Connex drivers ban long hours
"I GET up and go to work at 2.30 in the morning. I finish around one o'clock in the afternoon. When I get home my wife goes off to work. I hardly ever see her. What kind of life is that?"
They are the words of a train driver at Victoria station in central London last week. No wonder drivers are refusing to work overtime. Train drivers working for Connex South Central, who are members of the ASLEF rail union, are demanding a 35 hour week and decent pension rights. But so far Connex management have refused to even talk with the union. The action began last month. But on 23 December a high court judge ordered the drivers to work all overtime and rest days during the holiday period.
One driver based in south London said, "The judge's decision was an outrage. I have worked on the railways for nine years. I have never worked overtime in all that time. I don't agree with it. Now a snooty judge, earning five times my wage, is forcing me to work longer hours."
The judge's ruling lasted until 4 January 2000. The drivers immediately restarted their action. It has had a massive impact. Up to 60 percent of trains have been cancelled and hundreds of trains are being delayed.
Privatisation is the root cause of the problem. In order to drive up profits Connex has refused to train new drivers. Instead the company relies on drivers working massive amounts of overtime, sometimes up to 30 hours a week. Driver fatigue caused by long hours is a major cause of rail accidents. But
Connex does not seem to care. Long hours and bullying bosses are a story familiar to millions of workers. That is why everyone should back the drivers' action.
The mood to take on the rail bosses is growing amongst rail workers. The drivers are currently meeting to discuss increasing the action. They are demanding a series of one day strikes.
Drivers working for Connex South Central's sister company, Connex South East, are also balloting so that they can join the action. Members of the other main rail union, the RMT, are also holding a ballot so that they can take part in the action.
The dispute at Connex could be the start of a serious campaign to reduce hours on the railways. Drivers want to give Connex management a bloody nose. It is important that the leaders of ASLEF and the RMT give their members full backing. One driver told Socialist Worker, "The support we are getting from the public is brilliant. Despite all the inconvenience we have caused them they want us to win. They want to see us end the cancer of long hours which is destroying everyone's lives."
Commuters show support
"I SUPPORT the drivers' action All Connex are interested in is making massive profits for their shareholders. They don't care about the railway system. If the Labour government goes ahead with tube privatisation things will only get worse."
- WILLIAM PICKERING
"JUST BEFORE Christmas I got the 6.15am train to Victoria. I went to my office party and did not get the train home until around 8pm. It was the same driver on both trains. He must have done a 15 hour shift. How can that be safe? I'm not surprised the drivers are taking action. They have my full support."
- JULIET JOWL
"I DON'T think anyone should be forced to work long hours. I get up at 6am to start work at 8am. I often don't get home until 7.30pm. I'm always exhausted. If the drivers win the campaign it might help reduce hours for others."
- EVE MULLIGAN