Drivers at First Bus in the north west of England took their ninth day of strike action on Monday of this week in a battle against a pay freeze. Hundreds of workers at First’s London depots are currently balloting to join the action.
Unite union members were out in force on picket lines at the depots in Bolton, Bury and Wigan. They have called strikes for the next three Mondays.
The mood on the Bolton picket line was upbeat and determined. Last week’s victory in turning back a bus on the picket line was reflected in the buzz of excitement and increased numbers joining the picket.
Even the school buses and their manager drivers were given an extended pantomime of interrogation and mockery by the pickets.
Meanwhile over in Bury, around 30 drivers joined the picket line. The workers laughed at management’s pathetic attempts to break the strike by shipping in managers and putting them up in pricey hotels.
Although the strikes have been solid in the north west of England, and in parts of Essex where workers have also struck against the pay freeze, the dispute nationally has suffered a set back with workers in South Yorkshire voting last week to accept a new pay offer.
The South Yorkshire deal accepts the pay freeze for this year, but includes a 3 percent pay rise for 2010.
Although the deal went through on a 63 percent vote to accept, the sizeable vote against shows that many drivers were obviously not keen to let First get away with the pay freeze.
First bosses clearly want to hold out against any pay rise for this year. Despite still raking in huge profits, they are attempting to use the recession as an excuse to save money.
Jimmy Green the Unite convenor for Bolton and Bury, expressed his disappointment at the South Yorkshire settlement, but reaffirmed his commitment – and that of his fellow strikers – to the objective of defeating the pay freeze and establishing equality of conditions for all drivers in the north west.
Jimmy told Socialist Worker, “We will stay out till we get the core conditions agreed for all drivers.”
This determination was apparent on both the Bolton and Bury picket lines. Two drivers in Bury, who each had over ten years service at the company, said that they still do not get paid meal breaks.
Bus company bosses are well known for attempting to drag pay talks into Christmas or beyond in the hope that workers will be more likely to cave in under the financial pressure.
They cannot be allowed to get away with this – and Unite activists in London should campaign hard for a yes vote to make sure that new ranks of First drivers are drawn into the fight.
Drivers at First Bus’s Olive Grove depot in Sheffield held their fourth day of strike action last Saturday in a dispute over disciplinary procedures.
The workers, members of the Unite union, are taking a stand against disciplinary and sickness policies that they describe as “unreasonable and unfair”.
This is a key issue across the bus industry, with many workers describing a culture of fear and bullying created by over-zealous use and threats of disciplinary action.
The Sheffield bus workers were buoyed by striking at the same time as firefighters and post workers in the city.
The drivers are set to strike again on Saturday and Sunday of this week and again a week on Sunday.
See also » Sheffield is a city of strikes