Bus routes across Victoria shut down on 10 July, as 600 bus drivers employed by CDC Victoria set up 24-hour pickets at five major depots. This was the first stop-work by bus drivers in Victoria in 20 years.
The strike comes after four months of failed negotiations with the company. CDC has offered only a 2.5 percent pay rise, while drivers are pushing for a 4 percent wage rise and a 1 percent superannuation increase. Around 95 percent of union members voted for the action.
CDC can easily afford to meet the workers’ demands. The multinational company’s annual global revenue is $400 billion, $420 million of which is generated in Australia.
The strike shut down 49 bus routes in Melbourne along with multiple routes in Ballarat and Geelong, where a majority of routes operated on a Sunday timetable. Red Flag visited the picket in the Melbourne suburb of Oakleigh and found spirits to be high and nearly the whole workforce out. Signs dotted around the picket read “family before fares”. These workers staff the busiest bus route in Victoria – the 601 between Monash University and Huntingdale station – meaning the effects of their action are keenly felt.
Reminiscences about the last strike for higher wages dominated discussion on the picket line, some of the workers having taken part in the action 20 years ago. Back then their demands were won after a single day’s strike, and for some time after workers benefited from the legacy of the victory. Other workers with backgrounds in different industries likewise shared their experience of industrial action in previous jobs.
Overall, the mood on the picket line was confident. Drivers say they are prepared to go further if the dispute continues. Their confidence is not misplaced. The lines run out of the Oakleigh depot were severely hampered all day, and newspapers ran headlines about the resulting chaos.
Many drivers told Red Flag that they are wary about the encroaching privatisation of buses in Victoria (private operators now control around 30 percent of the industry). It is hoped that the fight of the CDC workers will spread to other companies when they enter negotiations. Follow-up stop-works by CDC workers are planned.
In an attempt to counter the impact of the strike in Oakleigh, private operators were deployed to drive scab buses between Monash and Huntingdale station. More numerous than the scab buses were honks of support from other drivers as they passed the picket.
The bosses will always try to derail workers fighting for their rights, and solidarity goes beyond a single workplace or industry. When transport workers go on strike and the bosses, media and politicians try to turn commuters against them, we must stand alongside those fighting for their conditions.