San Francisco school bus drivers turned out in force March 13 to picket the local office of Veolia Corporation. The action was in support of their valiant sisters and brothers in Boston whose school bus union, Steelworkers union Local 8751, Veolia is trying to bust. They demanded that four fired union leaders — Andre Francois, Steve Gillis, Garry Murchison and Stevan Kirschbaum — be reinstated.
Like many school bus drivers, they often work a split shift, transporting kids to school in the morning, then after a several-hour break, taking the children back home from school in the afternoon. This day they turned their midday break to good advantage by giving Veolia a piece of their mind.
The crowd of 25 chanted: “Greedy Veolia, you should know, union busting’s got to go!” and “Hands off the Boston School Bus 4!” Veolia is a huge transnational company, based in France, with an abysmal environmental and human rights record. Their MO has been to privatize water supplies and public transportation, all the while reducing the wages and benefits of those doing the work.
Pickets greeted labor solidarity visitors from embattled City College with a chant of “Hands off public education!” To postal workers facing privatization they chanted, “Hands off the public Post Office!” To Bay Area Rapid Transit workers the message was “Hands off public transit!” Chris Finn, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, was on the picket line. A union-busting Veolia vice president was chief negotiator for BART management during a recent strike to stave off serious concessions.
One driver, only recently hired by the San Francisco school bus company, told how he knew first-hand about Veolia, since he used to drive for one of their San Francisco affiliates. “The wages were bad,” he said, “with no benefits.”
The San Francisco school bus union, affiliated with United Transportation Union Local 1741, has a long history of solidarity. During the giant 200,000-plus Saturday marches against U.S. wars in Iraq, they volunteered their labor to drive buses to get people to the marches. When the United Farm Workers held a big rally for strawberry pickers in faraway Watsonville, Calif., some years ago, many of the San Francisco school bus drivers gave up their Saturday to take busloads of folks there from the city.
Later that March 13 evening in Oakland, there was an event to honor Tristan Anderson, who was severely injured when he was shot in the head with a U.S. -made tear gas grenade by Israeli Military Police during a protest in the village of Ni’ilin, Occupied Palestine, in 2009.
Anderson became paralyzed over half his body and lives with severe permanent injury to his brain. After the rally, with speakers providing updates on the struggle in Palestine, the group marched to the Veolia para-transit office on Broadway. Paul Larudee, co-founder of the Free Gaza and Free Palestine Movements, spoke about Veolia’s profit-making off the blood and misery of the Palestinians.
Then, another speaker talked about the picket line at Veolia para-transit in San Francisco, which had just happened that morning in support of the Boston School Bus drivers. Watch the video at tinyurl.com/p9ybhtw.