Driving a city bus should not be life-threatening

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I’ve been meaning to say something on this for the past few days but just haven’t been able to break away from other stuff. I’m talking about the recent bus driver wildcat strike here in Detroit where the overwhelming majority of bus drivers last week decided they were fed up with having their very immediate – some might say life-threatening – concerns ignored by their elected representatives on city council.

So they decided to not show up for work.

Anybody who knows anything about strikes knows that being fed up with not being listened to usually figures pretty heavily into the equation. That’s where unions came from, and that’s also where dissent within union ranks eventually came from as well back in the late 1960s early ’70s. That’s when the radical movement began to take a pretty strong hold on the shop floors among the younger black workers as well as the white leftists and progressives who were sick and tired of the entrenched racial discrimination running rampant throughout the auto plants that they felt the UAW simply wasn’t dealing with nearly as effectively as they should have been. And that’s not even talking about the horrific working conditions…

But back to the present day. Here in Detroit, where the union movement was born and bred, it’s somewhat surprising that the bus drivers didn’t raise hell a lot earlier than they did given what they’ve had to endure on their routes for the past few years ever since the Detroit Police Department decided to stop providing officers to provide protection on buses and put them in the streets instead. Since that time, bus drivers – and passengers – have been both verbally and physically assaulted with rather frightening frequency.

To read more about the issue, click here and here.

In an attempt to rectify the situation, Wayne County Sheriff’s Deputies offered to provide protection that wouldn’t even cost the city a dime, but would instead be paid for from a $12 million federal grant. Those of you who view this as a rather obvious solution to a serious problem obviously haven’t been living in Detroit long enough. Apparently not considering the lives of city bus drivers – and bus riders – an urgent priority, a majority of council members initially voted against allowing the deputies to provide this protection due to  some Twilight Zone -based fear that this was a first step toward privatization of city bus service. The fact that Detroit happens to be a part of Wayne County and actually provides tax dollars to Wayne County government just like all the other Wayne County municipalities who have come to expect something in return for their tax dollars, seems to have somehow escaped the notice of these council members.

But it didn’t escape the notice of the bus drivers who decided that enough was enough when two of their own were recently assaulted on their routes during a two-day period just prior to their decision to strike. The potent mix of those disturbing episodes plus listening to their city council vote against giving them the protection they need simply to remain safe while doing their job of transporting Detroiters to and from where they need to go was more than enough to make the pot boil over.

 The time had come to scream at the top of their lungs and raise hell which, in Detroit, is sometimes the only way you can get things done. Folks don’t listen sometimes around here unless you’re really pissed off and look like you’re about to go off. Thankfully, in this case, it worked. After mumbling about how they were not going to be intimidated and shoved around, certain council members then shut up and the majority this time voted in favor of allowing the deputies to provide security on the city’s buses. This is within 48 hours of not showing up for work, which means that somebody got the point and quick.

Although I have never ridden public transportation in Detroit – except the People Mover – public transportation was my only option for four years when I lived in Chicago over two decades ago. Based on some of the things I witnessed on buses and trains way back then in another major urban center, I don’t have any problem whatsoever understanding the urgency of the Detroit bus drivers’ request. Public transportation in the ‘hood can be an experience. I’ll leave it at that.

Anyway, a big hat’s off to the bus drivers for putting the brakes on idiocy and standing up for what they needed. Sure, it was a brief inconvenience for bus riders and that’s unfortunate, especially for those with no other options. But there’s no such thing as a convenient uprising.

Sometimes you just gotta scream.

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~ by Keith A. Owens on May 26, 2007.

2 Responses to “Driving a city bus should not be life-threatening”

  1. […] Read more here… […]

  2. Hey Keith, got your message today & sorry I missed you!!! My booth neighbor told me that I missed you by at least 5 minutes. We will meet soon my friend!!!

    Bygbaby

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