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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Goodbye old Friend

Writing this blog about life as a bus driver in Los Angeles and comparing it with my previous life as a bus driver in Swansea has triggered many memories of the things I did and the people I knew back in the day. Sometimes the memories can be quite painful. I just received an e-mail from Swansea, letting me know that an old friend, Mike Christmas, had passed away. His funeral is this week. Mike and I worked for South Wales Transport back in the 70's and 80's. I remember his payroll number was 1470. Large corporations, especially in the transport industry, know you by your number rather than your name. My number was 1520 as a bus conductor, when I became a driver it changed to 707. Odd how I can remember these things. With Los Angeles Metro my number is 18853, Nothing changes.
I was grateful to be told about Mike's passing though it saddens me. We were mates and at one time he lived in the next block of flats to us in Sketty Park. He and I were both on the Union Branch committee. Basically we were shop stewards, back in the days when a Union was a Union. One memorable occasion comes to mind. The labor party was in government, Harold Wilson was Prime Minister and the Chancellor, Dennis Healy, announced there would be deep cuts in Public Transportation funding. The Transport and General Workers Union staged a rally in London. Mike and I were among the attendees. We heard stirring words from our leaders and then it was decided we would all march on Parliament and tell the inmates how they should be running this asylum. There were about 3,000 of us from all over the UK. Mike and I were among the first to get to the Parliament building and the police hadn't been expecting this. Every one of us had the right to visit our representative there but we were too much to handle at one time. So they let us in. Me and Mike walked up to this cop and said, "We've come to see our MP" The officer calmly directed us which way to go. We met another cop who also gave us directions. The third cop advised us to go through a door and that's when we found ourselves out on the street. The sneaky  buggers let us in one door and out the other. All our attempts to regain entry were met with "If you wish to see your MP sir, you must go to the front of the building." By the time we got around to the front, reinforcements had arrived to keep us orderly, conference rooms inside Parliament had been set up and Spokesmen for the government were there to talk to us. Cleverly done but they have a thousand years of experience at being sneaky and they've learned it well.
Mike and I were very active in Union work back in Swansea. We didn't take any crap from the management and, to be fair, they didn't take it from us. Branch meetings were usually small affairs until there was a threat of a strike, then the Union hall would be packed. Negotiations with management were far more participatory than they are here in America. Here, a committee of full time officers meet with the management in executive managerial style to negotiate contracts. In Wales all the local officials are volunteers, there's no financial reward. In L. A. Everyone in the Union gets paid. I can't bring myself to be actively involved in the Union over here, the whole structure is too far removed from the people it represents There is no real impetus for change though, because there is no real experience of anything better. Migrant workers from south and central America are used to a high degree of corruption so their instincts are to mistrust while the average American worker believes that their Union is the best in the world. They see democracy where none really exists because the comparisons are with immigrants who have been running away from tyranny and corruption.
I never believed Mike could be corrupted, he always was very firm in what he stood for. In fact he could be quite obnoxious at times if you didn't agree with him. He saw anyone who sought promotion as someone climbing a ladder on the backs of his workmates. I didn't always agree with him and we had our disagreements but he was a good friend. It grieves me that I can't be there for the funeral but he is someone else I will be looking for at Calan Gaeaf,

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