that we have more certainty of winning it. At the moment we don’t think we would win it, and if we lost a ballot we would have nowhere to go from there.

Of course in the meantime we have to keep the morale up in Chelmsford as well and keep pressure on the company. We have a problem at the moment because the company has gone to the police to keep us out of the bus lanes and there seems to be little way of challenging that, apart from registering our services.

We are stopped from serving the main bus stops in the town centre which obviously diminishes our impact a great deal. What we are doing is talking to the passengers who certainly have sympathy with us so that we can give them alternative pick-ups. We can get very close to these stops, so it’s just a question of letting people know where we are.

Brentwood garage is keen to get us running services there and I am trying to arrange larger vehicles that are one-person operated, so we can free some drivers to go to Brentwood, which is about 18 miles down the road from us.

It is a Thamesway (sister company of Eastern National) garage and is threatened with closure with a loss of 125 jobs. The drivers are so fed up with the treatment they are receiving from management that they are just not turning up for work and the company is only running about half of its services. The delegate at Brentwood is therefore keen for us to take our example down there.

Discontent runs high among busworkers, whose conditions in some areas are appalling. Time spent on the road is worse than it is at Chelmsford. The main issue of safety that we are raising with our dispute is relevant to the whole industry. But of course it affects all workers, as the right to strike is again threatened.