Socialist Worker

Bus strikes at First: don't let bosses drive pay fight off the road

by Esme Choonara and Derek Coleman
Issue No. 2172

Britain’s largest bus operator, First, is facing a wave of strikes in response to its attempts to impose a pay freeze. Up to 8,000 workers at the company could be on strike in the next few weeks.

There were large pickets at First bus depots in Bolton, Bury and Wigan on Monday of this week, as drivers took their fifth one-day strike.

The 800 drivers, members of the Unite union, are at the forefront of action against First’s pay freeze.

The stakes are high—and workers report that bosses are shipping in managers from Scotland to attempt to break the strikes.

Although the scabbing operation is still modest in scale—in Bolton scabs managed to cover just five routes in the town—this is a clear attempt to undermine the dispute.

Pickets were enraged by the company’s tactics—which involved the pretence of negotiations, while mounting a clandestine, costly scabbing operation.

Police are being used to harass pickets. In Bury bosses called the police three times before 9am on Monday.

But strikers are determined not to let the bosses dent morale.

There was a very good mood on the 50-strong picket line in Bury.

And in Bolton around 70 people have joined the picket line on each strike day.

Strikers are angry that First has made huge profits but is refusing to offer any pay rise. They have been discussing the need to escalate their action and extend its duration.

Unite union branch secretary Julie Lewis said that she was aggrieved by the “phoney” talks management had offered just before they shipped in the scabs to undermine them.

The workers have called strikes for the next three Mondays.

More First workers are set to join the action. Drivers at First South Yorkshire—where action was stalled earlier this month by a legal challenge—have reballoted and voted in large numbers for strikes. They will be holding county-wide strikes on Monday and Friday of next week and again on 26 October. Drivers at the Sheffield depot will hold an additional three day strike from Thursday of next week.

And workers at First in Essex have voted by 95 percent for strikes.

There are also ballots underway among First workers in London and West Yorkshire, which could mean up to 8,000 First bus workers taking strike action.

Despite making record profits of £134 million on its bus operations last year, First bosses are determined to hold down pay and to impose a pay freeze across the company.

They have shown how seriously they take this fight by their attempts to undermine action through shipping in people to break the strike.

They have been trying to use anti-union laws to halt some of the strikes.

Workers are right to spread the action. By imposing a national pay freeze, First has made this a national dispute.

It needs to be matched by a national response. And union members need to make sure that bosses can’t derail the action through scabbing operations or the law.

Kettering drivers to strike over pay

Around 100 bus drivers at Stagecoach in Kettering are set to strike on Wednesday of this week over pay.

Unite members voted by

76 percent to reject an offer of 1.8 percent. It would have taken the basic rate to just £9.17.

Bosses are “staggered” the offer was rejected. Yet the company made a pre-tax profit of £170.8 million last year.

Strikes have been called for Monday of next week,

23 October and 23 November.

Reading bus workers ballot over cuts

Unite union members at Reading Buses are balloting for strikes over cuts. Reading borough council owns the company. The ballot closes on Thursday of this week.

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Article information

Tue 6 Oct 2009, 18:30 BST
Issue No. 2172
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