After the devastating closure of all service to Western Canada in 2018, and the temporary closure of all operations in May 2020 in the wake of COVID-19, Greyhound Canada announced on May 13, 2021 that all Canadian routes were being closed down permanently. This stands out clearly as a failure of the capitalist system. A nationalized bus network is the only way forward.
Cause and repercussions of the closure
The May 13th announcement cited a 95 per cent fall in sales during the COVID-19 pandemic as a leading cause of the decision to shut down Canadian service. Another factor mentioned was the Ontario government’s decision to deregulate the busing industry (Bill 213), which would introduce further competition for Greyhound where previously the company had a monopoly on the most lucrative corridors.
Up until Bill 213, Greyhound enjoyed a monopoly over the extremely profitable Toronto-Ottawa route, meaning it was illegal for a competitor, such as Megabus, to service that route. The idea behind granting monopolies to companies on profitable routes was that those profits would subsidize less profitable services to rural and remote areas. Deregulation and no commensurate aid from the government meant that there was no longer a “business case” that could be made to Greyhound shareholders to continue operations in Canada.
Along with the closure came the announcement that Greyhound would be laying off almost 400 unionized Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) workers who operated Greyhound Canada. This is another blow to the union which lost more than 400 workers during the 2018 wave of closures across Western Canada.
Furthermore, the social impacts of the closure are numerous. Many commentators have noted over the years the human cost of the lack of affordable transportation. Those most severely affected by this loss of service are the most vulnerable in our society. Workers, students, the elderly, the sick, and disproportionately women in remote communities will be increasingly cut off from cities, making access to jobs, health care and education more infrequent and expensive.
Most notably, as we explained in 2018, the reliance on bus transportation by Indigenous communities and the disproportionate consequences that befall them due to the closures must be highlighted. Access to affordable bus transportation is a matter of safety for Indigenous communities, and especially Indigenous women. Responding to the previous wave of closures, the Native Women’s Association of Canada released a declaration which stated, “By virtue of this significant access barrier, it will exacerbate the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.”
What has been the response from labour?
In a statement released on May 13, the Federal NDP critic for transport Taylor Bachrach described the closure as a “blow” to Canadians. In the statement, Bachrach explained that “Without government action, rural Canadians will be increasingly cut off from jobs, health care and education, worsening the growing divide in rural and northern Canada.”
Bachrach added that “For years, the NDP has urged the Prime Minister to find a funding plan that could keep Greyhound’s remaining routes operating.” What this essentially amounts to is a bailout in all but name. While it may be strange to see Canada’s labour party argue for state financing for private companies, this has become all too common.
The NDP has championed bailouts to private companies throughout the pandemic, most clearly expressed in its energetic support of Trudeau’s corporate wage subsidy. One has to ask, why should the public pay the operation costs of a multi-billion dollar company while it waits for profitability to be restored in the sector? Hopefully someone has a better answer than Mr. Bachrach.
What did the ATU have to say? More of the same, unfortunately. In his response to the closure, International President of ATU John Costa also directed his fire against Trudeau’s lack of federal subsidies to Greyhound as well as the deregulation of the industry. Costa painted a grim picture stating, “The closure of intercity transit today has torn a hole in the fabric of our country, which will take decades to repair.”
Failure of the market
The call by labour leaders for public money to prop up private corporations is shortsighted to say the least. The state bailing out private companies has not worked in the manufacturing sector, where layoffs continue in spite of massive bailouts, and there is no reason to believe that it will work here. In fact, companies who have received government subsidies have simply pocketed the cash, paying out massive dividends.
The demand for the state to prop up a private company does, however, demonstrate what the real problem is. Greyhound’s failure is above all the failure of the capitalist system to provide for the very basic needs of society. COVID-19 has reminded millions of people that capitalism can no longer exist without the state injecting trillions of dollars globally to prop it up.
Capitalism, a system that functions on the basis of the profit motive, is most clearly and rapidly exposed when it comes to providing basic social services, which are necessary but rarely profitable when extended to the entire population. Demands for clean water, affordable quality housing, free education, job guarantees, accessible transportation, etc. are socially necessary, but there is no profit to be found here. We must look reality in the face and prepare to discard the profit motive altogether.
To continue to allow bus transport to remain in the hands of the market will come at a high human cost, spelling disaster for poor rural communities and particularly First Nations. Leaving people isolated without affordable transport will force them into desperate and dangerous situations, which will mean many more “highways of tears” across the country.
Expropriate Greyhound! For a nationalized bus network!
In order to preserve the bus routes, restore previously closed ones, and to urgently save nearly 400 jobs, the NDP and especially the ATU and broader labour movement must demand and mobilize towards the expropriation of Greyhound Canada. The only affordable, sustainable and immediate alternative is to seize this infrastructure and use it as the starting point towards building a Canada-wide nationalized inter-city bus and rail network. This is the only way to guarantee accessible transportation for working class people across the country.