Blokes with bare
chests beat the big end of town! Perhaps that should have been
the headline that celebrated the cabbies victory last week. It
seems that not only are Melbourne’s cabbies the proudest and
loudest in the country, they are also on the road to becoming
the BLF of the 21st century.
But it seems
that for some of the nice, quiet people, fighting for your
rights as a worker is still something akin to terrorism. This is
what is implied by Melissa Fyfe in her article in last Sunday’s
Age. She argues that we have to “put aside” all the concerns
about driver’s safety and focus on the real issue which is taxi
services being run as a “business run by investors”. Quite right
Ms Fyfe reveals
her true concern early in the article when she points not to the
wages and conditions in which the drivers earn their graft but
to their direct and peaceful protest that for “22 hours [ground]
the city to a halt, [frustrated] commuters and [crippled] public
transport.” Perhaps she should try this instead.
construction workers decide to turn up at the corner of Flinders
Street station and hold a sit in for 24 hours, smack bang in the
middle of the working week! How long do you think it would take
for the state and federal governments to call out the storm
troopers, tear gas, attack dogs, horses, batons and helicopters
and turn on the workers? How long do you think it would take for
a state of emergency to be called and these wage slaves beaten,
detained, locked up and prosecuted with the full force of the
law? I reckon it would all be over by lunchtime.
for the nice, quiet Ms. Fyfe the inconvenience of having to
change her routine was far too big a sacrifice. For her and
those like her, if individual workers have a complaint they can
either take it up with their boss or find another job. Not
content with bagging the drivers, Ms. Fyfe turns her guns
towards the government and starts blazing away.
I agree with her
on one point. That is that Lyn Kosky is about as trustworthy and
effective as Bronwyn Pike and both are failures as ministers and
servants of their constituents. Ms. Fyfe’s harshest complaint
against Kosky ‘buckling’ to the demands of the drivers is
nothing to do with the safety of the drivers or the service they
provide. No! Her complaint is that by allowing the drivers to
get their way Kosky admits that “liveable Melbourne, especially
at night, is a dangerous place”.
emerge from Fyfe’s article. The first is that she is worried
that direct, non-violent action might become a more frequently
occurring activity and thus disrupt the nice, quiet lives of
“ordinary” Melbournians. The second is that Melbourne is fast
becoming a crime ridden, dirty and dangerous place for nice,
quiet people. Shock, horror. Can this be true?
I suggest that
Melissa gets a life and a reality check. Melbourne has always
been a dangerous place for those who do jobs that offer little
pay for long hours in unsafe conditions. It is also a dangerous
place for those who do risky jobs in dangerous workplaces where
bosses are more concerned about returns than worker safety.
protective screens cabbies want are valued at less than $2000
then that is a small percentage of the investment in a taxi
licence worth up to half a million dollars. It seems, though,
that the owners of the cabs are just as penny pinching as the
high rollers at the big end of town. Oh! That’s right. Its many
of them who own the licences isn’t it?
Most cabbies are
not union members, they can’t afford the subs given that most of
them do the job part time. The Victorian Taxi Drivers
Association led the charge last week and through what I can only
describe as ‘viral unionism’ won concessions from the government
and perhaps more importantly, the taxi owners.
those like Ms. Fyfe, these types of un-organised and spontaneous
responses to unfair and unsafe work places “sets [a] bad
example”. Quite the opposite I reckon. It is the future of
industrial relations and it would seem a much more effective
means by which workers can get their gripes into the public
domain un-mediated by union spin-doctored concessions. The
danger is, for the workers, that the state will respond by
utilising force and violence more often in order to ensure
profits for the owners are protected. These heavy handed tactics
will be endorsed by the bosses both union and controllers of
capital, and regretfully, many within the community.
cabbies demonstrated that concessions can be won if enough of
those who are affected come together and peacefully demand their
rights, in this case to a safe workplace. Far from setting a
“bad example” the cabbies demonstrated that the workers united
cannot be defeated. While their bare chests may not have been
the nicest sight to greet early morning commuters exiting
Flinders Street station, they were certainly much better than
the gory alternative.
Ms. Fyfe writes
that “the 5000 Indian students who drive cabs part-time … are
being treated like an underclass”. My dear Ms. Fyfe, they are
the underclass or part thereof. So long as the demands of
capital rule with an iron fist over the right to safety and
fairness, the underclasses will continue to be exploited so
nice, quiet people can go about their lives unhindered by the
reality that make those nice, quiet lives possible.
Good on the
cabbies I say. Their will prevailed and sets a great example for
the rest of the working and growing underclasses. If enough of
us peacefully demand our rights, then something has to give.
Like that famous illustration shows, there are more small fish
in the ocean than big ones. All we have to do to overwhelm the
big fish is to come together and disrupt their nice, quiet
lives. I would however, as a concession to good taste, suggest
that we keep our shirts on.