Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/578/7240
Defending a shop steward, in spite of the anti-union laws
The 23 January started like any other day for me, I arrived at work at 6am. I work as a bus driver and I am a Unite shop steward. An argument started between a senior inspector and a fellow driver. As a shop steward I offered to help.
A bus driver
The driver had arrived 40 minutes late for work (the first time in over 30 years!) and was given another piece of work to do that started over an hour later. Under our collectively bargained 'late agreement' the driver should have been paid upon arrival and continued to work as normal. But he was told he would not be paid until he started the work given to him over an hour later.
I tried to reason with the inspector and even showed him a copy of the 'late agreement' but to no avail. The driver involved said he would not do the work given unless he was paid from arrival. Once again this was refused and the work he had been given was taken away by the now disgruntled inspector.
I told the driver to wait in our canteen until a senior union official arrived, around 8.30am. And that's when my troubles began!
A few hours later I was taken off my bus and ordered to report to my depot for an "investigation" into what had happened that morning. I explained and was expecting a discussion to follow on the late agreement protocol but it soon became clear what the real motives of the management were.
They decided this was a perfect opportunity to attack our union and me personally as one of the more outspoken 'militants' of our branch committee. I was charged with gross misconduct for "instructing a driver to refuse a reasonable instruction". I did no such thing.
Even the driver concerned told them that it was his decision to not do the work given if he wasn't being paid but the company decided, unbelievably, that he was obviously lying to cover for me! He was charged with "wilfully obstructing an investigation" and given a final written warning and five days suspension.
It was now obvious what was happening. I had a 'kangaroo' court style disciplinary and was sacked with immediate effect. When at my appeal it was argued that ACAS guidelines had been disregarded and my sacking was totally unfair and could only be seen as a direct attack against the trade union, the management thought they'd found a clever way around what they had done.
I was reinstated but with a five-day suspension, final written warning and, worst of all, transferred to another depot in another town - a 15 mile a day, 75 mile a week round trip for me!
This, thought the management, would appease the union membership, who by now had made it clear to the management what they thought of this attack on one of their stewards for defending one of their comrades. At the same time it would de-recognise me as a shop steward - I was not elected at the other depot so was not a steward there.
But this outraged the union and the membership and a 'test the water' ballot was held to have all the sanctions against me and the other driver dropped and for me to be returned to my depot as shop steward without delay.
The ballot was 403 in favour of action with 41 against - nearly 10 to 1. At the last minute the management folded and all sanctions against me were dropped. I was returned to my depot as shop steward. The sanctions against the driver I was defending have not been dropped and this will be subject to further ballots.
There are two lessons I have learned from what happened to me and they are:
1 - That unless this government removes the anti-trade union laws laid down by the previous Tory government then big businesses will continue to attack trade unions within the workplace.
2 - When we stand together we show just how powerful the working-class of this country really is. A power we are continually told by government and the capitalist media machine no longer exists. Well I'm proof that it does and I'll continue to defend my members against the bosses.
Regardless of the bullying and underhanded tactics employed to break us!
In The Socialist 6 May 2009:
Defend victimised trade unionist
No 2 EU - Yes to Democracy
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