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Dublin Bus Livery Change

Privatisation and Resistance

16 August 2018

With the announcement of the introduction of a new livery for Dublin Bus another not so subtle step has been taken in the creeping privatisation of public transport. The introduction of “competition” has already resulted in the flow of profits into the coffers of private companies. The National Transport Authority (NTA), modeling itself on Transport for London (TFL), now seeks to increase the rate of that flow.

The problem they have with this is that they have been striving to give the impression that only “some”of the more peripheral routes would be tendered out to the private operators but the numbers and variety of coloured buses already gracing our roads is becoming noticable to the general public and could lead to disquiet now that an expansion of privately run routes, well beyond the 10% originally mooted, is planned.

The introduction of the new “unifying livery” is a confidence trick designed to cover up the inevitable emergence of visible evidence on the streets of the expansion of privatisation.  Following the London model where the red buses and the title 'London Bus' is owned by TFL who contract out the routes to about a dozen private operators the travelling public will see only a “Dublin Bus” as an identifiable “brand” while the profits flow into a multitude of private company bank accounts.

The impact on communities

Change is becoming more rapid and as a result towns, villages and working class communities, are being by-passed by the NTA's 'Bus Connect' route reorganisation. The impression that the privatised operations can be an improvement on the existing service is achieved by simply running down the existing services and starving them of funding. The system is then ripe for “rationalisation and reorganisation” in order to convert bus services into saleable commodities, attractive to private operators.  Any “efficiencies” gained, however, are in revenue collection, not service to communities and of course where there are fares to be collected there is no problem putting on the buses to gather it in, so they can boast of a potential increase in frequency of 35% as plumb routes are prepared for sale.
The potential increase in frequency is being used simply to give the impression that privatisation works for the bus user but if the numbers of fares do not increase exponentially it is likely to be a temporary phenomenon with service quality suffering and following the London pattern, becoming increasingly expensive. After all, those bank accounts need to be filled to please the new private owners of the tendered out transport system. Neither small isolated communities, efficiency nor the impact on the environment is a real consideration. Profits, “growth” figures and an improvement in the “balance sheet” is all that counts.

The impact on the workers

Meanwhile, the pensions, wages, terms and working conditions of the staff will be hit hard, the profits are generated by the workers and of course it is the public transport workers who will pay for this  so called 'improvement'. The bus drivers and staff have demonstrated their opposition to privatisation many times through determined strikes, including wildcat action, and each time their leaders have carefully steered them towards acceptance of these changes by talking about the privatisation “threat”, as if it wasn't already happening, and talking down the need to take action against its implementation by accepting the managements “reassurances” at face value. As the NTA expands and develops its plans it is becoming increasingly difficult to talk down the already existing process of privatisation as simply a potential threat however.

No Plan to resist

With the announcement of the latest confidence trick the trade union bureaucrats are making the usual belligerent noises but no plan of action is on the horizon, all they want to do is talk. The change in livery has been criticised by the bureaucrats but their overall response can be described only as acquiescence. Dermot O'Leary of the NBRU has publicly admitted that he is aware that the NTA is modelling itself on the London template  and that privatisation is the ultimate goal.

Commenting on the livery change he remarked; "It's one thing creating a new brand, but it's a completely different matter replacing an old brand. I'm not too sure if some of the iconic brands that we have in this country, like Guinness and Aer Lingus, would take kindly to someone coming in and taking their brand away from them." … This spectacularly, and deliberately, misses the point!

What the NTA are doing goes way beyond a rebranding. The preparations are being put in place for the extension of transport privatisation. Workers pay and conditions are being assaulted, wealth is being transferred from the working class into the pockets of wealthy corporations and businesses, yet the union bureaucracy limits its response to idle commentary and an unconvincing quibble about the colour scheme of the new buses.
The Lords and Serfs of labour

A series of strikes in public transport reached its peak in 2017 but was demobilised by the bureaucracy. Since the betrayal of the Bus Eireann strike and the sympathy action around it that high point has not yet been regained and the careless and unconvincing response of the NBRU to the NTA's plans shows that the bureaucracy are confident that they are at present under no pressure from below. But there is unease in the trade union movement, members are fighting back in a number of ways the most dramatic of which is the attempts to change unions en-bloc. This tactic is becoming increasingly common with examples among transport unions in the North, the Dublin Crane Drivers in 2017 and most lately also with the hundreds of ESB workers who left Connect to join Siptu.

The bureaucracies of the different unions have a common interest in controlling their membership however and  have a diplomatic arrangement among themselves known as the “Trade Union Federation Agreement” which makes large scale hostile transfers between unions virtually impossible. Siptu has now enforced this rule which means the ex-Connect workers have been expelled leaving them nowhere to go except out of the trade union movement or back to Connect.

The arrogance of the bureaucracy's response is a reminder to many trade unionists that they are serfs in their own organisations. As he expelled the ESB workers Willie Noone, described Siptu as “the innocent party” and insulted the workers attempts to transfer away from an ineffective bureaucratic leadership with these words; “And they’ve (the workers) been shouting and roaring to join a trade union of their choice, they say they’ve a constitutional right, and they have that right, but if a trade union says we don’t want you, well that’s why you have to apply to join, you don’t have a god-given right.”

No Escape

Our trade union leaders need to be served up a lesson that only a self organised membership can deliver. But! The bureaucracy have the membership stitched up. There is no escape to a “better” union, the bureaucrats have the ability to unite in their own self interest and have a deal on who “owns” which members. Leaving one union to seek greener fields in another generally results at best in escaping the frying pan for the comfort of the fire. There is no alternative to building a fighting opposition to the bureaucracy at rank and file level in all unions and fighting to unite emerging struggles. Workers frequently express their disillusionment with the bureaucracy's performance but beyond switching unions find no way to express that discontent organisationally.

Opposition to bureaucratic misleadership begins with militants giving organisational expression to that discontent and fighting to establish campaigning groups.  Various groups and individuals already exist in a number of unions which orientate to the rank and file and are critical of the bureaucracy's politics and strategy. They have the potential to expand and unite with each other. In conditions of heightened class struggle such an organised resistance has the potential to grow into a fighting movement in the unions and through that in to a fighting trade union movement.

The recovery and union acquiescence

The conditions within capitalism are sharpening conflicts, not blunting them. We can see this in the careful plans being put in place to privatise public transport and in the desire of the ESB workers to change union and we can see it in the smoldering discontent that pervades many workplaces during what qualifys technically as a “recovery”.

That “recovery” is based on the increased exploitation of workers, in this case through the sale of public transport routes. It is based on two tier pay in education, again agreed to by our union leaders
and the super exploitation of staff in the hospitality industry and it is based on the starvation of funding from the health service.

It is also based on the sale of “distressed mortgages” and NAMA land to vulture funds and the homelessness which that produces. All of the State's crocodile tears cannot hide the fact that the people sleeping in Garda Stations have been placed there as a result of the State's carefully laid plans to introduce the Vulture funds to Ireland as part of their strategy for balancing the banks loan books by off-loading what they term as “non-performing” loans. The so called recovery is for the banks and the speculators. Some small sections of workers are temporarily benefitting from an expansion in building work but  overall this is another great confidence trick played on Irish working people who once again are paying for the crash.

Most importantly of all, this so called “recovery” is based on the aquiescence of the trade union bureaucracy who unapologetically accept the narrow confines of the “fiscal space” and accept that capitalist profits come first, and in practical terms that means before the working people who are now being robbed of the very roof over their heads.

“Catch them in the crossfire”!

Demands for cost of living increases, an end to privatisation, two tier pay and lay-offs must not be left in the hands of a cynical bureaucracy who present them only when they have to and then purely with the sole objective of bolstering their own positions as negotiators and arbiters between labour and capital.

To be a continuous feature of working class struggle, control of presenting these demands must be wrested from the bureaucracy's hands by workers, and be directed at the management of individual companies that are in conflict with their workforces, the State that stands behind them and the crisis ridden capitalist system itself that seeks to heal its ills by making the workers pay. And most importantly these demands if raised by self organised groups of workers will catch the trade union bureaucracy, unwilling to fight and ready to consistently sell out struggles, “in the crossfire”.

Workers already know what they need; Housing, more pay, decent pensions, better hours, no compulsory relocation, more funding for health, no privatisation of transport, water or anything else,  an end to two teir pay! But they need to develop an organisational counterweight to the power of the bureaucracy who controls the agenda and successfully steps in and guides disputes towards virtually immediate and unecessary compromises.

Union bureaucrats detest industrial action, we saw them squirm last year as they demobilised Bus Eireann workers.  Demands backed by independent rank and file action that are aimed at the management will multiply that effect and put the reticent trade union leaders in a very uncomfortable position.

Working class people are going to continue to resist being lumbered with the costs of the “recovery”, and of the recession that will undoubtedly follow it, but if the union bureaucracy, wedded to the notion that capitalist recovery comes before the needs of the working class, remains in control of when, how and where resistance is conducted then the sell-outs will continue. But selling out a struggle becomes more difficult when the workers become organised and active on their own behalf. While the NTA change the colour of the buses to cover up the extent of privatisation the Trade union bureaucracy will have more trouble in covering up the extent of their collapse in the face of the privatisation agenda. Building an organised rank and file resistance to official trade union strategy has never been more necessary.

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