‘On the Buses’ and the banning of the senior citizens
national bus pass scheme in West Yorkshire.
...Confusion marketing in the making…
Recounting the Adventures of Bill, Ben and Weed:
What follows is a comment practically/theoretically on the terrain of a disappearing/reappearing social democracy which, in the early 1970s was once called 'revolutionary reformism' meaning a reform within capitalism also pointing perhaps towards an aspect of a possible new society though firmly hemmed in by that part of a socially expanded reproduction of capital tending at times towards the giveaway. Most such reforms – albeit none too clearly – indicate a transcendence of surplus or added value tending also towards a perspective implying a withering away of money. Many of these initiatives set in motion by politicians committed to capitalisms longevity are also sufficiently contradictory to set in motion resistance at the local level by companies, para-statist bodies etc, which can amount to sabotage seeing in these initiatives a direct threat to profit margins. Where such sabotage takes place, especially if it directly concerns us at the sharp end affecting the quality of our lives, we must then stand up and fight back tooth and nail....
On April the first, 2008, (a fool's day) a free senior bus pass for the over 60's, the disabled, the blind, etc came in allowing a person free travel on local authority buses throughout the UK. This was PM Gordon Brown's initiative and that social democratic side of Brown so different from his deification of bankers and which anticipated his lop-sided, slightly Rooseveltian rescue of capitalism later on the year; lop-sided because it merely referred to consumption and not production and, therefore so very unlike the 1930s, that the initiative will most likely be doomed. Rather than put a few measly pennies in poorer peoples' pockets merely to get the shopping plazas selling their junk all over again wouldn't it have made more sense to direct money towards a mass programme of lagging/double glazing and other energy efficient measures on all social housing in the UK? However, even though cack-handed, once again the left – even though a quickly disinterred and emasculated Keynesian left - brought about by the very people so recently enamoured of a hedge funded, free market society, had ridden to the rescue of capitalism. In fact these freshly minted Keynesians are the only people able to do so...
The following is an account of our experience using the bus pass in West Yorkshire. We thought there would be no problem give the fanfare of publicity and that it would be instantly accepted and recognised. We don't have all the facts from other counties and metropolitan districts but in West Yorkshire it turned out not to be the case. Here the introduction of the pass was resisted almost certainly by rogue managerial elements that encouraged drivers to get nasty and to even threaten violence. The chief culprit was First bus aided and abetted by the Metro travel authority in West Yorkshire. In fact in no time the refusal to recognize the pass assumed horrendous proportions and this is no exaggeration. Horrendous because almost everybody who is a senior citizen has some physical ailment to deal with which is often life threatening and though local management will (and did) piously dish out sympathies to the contrary; in reality they didn't give a damn.
Though we think both private and local authority management were ultimately responsible for this dreadful state of affairs, it was made far worse by the fact some drivers just went along with this unwritten and illegal edict and were prepared to throw everything they had at senior citizens' well into their sixties and even older! Worse, in the bus depots they had the immediate support of a fair number of inspectors who said for months on end that the pass was invalid!
Most senior citizens in 2008 living outside the area though trying to travel throughout West Yorkshire submitted to this dreadful state of affairs confining themselves at best by complaining to the staff at the Metro travel offices at Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield, Halifax and elsewhere, leaving it at that, naively thinking a verbal complaint would make a difference. It was obvious they should have checked more carefully, asking if there was an official complaints procedure. (There was none). Furthermore, why was there no form to fill in etc? Inevitably, complaints fell on deaf ears or at best were casually mentioned in passing by the staff manning the counters to some supervisor who merely shrugged his/hers shoulders and that was that! Consequently senior management could then arrogantly say in subsequent letters there had been no complaints apart from ourselves and one or two other mavericks! Aren't we surprised? As for us we had long known such cons – what we'd call the 1970s way of doing things – meaning effective way back then but now in the era of absolute capitalism, a complete no brainer and non starter. Today, when making complaints spontaneity simply will not do the trick and unless it's collective spontaneous rioting, you have to really grit your teeth and get stuck in, big time. Having been involved in a few campaigns of such mettle since the Millennia mainly concerning anti-social behaviour and crack dealers we knew we were simply going to have to commit ourselves lock, stock and smoking barrel to change things and get the fucking pass recognized! We knew we were going to have to be as ruthless as the management we were opposing and from past experience in other arenas, knew we were going to have to move relentlessly without let up otherwise we simply wouldn't get anywhere. We also knew we were going to have to take risks, getting involved in dangerous situations where violence from some quarter was an ever likely option. Throughout the following weeks people occasionally said, "God, you're brave" though it really wasn't like that and we'd hardly describe ourselves as brave. We do though have the merit of being stroppy, even very stroppy and, when provoked, with the add-on of a quick temper. All that can act as an effective substitute to bravery and in any case "no more heroes anymore" as the punk song went, still applied. As the campaign progressed we inevitably came across 'coffin dodgers' with similar stroppy attitudes so inevitably we immediately recognized each other or rather we took a defiant stand and were not going to be intimidated. We were indignant rather than brave and if there was anger; a righteous anger.
Our (call us Bill & Ben) first encounter with the local council Metro authority was in Bradford when alighting from a National Express coach from London we were told by a Metro staff member that we couldn't travel very far on the pass. Where ever did he get this idea from when everyone else knew it was possible to travel from Lands End to John O Groat's? What was in it for him? Of all Metro interchange staff this guy was the idlest and would spend practically his entire shift on the nod in the office on the first level pretending to look at CCTV screens having mastered the art of slumbering with his eyes partly open! From time to time he would arise from his easy chair and walk zombie like around the Interchange eyes fixed on nothing like he was on heroin. This incident occurred within the first week of the introduction.
The next major encounter took place a few days later on the 72 bus to Leeds when Ben bordered the bus in Bradford Interchange. The young Asian driver told Ben his pass was not valid and called an inspector, meanwhile switching his engine off. This was at the height of the rush hour and the bus was packed. The inspector took round 10 minutes to arrive, by which time the passengers had started to become angry though fortunately none had identified Ben as the reason for the late running of the bus. Eventually an inspector arrived and asked to see Ben's pass taking it out of the wallet and endeavoured to remove the red rose, the national symbol of the free bus pass. Ben had a go at him for attempting to damage the pass, though after that bit of nastiness he cleared the pass all the same and the bus set off nearly a quarter of an hour late. The passengers were by now angry with Ben for causing the bus to be late. It was not a good omen. This uncomfortable experience was to be the first of many.
How different all this was from a year ago when a youth had bordered the 72 Leeds bus in the Interchange and refused to pay his fare telling the middle aged Asian driver he was in a hurry and to chauffeur him to Leeds immediately - or else. The driver had responded by calling security who promptly arrived throwing the black youth of the bus who aimed two fingers at the driver as if to shoot him. The driver gave him the two up, the bus promptly bursting into applause, the passengers sick to death of arrogant, anti working class youth, their love of bling, fast cars and predation in general and who were easily the equal of management in their contempt for working stiffs. Had the youth shouted to the passengers "abolish fares, free travel for everyone" he would have been respected though thought a little crazy. And of course it would not have stopped him from been thrown off the bus and even though it was unlikely anyone would have come to his aid he would have made some friends. Had he made this leap he would not have called the driver a cunt either.
This incident clearly brought into focus a more general truth: Marginality with its base among youth has long since disappeared ironically at the same time as 'the industrial working class' was kinda wiped out or, at least, lost its profile. Though seemingly antagonistic they were in fact a foil to each other like ever warring friends and after that, all that was left was an era of abominable fuckhead an era that is now thankfully drawing to a close. We await with anticipation what the new perspective may be though we have noted a new responsive to others coming off young guys who would have been horror stories even a year previously.
On the following day we went to lodge a complaint at the Metro centre in the Interchange. One of the women behind the jump suggested we try faking it and gave us a Metro travel wallet. This worked on occasion especially if at the same time we acted as though we were frail supporting ourselves on walking sticks. However when found out we had some explaining to do and it made us look as though we were trying to pull off a criminal scam.
However the worst incident of all was about to occur which was to shake Ben ridged.
Ben had been out filming insects on the industrial derelict land surrounding Penistone station high in the Pennines. Ben had decided since he was carrying expensive equipment to dress like a tramp, taking with him a battered canvas bag in which to carry photographic equipment. This wonderful place is inevitably at present taken over by the usual bunch of dirt track drivers who– rather like the 72 bus fuckhead described above - can be abusive thinking they own the place driving away others as though they had exclusive rights. On boarding the X6 express from Huddersfield to Bradford the driver insisted on inspecting the free pass more closely. He then furiously said it was not valid, Ben replying it was and would he get an inspector. The driver then threatened to call the police to which Ben replied please do and went to sit down. Bedside himself with rage the driver slammed the door of his cab came up to Ben and shouted 'if you don't get off the bus I'll throw you off'. A strapping young Asian youth thinking the drivers was being assaulted offered to help evict Ben. The driver then snatched the free pass from Ben's hand and said he was confiscating the pass and Ben would never get it back. Ben protested that he was also a heart patient and had suffered several heart attacks and had undergone a major heart operation. This merely increased the driver's fury for here was a weakling he could kick the shit out of. By now Ben was really scared, fully expecting the rest of the passengers to set on him. Faced with this mob he knew he would not stand a chance.
Obviously by now it had become necessary to start firing off letters to First bus and Metro in West Yorkshire. We knew from previous campaigns letters have to be sent recorded delivery because if not they tend to be ignored, thrown to one side and frequently binned by a management who, ably assisted by the anger management lobby feel they are ringed fenced with steel and pretty much untouchable and, as it were, above the law. This is true of companies as it is of councils and housing associations etc. We didn't expect much at this stage and the letter Ben received back from the Metro was barely apologetic as if there was basically nothing to apologize about and that the matter had been sorted. Familiar with this kind of bland, supercilious arrogant bullshit we grimly smiled at each other ready for the next time. It wasn't slow in coming and then all hell broke loose. Sure enough on our birthday - a day later - the cops were called and the engine switched off on a day when there were precious few buses due to it being a bank holiday. We refused to budge and stood out ground despite the fact a couple of youths began to act in a very menacing way.
By standing up and provoking a lot of conversation we did succeed in splitting the bus and clearly some passengers were impressed by the fact that when the police arrived we refused to get off the bus and offered up our wrists to be handcuffed, even begging to be arrested. However it has to be said that though the police were on the driver's side with one remarking to Bill; 'you've got a lot of lip on you' which provoked an immediate response, "Yeah had it since I was a year old" they knew that if it turned out to be a wrongful arrest they would be for the high jump. Instead it was suggested the driver switch on his engine and take us to our destination further up the hill. The cop took down details, names, addresses etc but funnily enough when Bill went to the cop shop to ask for the names of the policemen, there was no record of the police ever having been called! Bill was addressed by his first name and thoroughly soft-soaped. Well, well, well.
After this incident things began to get worse and we were repeatedly told by drivers the passes were not acceptable and that we now had to renew them.
Between April and August 2008 we must have complained to the Metro centre at Bradford Interchange at least 12 times. By now our patience was at an end as we were becoming ever more convinced of the existence of a rogue plot to abolish free travel for the over 60s in the name of shareholder culture. So on the morrow of the police being called on us we went to the Metro centre to complain once more. Quite naturally we were agitated and raised our voices a little but that was all. But it had been noted. The next time Bill went in to complain they were waiting and in no time at all a security guard appeared at Bill's side - the head of the section an officious woman to say the least behind the jump - having pressed a buzzer with her foot. On returning the next day to identify who had pressed the buzzer, Bill was told if he ever came back into the Metro centre security staff would immediately be called and he would be violently evicted even though 65 years old. Not only was the pass not valid but Bill was now being prevented from even using public transport!
We now knew we were engaged in a real fight and that bureaucracy would do all it could like it had done so many times before, to denigrate us and make us appear out and out fools, hysterics, nutters whose minds had capsized, senile dodderers even.
So we needed to broaden the letter writing campaign. Though there had been lots of verbal complaints (the staff in the Metro centre had been initially honest enough to admit there had been many) we knew this wasn't good enough. So we needed people to write letters and if necessary be prepared to perjure themselves a little. The majority were more than willing to do so knowing we were telling the truth and that it is management that loves to lie. But one person did not wish to 'perjure' herself, even though having witnessed the incidence though not clearly hearing what was said, mouthing the excuse that the bus companies would find out and that it would go against us, We were flabbergasted especially given she was anti capitalist and well knew the world was run by gangsters. However, like so many people of her age she was now scared to raise her head above the parapet and had become deferential as a result, so deferential she could no longer stand up for her rights and if told to relinquish her pension by the Dept of Work & Pensions could do so readily and with a tin mug supplied by the DWP beg on the street so as not to be a burden on anyone especially the bankers who had more need of state aid. Would that this was an exaggeration but there are many others like her. It is as if we have been transported back to the Peoples' Budget of 1909 when state pensions were first introduced with some individuals not even claiming their rights thinking they were behaving criminally.
Aside from cases like this we did succeed in getting others to help. Enter Weed. Now Weed is a committee member of the recently formed Older Peoples' Assembly which evidently has hundreds turn up at its meeting so is not to be sniffed at and clearly is far more popular because less bureaucratic than other older peoples' organizations. Neither is it colonised by paid up officials like Age Concern and Help the Aged. These organizations, like disability organizations, steer clear of any confrontation cosying up to the authorities to negotiate trivial concessions, like a free meal every year at a swank hotel behind closed doors. Interestingly, the Older Peoples' Assembly in parts of the country is now taking an interest in other aspects of the free bus scheme because it is also true that the privatized bus companies are making more money out of the scheme than when minimal fares were charged for travel to specific destinations. In the vast majority of cases, senior citizens on boarding a bus are given a ticket for the whole route even though only travelling a couple of stops or so. This means bus companies claim a lot more dosh from the local state, nicking a lot more tax payers' money than they are legally entitled to...and aren't we again surprised by this typical rip off! However even Weed is now tending to see the Assembly as too much of an open ended talking shop afraid to take direct action.....rather like perhaps the Argentinean neighbourhood assemblies of eight years ago??
Under pressure, management instead of fessing up and doing a hasty mea culpa that would have been the sensible thing to do in West Yorks they directly attacked the drivers on an individual basis calling them into managers' offices. This was extremely galling as one driver told us, when he queried the pass saying, that "management never inform us about anything". "Surprise, surprise" spontaneously came from our mouths together with a grim chuckle which also elicited a good, ironic smile from this very sympathetic guy. It was such a relief as we instantly bonded with anti-management sentiment. We also though it worth writing to Unite, (the drivers' union) just to cover our backs though we didn't really expect much even though one letter was addressed to a local rep condemning the fact that drivers were being made the scapegoats for an incompetent management and their couldn't give a damn attitudes. Though we got a formal union acknowledgment, this approach never really bore fruit before the whole pack of cards started to collapse.
It has to be said that our actions impressed because we stood our ground and were more than ready to be escorted out of public buildings like teenage hoodlums by security staff and the police. To aid the cause individuals were prepared to stretch a few facts here and there knowing full well that management today are the biggest load of shameless liars there have ever been. Though elderly they still burn with a desire to be avenged on management.
Though we were very few in number we did have an enormous effect because of our sheer persistence and doggedness despite the fact to begin with, hardly anyone wrote back to us, and only then in a couldn't care less, perfunctory manner amounting to at best three lines, each containing a downright lie. For all we know we may still be banished from Bradford Interchange and lumped together with fuckhead youth who had stupidly played the state's game; the legislation brought in to law to deal with them now used to repress legitimate protest - just as we have longed warned would be the case.
Why do we have this enormous impact? We feel it is because our arguments are very lucid and that we also generalize, lifting the issues out of their immediate context by putting them into a more general context inevitably rooted in capitalism.
In fact since 2000 we have been involved in a number of local campaigns and though we have been successful particularly as regards fuk-head youth in Bradford and London we have never received any recognition and have been completely air brushed out of history like we never existed. As regards Bradford a few years ago we engaged in a battle with a particularly big and nasty coalition type gang in the Gt Horton/Wibsey/Canterbury Estate area of the city. Initially putting our aged aunt – all 97 years of her – on the deck before robbing her they turned on everybody of a different or vulnerable disposition. Inevitably too they turned on us mouthing the by now familiar "bwatty boy" stuff which to us was like red rags to bulls. No way Jose was homophobia going to triumph never mind everything else! The gang net had stretched so far even buses were attacked and some guys off their fuckhead heads stopped First vehicles in the middle of the road even, in one instance, brandishing a gun outside a drivers' cab in Allerton's Saffron Drive which provoked a spontaneous drivers' strike on this route. We mentioned some of these ordeals in a tract we put together having fully sleuthed that vicious, sad and useless set up; this necrophiliac parody of genuine youth revolt. Again it was dangerous stuff as inevitably our names were out in the open which meant yet again we were target. For sure we weren't liberal, 'understanding' guys though we did note their one good point meaning that racism was non-existent among this krew. But when all is said and done we were also not averse to producing false and blood thirsty psy–ops stickers with the hope of creating tensions inside a probably tenuous gang coalition as suspicions could be engendered as to who was doing this. (See Below)
Finally let's reiterate what we began this account and add a few things: It could be said this is just simple reformism though this kind of struggle can tip into a 'revolutionary reformism' as stated right at the beginning. The issue of free bus passes need not stop there and can become a jumping off point for free transport for all. It is hardly possible to conceive of a bigger inducement to getting people to leave their cars at home than this especially in the era of astronomical energy price irises. Even a monetary economy and hence capitalist one may eventually have seceded to this demand if it is to meet its carbon emissions targets. Similarly we all want to preserve the NHS though knowing full well it is only a staging post, a half way point, to the good life which would be much reduced without the existence of free health care. We don't want to go back to the pre Second World War years and we are already getting a taste of what this could be like in the collapse of free dental treatment. No one in their right minds wants to see the dole abolished because apart from anything else, dole culture (rather than the negative implications of dependency culture which the media loves to wail about) helped nurture a critique of the uselessness of most form of work. In response to the present crises - this watershed moment - there are even signs of a demand for a citizen's wage to replace the dole which everyone will be entitled to. These seemingly trivial campaigns can have a big consequence. They may form part of a reinvented left Keynesian state capitalist perspective but they can also imply liberation from the economy which then must be acted upon by the ex-working stiffs below if it is to go much farther.
They also show how much a developed critique of the state and state capitalism is once again needed at the moment of its worldwide return. We have forgotten so much that needs to be re-learnt and moved very quickly forward. Feet first we are also still on the back foot. Rarely in history has there ever been such a rapid change, certainly never on such a global scale. Why do we like the economic freedoms or freedom from the economy 'democratic' state capitalism can bring? And how much does the law of value apply to this new world order and how much of it is a continuation of what have become habitual fictive values now transformed to 'social' ends?
All the while this direct action stuff was taking place – a direct action may it be said initiated by managerial stooges – but which we then enthusiastically recovered through transfer towards much more meaningful ends. At the same time, we endeavoured to work on managerial minds trying to break them psychologically. We played games with them. Knowing a manager in Leeds was away on holiday we deliberately bombarded him with letters relishing the fact we had made his first day back at work hell on earth. These managers are very insecure and know their jobs are always on the line made worse by their onerous commitments: Wife, kids, the mortgage, the new white leather sofa, kids perhaps at some bullshit public school, etc.
Once more: Why ultimately are we so effective in these campaigns? It is also because these lowly managers are in a very delicate position and go in fear and trembling of an intelligent public and brutal management above them, despite giving the initial impression they can do as they please. Provided our rage is articulate and honed they tremble more so. They sweat buckets over a salty, well argued letter and we kept increasing the doses of salt. We have learnt this system is not an impregnable monolith and if the strategy chosen is the right one has all the resistance of paper tissue. Finally after dossiers were sent to the Dept of Transport and to the big boss of First bus both situated in London all hell broke loose though behind locked doors as after all this is the secret state of England!. Then to top it all, our campaign hit the pages of Bradford's Telegraph & Argus together with a grovelling apology from a local First bus top bod. Success indeed!
It was pleasure indeed to taste such a total victory knowing that senior citizens and others could travel through this remarkably diverse West Yorkshire countryside letting that fascinating topography which is always full of such surprises pleasurably invade the soul a pleasure which is also soothing and uplifting. As for ourselves it's not Ted Hughes, poet laureate from Luddenden Foot with his turgid re-cycling of a once vibrant romanticism that inspires us in appreciating this landscape but a terse comment from Karl Marx as he journeyed here with Engels. Having forgotten the exact wording, partially and inaccurately remembered from so long ago, it went something like: "Who could suspect there was so much blood and torture in these beautiful hills and valleys" as Engels equally rhapsodized on a Bradford built on seven hills just like ancient Rome! Enjoy.
Although effective we never achieved the wit and cheek – there were too few of us and age was not on our side – as the First Great Western campaign of two years ago when protestors produced fake tickets saying 'Worst Late Western' distributed freely by a fare strike movement. On 22 January 2007:the movement also produced imitation tickets on which were stylishly printed: 'Ticket type: Standing Only. Class: Cattle. Destination: To hell and back'. The company threatened protesters with criminal prosecution and fines of £5000 but staff failed to enforce ticket requirement. Probably helped by this delightful subversion, First also became the only train company actually to achieve a year on year fall in performance results! Now that First bus has again put up fares to grotesque levels perhaps we shall see further action like this as First was the (first) to use the energy crises to initiate fare hikes. Though a blatant, crude rip off over the last few years most attempted revolts like one in Sheffield where fares went through the roof, simply never got off the ground.
Remember: We are still extremely powerful: Remember: We still have the power of the powerless.
A few interesting facts which properly interpreted may be useful as an afterward to the preceding fun and serious games
First bus was founded in 1995 in Aberdeen, originating from the deregulation of bus service care of Madame Thatcher's free market initiatives. In 1998 the company moved into railways with the privatisation of British Rail. First Bus now owns First Scot rail, First Great Western and Transpennine express. It is now the largest UK bus operator with more than one in five local bus services and has 9000 buses with 2.9 million passengers per day. The company employs 7000 people with a turnover of 3 ½ billion. First bought Greyhound in America in 2006 owned by Laidlow International for £1.9 billion. Laidlow was an Ontario based conglomerate.
First bus deputy Chairman and chief executive is Moir Lockhead. He became Sir Moir Lockheed in 2005 having previously been awarded an OBE in 1996 for services to the bus industry. Yet it hadn't been that long ago at the age of 15 he'd been working as an apprentice fitter for Darlington corporation buses attending college on day release. His father was a painter and decorator at Sedgefied hospital in Tony Blair's constituency in Co Durham. In a rare interview Lockheed said he came out of an apprenticeship in nationalised industry having worked as an engineer in Tyne and Wear buses in Byker. In 1979 he moved to Glasgow as chief engineer of city buses eventually organizing a buyout interestingly with trade union support though the latter quickly turned against his proposals. In 1985 he became general manager of Grampian transport comprising a fleet of 200 buses and 500 employees which grew quickly by acquisition of other newly privatized bus companies. He said: "At First I was terrified at the thought of suddenly being thrust into the private sector. Would they be snapped up by a rival and asset stripped."... "In the end I said: Look we should be driving this not fall victim to it. We don't want to be a victim of privatization". Showing his full commitment to privatisation, Lockheed then said: "I mortgaged my house and other guys did. Staff got their shares for nothing. But I didn't see any alternative. This was merely a beginning and in no time Lockheed jumped on the rail privatization band wagon bidding for the Great Eastern franchise". "I've said many times that I found in the railways some very commercial people, people who you wouldn't normally associate with British rail and its reputation. These people were only held back by the structure of British rail. Then I bought an airport - Bristol – we've since sold it." Unsurprisingly, He liked low cost airlines because they created a new market. Moving on to the American scene Lockheed acquired Ryder, the truck leasing company.
The backdrop to all of this was a Tory government busily selling off state owned bus industry - which provided the impetus for the management buyout. Lockhead is a true Thatcher's child as the following quotes prove:"I think there were a lot of things she did that have stood not just this industry but the country in good stead". "The privatization process has worked - it is fair to say the industry is far more efficient" which is ironical considering Thatcher's oft quoted remark that anyone who used buses over the age of 30 was a failure! He said: "I'm an engineer .... interested in understanding how things work and in making them right if they fail. That was my attraction to being a mechanic in a bus company. I was really interested in how the engine and the gearbox and all things associated with that worked". He welcomed London's congestion charge providing hundreds of extra services to cope with the impact of congestion charge won over to the scheme by the prospect of extra profits. Like a lot of the new entrepreneurs Lockheed finally also increasingly hedged his bets somewhat having a now almost obligatory eco-capitalist eye owning an organic farm and talks a lot about otters, trout and salmon.
One of the off-shoots, First Bradford originally formed part of the Yorkshire Rider company in 1980. The company was formed in 1986 at the time of deregulation with the town suffix at the end of the name and was headed by a Mr. Richard who was appointed chief executive in September 2006. Previously in 2001/04 he'd been chairman and chief executive of the strategic rail authority. Added to that he was group commercial director of Virgin Group and independent co-chairman of Virgin Rail. David Ross became Chairman in 1991 having founded and still is non executive director of Carphone Warehouse plc. Roger Devlin, non executive director, had for 13 years been a director of Hill Samuel. Now he is chair of 3 private equity businesses on behalf of Permura and Advent, all active in the leisure and hospitality fields. The present manager director is Ian Humphreys. So we can see where all this lot is coming from so if some of these guys were against the national free bus pass scheme it is hardly surprising considering their curriculum vitae.
Scapegoats, workers and strikes
We cannot help but feel that part of the aggressive response from some of the bus drivers related to the simple fact that drivers are under increasing pressure to perform an almost impossible job and the resulting understandable rage has become a personal conundrum they daily have to deal with as best they can. Scapegoats are therefore in order as it was/is rich in such possibilities especially able to play off the 'privileged' south against a 'destitute' north; of rich southern senior citizens fleecing the last few pennies out of a bankrupt northern purse. Like all workable myths and ideologies it has its basis in reality. After the1930s depression that seared itself into all northern hearts living the sharp end even among those who weren't born then (like ourselves) there followed a double whammy decades later with the almost total ransacking of northern industry based on coal mining, steel making, shipbuilding and engineering relentlessly guided by that ruthless fiend Thatcher. The north still seethes over this and as such it can quickly turn into a demagogic blunderbuss that does nobody any good unable to separate the off shore island of the City of London – bigger than ever though finally drowning – from the immense poverty also existing in the south.
There were other, one suspects more subterranean factors at work too. Although traditionally Bradford and its immediate environs has been regarded as a radical area, one steeped in revolt with high points like early 19th century Luddism and a little later, the epicentre of an armed to the teeth, 'physical force' Chartism, there were also darker, regressive forces constantly at play throughout the same time still periodically breaking out in ugly gestures. The most obvious of these had its inception in Manchester free trade liberalism during the early decades of the 19th century and a force which latterly has dramatically reappeared on the world stage with the advent of Friedmanite free market economics inaugurated by the fascist Chilean coup of 1973 then spreading throughout America, Britain and now most of the rest of the world. At its crudest it meant standing on your own two feet no matter what. Hypocritical to the core it was/is a prescription aimed at the poorest and not the rich though regularly taken on board sadly by some of the most retarded individuals at the sharp end becoming ever more grotesque as the years have rolled by. Consequently something like a free bus pass for senior citizens and the disabled becomes an anathema to be taken out at all costs; no matter – as is the case today – the real scroungers who want something for nothing are the financial elite, though no doubt 'pauperised' industrialists will be getting in on the act soon.
These pernicious responses have latterly been reinforced by a salient contemporary factor: increasing medical expertise means people are living longer. Inevitably some kind of backlash was going to come – interestingly from an unlikely quarter - spearheaded by seemingly socially concerned do-gooder journalists that write for the Guardian. Broadly put: pensioners are too protected and must sell their labour power and work their sagging butts off all over again otherwise the tax burden supporting these idle creeps will become an insupportable weight on the backs of their off-spring. Thinking the whole world enjoys their relatively privileged, cushty employment, these journalists do nothing than demonstrate the limitations of social democracy. Having no notion how capitalism can be transcended on even the simplest, most banal level like abolishing present conditions not only of the distributed receipts of taxation but the monetary economy in its entirety is quite beyond their ken.
And then there's perhaps a local oddity factor. Over the years we've noted certain characteristics among West Yorkshire drivers that occasionally gave us cause for a right good laugh especially a certain terse gruffness. One driver we referred to as Al Read precisely because he typified local Yorkshire character types the comedian satirised way back in the 1950s. You'd always get a kick out of 'Al Read's' often brutally choice antics as long as you weren't in the firing line yourself. Well, that is until the day Sharon Beshenivsky, the police officer was shot dead in Morley St near the Town Hall during a crazed robbery on the Universal Express Travel Agents in Bradford in 2005. Ben was on the 576 bus and our Al refused to let anybody off his vehicle even though caught in a horrendous traffic jam right in the city centre. Al knew what had gone off but refused to tell the passengers even though some were at screaming and boiling point as the day was very hot. A simple few words would have calmed the situation instead Al was going to wring every ounce of drama out of it! It was typical...
Of course over the years and decades we have witnessed more than a few strikes on West Yorks buses. Since the Millennia though management has resorted to legal measures, strikes are again on the increase. Nonetheless the legal penalties can be harsh and the threat of strike in Calderdale buses in 2005 only expired on April 2008. Elsewhere engineers working for First bus Cheshire ended their strike after winning an improved pay offer, so it was an up and down affair. Moreover bus drivers' wages have been under threat for a considerable time as especially cheap European immigrants have by stealth been used as an effective wage cutting weapon. Obviously these consequences have been dire though it is pleasantly surprising to note how little East European racism there seems to be among white, Afro-Caribbean or Asian bus drivers in West Yorkshire's bus stations. On top of this wages are now set at local levels creating much competition between regions. Just over a couple of years ago there was a strike among South Yorkshire's First bus employees desiring parity with the wages of First bus drivers in West Yorks.
Since then wage parity has required an ever bigger profile. On the 10th of October, 2008 there was a limited London wide bus strike as 5000 bus drivers walked out from two London bus firms - First and Metro line asking for £30, 000 year and a 38 hour week for drivers. The drivers' union Unite argued that pay in the capital's 18 bus company varies by up to £6,000. Standardizing of pay and work conditions means that companies cannot cut costs by reducing workers pay and conditions so no one therefore has a competitive advantage. Metrobus successfully lodged a legal challenge against Unite.
One of the bus companies First acquired as it increasingly became a global player was Greyhound in America. To young Afro-Americans Greyhound meant segregated buses operated and driven by brutal bus drivers. In 1961 freedom riders boarded Greyhound and Trailways buses to test court ordered segregation. As we all know the battle was won and calm was restored for a while but then came 1983 and a seven week very bitter Greyhound strike marked by violence between striking employees and scabs. 12,700 walked off the job as management insisted on 9.5% wage cut. From 1990 onwards there was a three year strike. It turned into the most violent strike the industry had ever seen, involving dozens of shootings and over 100 bomb threats. (C/f ours and Pete's intro to the BAD book elsewhere on this web) Previously there had been only local strikes. However this one meant Greyhound was more or less forced to file for bankruptcy. The backdrop to this entire wage cutting exercise was the rise of low cost airlines like South West airlines, which reduced further the market for long distance inter-city bus transportation. They also had to contend with the deregulation of the transport industry and in response Trailways launched a major price war against Greyhound which resulted in a sharp decline in ridership on Greyhound. With deregulation new entrepreneurs who paid low wages entered the business and offered fare prices much lower than the more established inter-city lines. Newly deregulated airlines industry made things worse for greyhound. A People Express charged only $27 for flight between New York and Buffalo whilst Greyhound charged $40. After acquiring Greyhound, First teamed up with Amtrak to combine train and bus station interchange where practical as by 1984 many routes were franchised to lower cost bus companies.
Bus driver takes strike action: January 2009. The No 23 rams Notting Hill's swankiest estate agent, Bective Leslie Marsh. Boding well for the future?
But then a few days later and capitalism had not lost its flair for recuperation providing the most eye-catching advert for an estate agent possibly ever!
A final word of contradictory caution: For sure we have been talking leisure here after the day's life work is done and dusted, for leisure, especially consumer leisure, is the apex of free market capitalism and the ultimate achievement of the service sector economy - its realisation if you like despite being a false realisation, one that never happens. This is no more so than in that vast travel network presently bestriding the globe each ending in a similar destination that disallows the reality of the country visited now destined to be nothing more than a consumer outlet. In all the above notes the inter-connectivity of train, bus, air and hotel organised in vast conglomerates is clearly outlined. On the other hand, the re-discovery of locality - that lost reality that is on our doorsteps - is becoming a fundamental necessity and a new adventure if we are to break from a maddening entertainment oriented tourism where nothing is ever experienced and nothing visited. Free bus passes even for a minority are a step in the right direction. Let's hope one day everybody in the world will have one but by then you won't need a pass at all....
Bill, Ben & Weed: January 2009
From “Off the buses” to “All Aboard”- at least for the moment. What
conclusions can be drawn from the struggle against West York’s Metro
and the PFI partnerships of First Bus, Arriva etc?
As always an ending is also a beginning…..
And we thought back in the late summer of 2009 we had scored such an easy victory. One letter to West Yorks Metro authority and the problem was solved. And how quickly we were to be disabused of that notion. Things were not to change until in April 2010 a standardised senior’s bus pass was introduced throughout England. In many respects, after out initial complaint to the top authority, things would gradually get worse, not better. Repeated abuse causes tempers to fray, particularly as the matter was so cut and dried. There were simply no grey areas open to pharisaic interpretation. We were simply being illegally stopped from travelling for free on West Yorks buses as was our right. We insisted on this over and over again but it made no difference. Thus we began to hatch all manner of conspiratorial explanations, even recalling that in Tudor times common land was enclosed with impunity, even encouraged, though the law expressly forbade it. And for all we know something of the sort may well have been occurring in West Yorks and that there were renegade, very right wing forces within the local and national state, that were surreptitiously conniving with the practise, and that were bent on getting rid of all ‘welfare’ subsidies even though they were themselves subsidised to the hilt like all the major transport privateers, whether train, coach or plane. Should there be a wikifuel leaks, a disgruntled employee may yet spill the beans. Finally in August 2009 after numerous letters and persistent abuse, we snapped. An Arriva driver provocatively refused to accept out London passes despite being shown a letter from the overarching Metro authority that validated their legality. The ensuing confrontation in Dewsbury bus station came close to blows and one of us had to be dragged away. Though momentarily exhilarating, it was perhaps an unfortunate move, though the sheer recalcitrance of management (and unions) to do anything about the situation meant such an explosion was just waiting to happen. The official verdict delivered by a virtual kangaroo court in Arriva’s distant headquarters’ in Liverpool stated the fault was of our own making. The background to the incident, the remorseless build up of abuse now well over a year and half old was just ignored and when we raised the matter with Arriva’s paymaster, the metropolitan authority, we were told it was not within their jurisdiction to question the ruling. In this bizarre inversion of the employer / employee relationship, it was the tune that was calling the flush piper. And so we were given another severe warning, on top of an existing threatened anti social behaviour order if one of us dared show our face in Bradford Interchange again.
In fact it merely hardened our resolve and we were determined to go down fighting.Exasperated, we decided to hand out a leaflet written in a spirited, tough-talking style to a meeting of the Pensioners’ Convention in Euston in London in October 2009 which had been called to discuss the future of the senior citizens pass. The leaflet was basically well received by many of the senior citizens present, some of whom could hardly believe what they were reading. Some even made belligerent suggestions. When told of how the police had been called on one occasion to remove us from a bus one said, “I would have shoved the copper of the bus”. Another agreed it was impossible to talk “to authority these days, I’m permanently barred from my Labour MP’s surgery”!!!!!! And that was about the best of it because it was no different from any well-attended TU branch meeting and indeed that’s exactly what it was as 99% were ex trade unionists. However we had expected the meeting to be like this so it came as no surprise. There was the usual TU contrast between the relatively combative mood of many (if not all) on the assembly floor and the platform of elected officials who, thoughnodding in manipulative sympathy with individuals who were kicking off, spend much of their time hobnobbing with government officials or TUC boss, Brendan ‘Demon’ Barber, dropping his name at regular intervals as though this was a guarantee of their efficacyThese officials know how to make the right noisesbut their real aim in the long run is to delay and quash action. They certainly never even attempted to stop us handing out the leaflet; rather they ignored it and just as surely weren’t going to raise the issue from the platform. True, a controlling, college-educated suit from the Dept of Transport came up when the meeting was closing for a ‘sympathetic’ chat but you knew it was all words and nothing more than patronising bullshit. Possibly suspecting the onset of premature Alzheimer’s, he even asked if we were using our passes before 9.30am, which by law we were forbidden to do. In a sense, even he found it hard to get his head around what was happening on the West Yorks buses, the situation was just so preposterous as to beggar belief. A former dinner ladies’ shop steward found him totally untrustworthy and scheming but of course didn’t say so to his face. But he was typical of the people TU bureaucrats spend their days hanging out with and become so like them they lose the inner freedom to be this frank, even in private. After a while it was obvious that most of the platform came from the white-collar and middle management sections of the TU apparatus and were in possession of masses of empirical data they could reel off but crucially lacking any fire in their bellies. And that was that.
A little later the External Affairs Officer of the Bus Users Group emailed us claiming only the drivers could be at fault over this. We replied, “No it comes from higher up”, the inspectorate playing a particularly crucial role in disseminating false information. Conspiracy theories aside, the most innocuous thing that could be said is that, as a result of cost cutting measures, ignorance was ruling all round. We went on to say that drivers told us they never receive any instructions regarding changes like these and when we replied “that’s typical of management” they would nod their heads in enthusiastic agreement.We even found we had to ‘educate’ the inspectorate, two friendly inspectors in late 2009 asking us “what distinguishes the senior citizens bus pass”.Because we were travelling in “white rose” Yorkshire we jokingly pointed to “the red rose of Lancashire” symbol on the pass (also that of the English tourist board) and which caused laughter all round - which was a change because it hadn’t been a laughing matter at all, in fact extremely scary especially when youths asked drivers if they needed any help in chucking us off buses. Sooner or later some unhinged passenger, exasperated at the delays these incidents caused, was going to pull a knife. And on present reckoning, we would get the blame for offering up our bodies to be stabbed and damaging the knife! ----------------------- The External Affairs Officer never came back to us, would you Adam and Eve it?
And so the nasty incidents continued and was only finally resolved with the issuing of a new bus pass in March 2010, metropolitan districts issuing passes that were a near facsimile of the standard national pass. There and then the trouble ended. If, in the first instance, a standard national pass had been issued, none of this would ever have happened.To produce a myriad different passes was just asking for trouble and we can only wonder who was the wiseacre who dreamt up this cost cutting measure which was sure to fail - even a child could see that - and which in the long run would cost millions more nationally because of the ensuing hold ups in the transport networks. Did this inept piece of designer creativity result in a handsome payoff for some subcontracted company? And were obscene consultancy fees involved? In fact the new pass was not the hi-tech, smart card promised at the Pensioners Convention but a serviceable, dull old thing, drivers scarcely can be bothered to look at. And so the growing army of pensioners will just have to forgo the pleasures of techno-aestheticism, the eventual, state-of-the-art, bus pass merely one wafer ofa universal smart card which will, in due course, upload them into the credit / leisure / service society in which choice (of smart Zimmer frame, bedpan, coffin-whatever) was to be sovereign. In fact today’s bit of common card, mug shot, and not much else beside belies the triumphalist ideology that enveloped its earlier arrival, despite the beginnings of the credit crises.
But interesting developments were to follow, some of them quite pleasing. Almost instantly there was an about turn from staff at Bradford Interchange. Some inspectors (for we were now notorious) even began looking at us in almost an awed way, as if we were made of kryptonite. Though we were not supermen, we had kept up a relentless pressure month in, month out and clearly were not to be messed with. The drivers’ attitudes changed and, though wary, we felt we were being shown some kind of puzzled respect. What we had written must have got around and it was clear that on no occasion had we ever blamed the drivers and held them responsible, despite being subject to the most appalling provocation which, of course, we also found inexcusable. In fact we never once in all the leaflets, harangues, letters, and speeches to the Pensioners Convention etc cussed drivers out. We always made doubly sure that we clearly emphasised the gradual worsening of their conditions of employment (evident from the growing number of strikes) and the concomitant increase in personal stress, lending itself to handy scapegoats (e.g. ourselves or pensioners in general) or to an almost inevitable surly, uncooperative behaviour towards passengers (sorry “customers”) bordering on the rude and aggressive.
We were only too glad to shake hands and move on. Inter-class aggro, even violent inter-class aggro is not uncommon in the hidden history of the workers’ movement. Inter class aggression can have appalling consequences like the refusal of Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire miners to support the rest of the striking miners during 1984-5. However in most cases hurdles can be overcome and solidarity restored. So let’s examine in more detail the 1972 dockers’ strike which quickly spread into a general wildcat involving other industrial and office workers. The strike began as an inter-sectional union dispute, the Tory government of the day judging it the right moment, on account of this inter class dispute, to arrest five shop stewardsand incarcerate them in Pentonville prison, Once the law had been brought into the dispute, the two opposing docker battalions belonging to either registered or unregistered wharves immediately patched up their differences, the general wildcat strike that followed ensuring the arrested dockers were hardly in prison long enough to change into prison issue! On a different level there are signs a similar coming together is beginning to happen between estate gangs and a more general youth uprising, the function of FE colleges in fostering apprenticeships the more education is privatised and leased to companies, central to this development.
We gained respect because of our unremitting, abrasive attacks on the central West Yorkshire Metro authority which never once provided the authority with one crumb of comfort. We showed the Metro authority up for what it is, a spineless, over-arching organisation that in reality has no teeth at all, and no power other than as a council tax raising authority and lacking any sense of responsibility not just as regards minor instances but also major outrageous ones. We showed that Public Private Partnerships, or PFIs(Private Finance Initiatives, “public” deemed too base a word to merit inclusion and therefore increasingly dropped over time ) are not equal relationships and that, as time passed,has become increasingly weightedtoward a private sector thatcan do no wrong, itsprofits guaranteed from out of council taxes.First brokered by the Tory PM Major government from 1991-7 and then enthusiastically developed everywhere by Labour’s Blair & Brown, it has increasingly been viewed byliberal / left journalists as a financial racket engineeredto offsetmarket failure and guarantee dividend payments to share holders.
We targeted transport managers in particular and whatever their gender we do not seek to hide the fact out purpose was to break then into bits, for this was a no holds barred fight. It was either them or us. We were simply out to make their jobs (and lives) a complete misery, such that they dreaded turning up for work each day. We judged they were simply place men and women and that, on account of their rank, the sustaining power ofsolidarity was all but absent from their working lives – unlike amongst the multiracial, gender-neutral, bus drivers on the opposite side of the road. We also devilishly hoped that the distress we were hell bent on creating would overflow into the domestic sphere and exacerbate already existing tensions. Nothing would have given us greater satisfaction than to learn that our campaign had contributed to a marriage bust-up somewhere along the line. Middle management lives in perpetual fear of those below and especially above and given how the importance of PR grows in proportion to the loss of power by the local state, we knew the jobs of transport managers hung by a thread.Were they to put a foot wrong andtheir words and actionsheld up to public redress, the chances of them hanging on to their miserable, time serving, shit career jobs was zilch.As it is, we do wonder how many Metro staff were giving a severe bollocking behind closed doors and were either moved sideways or demoted their prospect of advancement up the career hierarchy of local government at an end. However it is important to the maintenance of power that this is never made known, otherwise campaigns like ours could catch on and become all the rage!
Our campaign was a just one-off and of that there can be no doubt. And yet the stigma remains – and must do, for today more than ever, right is wrong, black, white and in the digital age 2+2=22. Thus Dick Cheney and others in State depts both here and in America, still insist, against all the evidence that hidden beneath a grain of sand in the Iraq desert there are masses of WMDs, primed for take off. For a start we lost our temper on several occasions and that is unforgivable, the notion of righteous anger, the prime target of the society of anger management. That we lost our rags condemns us for all eternity and, as we said in a letter, there is nothing more deserving of a reprimand than the Jews who hurled abuse at their captors as they were being herded into the gas chamber. No honour would ever accrue to our persons for having dared stand up to the injustice we, and others, endured for close on a year and a half. And that can have devastating psychological consequences, for there is a constant danger that the instigators of these individual David and Goliath campaigns begin to doubt themselves, cave in and end up shamefacedly agreeing with authority they are unstable troublemakers, guilty of violence, sexism and racism and urgently in need of therapy. Growing atomisation and the increased loss of a collective identity, only reinforces this. And in this one instance, power certainly knows what it’s doing.
Perhaps the major problem we came up against was getting others in a position to listen to believe this was actually happening. It was beyond comprehension and we would regularly quote Primo Levi to the effect what is morally impossible does not exist. It was so against the grain of the ‘humanist consensus’, we had to be making it up. Things like we were describing do not take place in modern Europe with its ‘concerned press’ and array of human rights legislation. In fact this consensus had been honed by end of history ideologies, a commitment to free market liberalism and an end to theboom and bust cycle and was the perfect foil behind whichappalling ‘accidents’ could take place with relative impunity. And because the ‘caring society’ was a fact, and hence not open tointerrogation as it became ever more obviously ‘service’ and ‘user’centred, it could also paradoxically be said to act as a facilitator. Belief in its proclaimed nostrums is powerfully present in the media classes.
Interestingly, our original account published on the RAP web, really did make waves, climbing ever higher on Google listings when typing in West Yorks Metropolitan Authority. In fact, unbeknown to us, our ‘isolated’ protests were, it seems, merely the tip of the iceberg as complaints against Metro poured in, especially as regards arbitrary fare increases, rerouting of buses, even cancellation of routes with no regard to passengers and their workaday needs. The whole ramshackle outfit is on the brink of a collective nervous breakdown and for two nights in mid summer 2010, Metro hit the headlines of the Look North TV news. We only wish some abused employee would leak embarrassing internal information because that would provide user groups with badly needed ammo and that certainly would help in bringing the rotten edifice crashing to the ground.There is little doubt we are entering a period of struggle that is likely to embrace people formerly on the margins of previous struggles. Resistance to PFIs (the privatisation of the NHS by stealth immediately springs to mind) are just to say beginning, the presently disempowered consumers of services hopefully getting set to become the new multitudes of resistance and through direct action find their real power, the only power that counts. It would be nice to think that our unyielding and lone battle with Metro might prove to be a harbinger of this resistance…..
Bill & Ben: January 2011