Socialist Worker

Unity is First on the agenda during Aberdeen bus strike

by Stephen Feddes
Issue No. 2161

First Bus workers outside the shareholders’ meeting in Aberdeen (Pic: Stephen Feddes)

First Bus workers outside the shareholders’ meeting in Aberdeen (Pic: Stephen Feddes)

Workers at First Bus in Aberdeen struck on Thursday of last week – the same day the company held its annual general meeting in the city.

The workers, who are members of the Unite union, took action to protect conditions and win a pay rise. They demonstrated at the Exhibition Centre where the meeting was held.

During the meeting First made proposals to shareholders for a 10 percent increase in their share dividend and announced passenger revenue growth of 4.2 percent across their British bus division.

The strike was called after First rejected the bus drivers’ demand for a pay rise of 4 percent.

The company instead offered a pay freeze.

Drivers, cleaners and garage workers all struck last week. Cleaning services at First in Aberdeen were recently brought in-house having previously been run by a private contractor.

The cleaners are paid the minimum wage and have none of the entitlements and enhancements that the bus drivers have.

Aberdeen is the only region outside London in which First drivers have managed to maintain these conditions.

Mike Flynn, a Unite shop steward, said, “every other city has lost their conditions and now First want to take ours.”

Drivers would lose up to £800 a week in spite of the fact that First Aberdeen made profits of £5 million last year.

First took out a full-page advert in a local newspaper that claimed drivers were asking for a 52 percent pay-rise and were paid £24,000-34,000.

Drivers dismissed these claims. One said, “These reports are absolute rubbish. I don’t know where they’ve got that figure from.

“I’m on £21,000 a year and I’ve worked for First for more than ten years.”

The strike was totally solid and forced First to bring in managers and supervisors from England to scab on the dispute.

First put the replacement drivers up in hotels in the city and paid them £300 each for the day’s “work”.

Yet, they were only able to run around 20 buses on Thursday compared to 80 on an average Sunday. Some routes were not running at all.

The strength of the strike was shown by the workers having two picket lines at the main bus depot and a picket of the First Group AGM.

Representatives from the Fire Brigades Union and Unison also visited the picket line to show their support.

The strike came a week after an apparently racist assault on a Polish man in the Tillydrone area of the city.

So it was significant that around 100 Polish workers joined the strike, showing the unity between Polish and British workers.

One Polish driver captured the mood of solidarity when he said, “We are all workers. We are all the same.”

Drivers are continuing the struggle with an indefinite work-to-rule and overtime ban.

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Article information

Tue 21 Jul 2009, 18:32 BST
Issue No. 2161
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