Rally for Bus Drivers at University of Texas

- by Matthew Wackerle

February 9, 2004

Austin, Texas

University of Texas bus drivers have something to complain about. Two years of negotiations with ATC of Texas, the company contracting with the University to provide busing services, have resulted in no progress in terms of the livelihoods of the workers who provide the labor necessary for the campus to function. The bus drivers have several grievances. In the past three years, ATC has failed to raise the salaries of senior drivers while slashing medical benefits on more than one occasion. Furthermore, in what is becoming so characteristic of America's labor standards, the company refuses to grant any paid leave whether because of illness or vacation. On February 9, disgruntled bus drivers and local activists staged a rally at the Martin Luther King, Jr. statue at UT demanding that the school's administration place pressure on its contractor to provide adequate compensation for its employees. Included amongst those giving speeches were representatives of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1549, the Campaign for a Living Wage, and the International Socialist Organization. Musicians provided rhythm to the event, singing songs calling for social justice and the old American labor hymnal "Solidarity Forever."

The rally itself was quite small, but in recent times it has been one of the only public protests on behalf of workers employed in the service of the university community. UT has raised tuition dramatically as part of Texas' new university deregulation laws that takes power over the cost of Texas public universities away from the state legislature and places it in the hands of the system's Board of Regents. However, this has not resulted in any substantial increase in the wages of people working for the university nor has it added to the benefits and services granted to those enrolled.

As for contracted labor, such as the bus drivers, the University has essentially followed the lead of companies like Yum! Brands and washed its hands of the situation. Yum! Brands is the parent company of a number of fast food chains like KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell as well as the popular soft-drink distributor Pepsi-Cola. Taco Bell has been in a controversial relationship with a contractor that hires poorly-paid migrant farm workers who receive no medical benefits and suffer under an oppressive and physically straining work environment. These farm-workers pick the tomatoes that are used in Taco Bell's products, and have been struggling to place pressure on Taco Bell to demand its contractor to provide them with a higher standard of living. In the Fall semester, UT activists fought to pass a resolution through the student government that would call upon the University to end its business arrangement with Taco Bell and throw the restaurant off campus, replacing it with a locally owned taqueria. Although a number of other campuses have achieved this goal, it was highly criticized in the student newspaper by right wing members of the student body and individuals who apparently saw no connection between the food they eat and actual human beings. In the end, the resolution failed, but not after accusations of the student government leadership sidelining representatives who were calling for Taco Bell's removal.

UT says that it will not get involved in the dispute, that it has no business getting involved, even though it is obvious that so long as these drivers pilot large orange buses to and from campus the University is a party that could have considerable influence on the outcome.

Even though UT is one of the wealthiest universities in the country, and has increased tuition for tens of thousands of students, bus drivers complained of their fellow workers having to use food stamps in order to survive. To this, University of Texas, Inc. turns a blind eye, shrugging its responsibilities and failing to take any action to make life better for those indispensable to the University: students as well as service workers who make it possible for individuals to obtain a university diploma. Higher education has proven to be just another realm of capitalist exploitation, and it has become all too obvious that those on the left who placed students in a separate category apart from the "proletariat" must now rethink their analysis of class. Even the "worker-student alliance" has become an anachronism, as both constitute segments of an exploited multitude of waged and unwaged labor struggling against a common enemy. Related websites:


    Matthew Wackerle is a 21 year-old government and sociology major at the University of Texas at Austin. He encourages feedback here:

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