Although government plans to privatise Sydney’s buses have moved forward, the fight to keep the buses in public hands is not over.
It is now clear that it is not just Region 6 in the inner west that is under threat, with Region 7 next to be targeted. NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance has said, “they will be all private. In 10 to 15 years’ time government will not be in the provision of transport services”.
When privatisation was announced early this year the mood to fight was strong. Region 6 took strike action on 18 May and held a popular fare-free day on 1 June. The government was on the back foot.
RTBU members were ready to go further with all 12 depot delegates voting for a city-wide strike. When the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) ruled the strike illegal the RTBU leadership and Unions NSW used the threat of fines to scare eight depots into overturning the decision to strike. Many drivers felt betrayed.
One Ryde depot driver told Solidarity, “at my depot I surveyed 140 drivers, 62 per cent said they would support a strike and about 20 per cent said they would refuse any voluntary overtime. So 80 per cent were in favour of some sort of action. We were very disappointed when we weren’t called out to support Region 6.”
“RTBU officials said they couldn’t do anything once the IRC placed the orders. But it all comes down to organising people. What’s the fine? They say it’s $10,000. That’s nothing for them,” he said.
A legal challenge to privatisation has been proposed. But it’s unlikely that the courts will rule against the government. Legal action can take months, sometimes years. The strategy of the RTBU is effectively to accept privatisation and push for a good deal with the new private operator.
While Labor has campaigned to keep the buses public, they will not commit to reversing privatisation.
Backing down from strike action has only encouraged the government. The RTBU must be prepared to defy IRC orders.
Depot drivers gathered over 500 RTBU members’ signatures demanding a meeting to discuss the “Don’t sell our buses” campaign, forcing the RTBU to call a Special General Meeting for Sunday 3 December.
“We stood there in the mornings and in the meal breaks and explained the purpose of the special meeting. Drivers signed because they were dissatisfied with the union’s performance regarding privatisation. We got pages of signatures. Out of everyone I asked, 80 per cent signed,” one driver said.
The union officials have refused to act. Stopping privatisation will require rank and file organisation like this among drivers to pull off the strike action needed.
By Matt Meagher