Ruthless bosses at private bus companies in Manchester and London are using the cover of the pandemic to go on the offensive against drivers’ pay and conditions. But united and organised, these workers are fighting back.
Across the country, public services are under attack. The bosses are looking to use the pandemic as an excuse to hammer workers and drive up their own profits. But struggles are erupting in response.
Two major metropolitan areas are now seeing strikes emerge across their bus services. Below are reports from Manchester and London, where drivers are taking on exploitative employers, in an effort to defeat attempts to tear up their terms and conditions.
Sammy Meikle, Manchester Marxists
Nigel Featham and TheGoAhead Group are the latest to use the despicable ‘fire and rehire’ strategy to rip up terms and conditions of key workers. In this case, the essential workers in question are bus drivers in Manchester.
Such ‘fire and rehire’ tactics are currently being used by British Gas, British Airways, Tower Hamlets council, and other employers across the country.
Wave of strike action to sweep captital’s bus services in disputes over pay, conditions and remote sign on.
Find out more about why London bus drivers are taking industrial action ?https://t.co/bXBRgG5yO7
— Unite the union: join a union (@unitetheunion) February 9, 2021
For workers, this means longer hours, less pay, less family time, and much more stressful working conditions. These attacks will also compromise the health and safety of workers.
In response, Unite the Union have balloted their members for strike action, and have set up a hardship fund for the drivers.
The union is accusing Go North West – a local subsidiary of the TheGoAhead Group – of using the pandemic to force through changes that they had initially pushed for in 2019, long before COVID was on the scene.
The callousness of the bosses cannot be overstated. They are using the disruption of the pandemic to boost their profits. This means pushing through worse terms for workers – precisely at a time when they and their families need decent pay and conditions the most.
Of course, the capitalists have never been concerned about the lives or livelihoods of their workers. What concerns them is keeping their profit margins fat, and lining the pockets of parasites like Nigel Featham.
At the request of GoNorthWest, police officers attended and dispersed a peaceful demonstration being held in Salford in support of the drivers, forcefully manhandling protesters in the process. Once again, this highlights the real role of the police: to side with the bosses, and protect the property and interests of the capitalist class.
Workers across the community and labour movement are rightly disgusted at the sight of such treatment. As a result, since announcing its hardship fund, Unite have successfully raised £41,700, as of 8 February. These contributions came from over 1000 donors, in the space of 28 days.
This demonstrates the widespread support and solidarity that the drivers have amongst the local community and labour movement.
The strongest power the working class has is unity. If we stand united, we can win. And that’s what the Manchester bus drivers aim to do.
Sean Hodges, Unite the Union (London and Eastern)
Bus drivers across several London bus franchises have voted to strike in late February. This is in response to owner RATP proposing new contracts to drivers in some of their subsidiaries, which will mean wage cuts of up to £2,500 per year for the workers affected.
The company has also threatened to move their workforce onto zero-hours style contracts. This effectively means that drivers will only be paid for time spent driving, and not for the additional hours they spend at work.
In addition, Unite has used this ballot to draw attention to RATP’s other little trick. In short, the company uses subsidiaries to employ different groups of workers on different terms. This is a blatant attempt to divide and atomise workers, making union organisation more difficult as a result.
In response, the union has organised two days of strike action across three of RATP’s subsidiaries. The aim is cut across this division, and to wage a united fight. At the same time, plans are in place for further escalated strike action, if the company doesn’t back down.
This also comes at a time when the union is re-balloting for strike action at Metroline to prevent remote sign-on being introduced – a practice that will hammer workers in a similar way.
Companies like RATP and Metroline have been trying to use the pandemic as a cover to attack workers’ pay and conditions. To them, all that matters is their profit margins. If a few more drivers get sick or die due to COVID, or burn out due to stress, that’s a price they’re happy to pay.
Unite is right not to rule out further strike action; and equally to ensure that these strikes occur as close to one another as possible. Fighting piecemeal battles allows employers to pick workers off one-by-one. Only a united struggle can overcome the bosses’ plans.
The labour movement must offer their full solidarity to the bus drivers, and demand that the private bus companies be brought into public ownership, under democratic workers’ control.