Judge rules overtime compulsory
Forcing us to work longer
A HIGH court judge tore himself away from his goose, vintage port and cigars to wreck the Christmas break for hundreds of rail workers. The judge, who rarely works more than a couple of days a week, ordered rail workers to work overtime and on their days off during the holidays. He told drivers on the Connex South Central lines out of south London that they had to work up to seven days a week.
They had been refusing to work on their rest days in protest against the ever longer hours and worse working conditions. Private rail companies such as Connex, Stagecoach and Virgin have sacked drivers to force profits up. "I'm sick of working seven days a week, from 3.30 in the morning to one in the afternoon. I want my life back," one Connex driver at London's Charing Cross station told Socialist Worker this week.
The judge's ruling did not stop workers taking unofficial action. The ruling's time limit expired this week and union leaders then backed the train drivers' action. The rail workers' fight will strike a chord in every workplace in Britain. Workers in Britain already work 200 hours more every year than their counterparts in the rest of the European Union.
It is not just on the railways that workers face demands for increased hours. Local councils have been demanding that workers give up holiday and sick leave rights. That has provoked strikes in Wandsworth and Haringey councils in London.
Behind all the media and New Labour talk of the "24 hour society" the reality is a drive for 24 hour exploitation. Just ask the workers in shops and supermarkets who are told they must work Sundays or through the night. Ask the workers in call centres who are told they have to be on standby at 2am. Workers are right to stand up against the time thieves. And they're right to fight for working hours that allow people to lead a life.