by Susanne Kemp
About a thousand NZ Bus drivers went on strike in Auckland on Friday (February 19) for 24 hours. The drivers have been fighting for better pay and better conditions in a new collective bargaining agreement which has been under discussion since November. Key issues for the drivers include:
- Drivers can end up doing what is in effect 12-hour shifts, as there are 4-hour shift breaks. Moreover they aren’t paid for these four hours.
- There are drivers on $14 an hour.
- They have to contend with tight time-frames in awful traffic. Auckland Transport sets the routes and timetables without any input from the drivers, so the timetables are often unrealistic.
- Drivers have a lack of toilet breaks and regular meal breaks.
- The drivers’ work patterns are very unsociable.
Auckland Transport’s tendering process also creates a ‘race to the bottom’. Those who get the tenders are those who can run the system the cheapest and yet the bidding companies are also out to maximise their own profits. So low pay – and hours without any pay – are the logical consequence. As companies lose and gain contracts, drivers are also moved around between them, like mere objects, with pay and conditions changing along the way. For instance, one of the companies wants to get rid of overtime rates and are making that a sticking point in the contract negotiations.
What every one of these points indicates is that capitalist competition is no way to run a public transport system. The transport system needs to be publicly-owned but under the management of the drivers and commuters.
Within the context of capitalism, however, such a set-up would still be driven to operate on a commercial basis rather than a needs-based or public-good basis.
The logical conclusion, then, is that we need a society in which production, distribution and exchange, including public transport, are collectively owned and operated to meet human needs, not the needs of the owners of capital or the executives running capitalism’s local government authorities.
The growth of Auckland and its ongoing transport (and housing) problems certainly indicates that capitalism is an inefficient, and increasingly hopeless, way of going forward.