Organised in Unite the Union, bus drivers across the country are taking action against attacks on pay, conditions, and safety. And now these strikes are spreading, with workers at other private bus companies joining the fight.
Around the country, bus drivers are continuing their fight against the bosses and their fire-and-rehire tactics. As we report below, in both Manchester and London, workers have taken strike action in order to defend themselves against such attacks.
Sammy Meikle, Manchester Marxists
Over 400 bus drivers, organised in Unite, are currently on all out strike. This comes after Go North West brutally ‘fired and rehired’ the workers in order to force them onto inferior pay and conditions. The drivers, who previously earned on average £24,000 a year, will be £2,500 a year worse off.
Since the strike began on 28 February, Go North West have been operating a ‘rogue bus service’ – essentially ‘scabs-on-wheels’ – in order to avoid negotiating with union representatives.
Day 10 of the #ManchesterBusStrike.
We’re on the side of Manchester’s bus drivers on strike today defending themselves against a #FireandRehire attack on their pay and conditions.
— Unite North West (@Unite_NorthWest) March 9, 2021
The company has moved many of its buses out of its Queens Road depot, and is using buses supplied by non-union companies such as Selwyns and Belle Vue coaches. The company is also bringing in drivers from other parts of the country.
Unite obtained a series of photos and videos showing serious overcrowding on Go North West’s scabbing service. This takes place alongside growing concerns about COVID contagion, with the discovery of the more infectious Kent variant in Greater Manchester.
Go North West operates 130 buses on thirty routes across Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Trafford and Warrington. Greater Manchester has established firm rules to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19, since 41% of Manchester workers are in sectors of the economy that have higher death rates from COVID-19, such as construction, transport and manufacturing.
Single decker buses are therefore restricted to 18 passengers, and no one is allowed to stand.
Despite this, Go Ahead have clearly decided these rules don’t apply to them. For example, Unite has provided evidence that on one of the single-decker buses operated by this scab service, up to 44 people were on board.
A spokesman for Go North West was reported as saying: “COVID-19 compliance is an absolute priority for us and we have led the way in developing safety measures over the last year.”
In the same way that the Tory government has ‘led the way’ in handling COVID, Go North West bosses have led the way in transport safety measures – forcing drivers onto lower salaries, and allowing as many passengers on their buses as possible in order to keep profits rising.
Unite has pressured Andy Burnham, the Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester, to intervene in the matter. So far, however, he has yet to give a public response.
Alongside the scabbing of striking workers, Go North West continues to hurt their workers by undermining health, safety, pay, and conditions. Profit is clearly all that matters to the bosses. This is why we need to fight for public ownership and workers’ control.
Sean Hodges, Unite (London and Eastern)
Over the last few weeks, bus drivers working under RATP franchises have been on strike. This was provoked by a series of below-inflation pay rises – in effect wage cuts – as well as an attempt to force drivers in one franchise to accept £2,000 a year being taken off their pay.
The response of the workers has been defiant. 2,000 Unite members have walked out. And the pickets in front of bus depots have been completely solid each and every day. Once the initial three days were up, the union moved towards further strike action.
RATP are not the only bosses in the bus drivers’ sights, however. Metroline workers have also begun the process of re-balloting for strike action, following a previous ballot just before Christmas. This could see a further 4,000 bus workers joining picket lines, as they too fight for proper pay and conditions.
In addition, union-organised bus drivers across the entire city have been advised by Unite that, in the event of their buses exceeding legal COVID restrictions, they are to immediately stop their buses until the problem is resolved. This action is in response to the reopening of schools, with the government claiming that schoolchildren do not count towards capacity limits.
Over the course of the pandemic, around 42 drivers have died of COVID or related complications. To put them at risk through overcrowding shows once again what the real priority is for those at the top: to get people back to work, in order to keep the bosses’ profits flowing.
Of course, it won’t be the bosses that pay the price for these decisions. It will be the workers, who’ll pay with their health, or even their lives.
Unite are right to take a stand. The wider labour movement must back them in this fight.
These companies must all be brought under public ownership and placed under workers’ control. Only our class can be trusted to look after our interests.