Vinny unwilling to be swayed by a load of Tosh
AGAINST THE ODDS:One man puts the ordinary punter first as bus workers take militant path
It was Friday evening when word filtered through to the forecourt at Clontarf bus garage that the Bus Éireann strike was off, pending a Labour Court summit.
As drivers reversed their snorting steeds off the road into their stables overnight, an air of militancy was carried on the sea breeze, which Vinny Fitzpatrick disliked and dared not sniff.
In contrast, his colleagues scented blood, their emotions whipped up by the saliva-spitting rhetoric of Tosh Thornton, the elected garage rep to the national union.
Such was Tosh’s blue-collar breast-beating, the crew of Clontarf were prepared to march on Liberty Hall and picket their workplace in support of their brother workers on the provincial run.
That Tosh was known as the father of the Clontarf chapel grated with Vinny. While he wasn’t a Holy Joe by any stretch of the imagination, Vinny felt Tosh’s profane language was inappropriate for any pulpit.
Tosh had called a vote the evening before in support of a strike, should the row over proposed cuts escalate. He had banged his fist on a canteen table, pointing how Dublin Bus was next in the firing line after Bus Éireann.
“Brothers, we lost 150 jobs across the board in 2010. How many more do ye think will go this time if we surrender? We must stand and fight or risk being trodden under the wheels of bureaucrats in suits who are treating us like road-kill,” thundered Tosh.
There had been a secret ballot among Clontarf drivers and of the 278 votes cast, 270 were in favour of strike action if push came to shove – more than 90 per cent, which tickled Tosh’s cough. A handful of drivers abstained and a couple of votes had been spoiled.
Only one driver voted against strike action: Vinny Fitzpatrick.
Not that anyone knew. It might have been different had Tosh called for a public show of hands as Vinny wasn’t sure if he had the bottle to raise a pudgy paw against the motion in defiance of his colleagues.
As he made the short walk from the garage to Foley’s for a libation, Vinny considered what his old man, Finbarr, would make of his anti-union stance. Finbarr had been a fiery fellah, short of stature and of temper, who had helped form the NBRU in 1963 in protest at the under-representation of drivers.
That the union, which represented 3,700 drivers and inspectors in Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann, had been spawned in Clontarf garage due to his aul fellah’s urgings was, to a degree, a sense of pride to the beefy Vinny.
Others were far more animated about the link.
Tosh Thornton, for one, never failed to remind his co-workers that Clontarf was the cradle of union civilization among bus drivers, and how drivers and clippies of the past had shaped the progressive terms of today’s work and pay conditions.
While the ghost of Finbarr Fitzpatrick was regarded as a Cúchulainn-like figure for the NBRU; his roly-poly son was far less revolutionary.
He clocked in and clocked out dutifully, rarely beeping a trade union horn for one very simple reason: he loved his job.
In 34 years on the buses, including a shared stint with his old man, Vinny had witnessed wondrous changes. There were new garages, new buses, new orbital routes, new logos, a new Nite Link, as well as Vinny’s pride and joy, the new Real Time arrival information service on bus stops across the city.
But the core function of Dublin Bus drivers remained untouched. It was all about ferrying passengers where they wanted to go, as safely and as readily as possible.
Vinny’s old man had piloted the very first 29A in 1958 from Newgrove Cross to town, via the green fields of Donaghmede and Raheny village. The route was a quirky one which included a detour around St Anne’s Park and missed out a chunk of the Howth Road but it quickly built up a loyal Northside following. Almost 55 years on, the route continued to duck and weave out of estates off the beaten track.
If there was a strike, Vinny feared that many folk who relied on the 29A would be stuck indoors.
“Is that what Tosh Thornton wants?” Vinny asked himself as he approached Foley’s. Did the agitator appreciate the consequences of strike action? How would kids get to school? Folk get to work? Or stressed housewives get in and out of town for shopping?
Vinny had studied the small print in the demands of the management; noted the planned cutbacks in over-time; the loss of three days’ holidays over a three-year period, and the three hours extra work per week. He noted them, and shrugged.
As he rarely took his annual leave quota anyway, Vinny could cope with losing a day here and there, while he had no problem driving a 39-hour week – it was only one extra run to Malahide and back.
Scouring for fares
He counted himself fortunate compared to his mates. Fran regularly totted up 60 hours a week in his launderette, while Macker was out at dawn in his taxi scouring for fares. Even Brennie was on longer hours in the bank and for less pay too.
From his point of view, the overtime issue wasn’t an issue as he didn’t volunteer for it. He’d rather spend his time off at home, or, if truth be told, in the comforting arms of Foley’s where he regularly supped over time.
Arriving at his favourite watering hole, Vinny pulled open the bar door, caught Dial-A-Smile’s eye and made for his usual perch. As he waited for the perfect pint to be poured, he looked about.
It was a busy crowd for a Friday. There was the usual domino gathering in the snug, while he recognised a cluster of the blue-rinse brigade, all sipping hot ports, as the local choral society, the Clontarf Warblers. One of them, Mrs Irene Murgatroyd, waved at him. “Coo-ee, Mr Bus Driver,” she trilled.
As he sipped Uncle Arthur’s finest, Vinny thought of the hardship which would befall the Foley’s regulars should Dublin Bus grind to a halt. He knew his old man would never forgive him but the thought of strike action was, to Vinny, a whole lot of Tosh.
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