Over 1,000 bus drivers in Leeds defied bribes of a “Christmas bonus” by striking over pay last Saturday.
The workers are fighting a national pay freeze at First.
On Friday of last week – just hours before their strike began – the workers voted by two to one to throw out a new offer.
It would have included a rise of 2.5 percent from April 2010, a half hour reduction in the working week and a one-off Christmas bonus of £150.
Unite union officials had recommended the deal, but drivers were rightly adamant that they wouldn’t accept a pay freeze for this year.
Around 30 pickets gathered at the First garage in Bramley on Saturday morning.
They told Socialist Worker the offer of a cash bonus was insulting.
Many believe the new offer was a stalling tactic to try to stop the strike going ahead.
The workers’ Unite union had already suspended one day of planned action to hold talks with the company.
First Bus is the biggest operator in Leeds and the strike had a huge impact.
By mid-morning only a handful of buses had gone out – driven mostly by the managers.
Drivers are angry that there has been no pay increase this year – and that the company has dragged the dispute out until Christmas. This is a tactic that First appears to be using across the country.
For most strikers, pay is just one of the issues they are unhappy about.
Drivers also talked about bullying in the garage, the stress of constant monitoring and the threat of attacks on their conditions.
First has effectively created a national dispute by imposing a pay freeze across all its bus operators in Britain.
The drivers in Leeds have opened up the latest front in the battle – but union activists and drivers need to link up the action. Leeds drivers are set to strike again on Saturday.
Elsewhere, bus workers at CT Plus in east London were set to strike over pay on Wednesday this week, after management at the company – part of HCT, a registered charity which boasts of being an expanding “social enterprise” – has refused to budge on its initial offer of 2.25 percent.
This is despite a solid one-day strike by workers last month that clearly showed the strength of feeling among the workforce.
The dispute has united drivers, office staff and engineers. It will affect local bus routes and transport on the Olympics construction site, minibus transport and other services operated by the company.
Two other bus strikes planned for this week have been suspended after bus bosses were forced to come up with new pay offers.
A planned week-long strike at First Essex, which was due to start this week, was called off after protracted talks at Acas produced a new deal.
Unite union members are now set to ballot on an offer that includes a £125 one-off Christmas bonus, a 2.8 percent pay rise from February 2010, and a rise of between 2.5 percent and 3.5 percent from January 2011.
Although this is a step forward from First’s original position, it would still the company’s pay freeze intact for 2009.
The company has boosted its – already large – profits for this year by withholding any pay rises for its workers throughout this year.
Meanwhile over 2,000 drivers at East London Bus Group are to ballot on a new offer this week. The drivers have already held three very successful days of action against a pay freeze.
Full details of the offer were not available as Socialist Worker went to press, but there were worrying signs that the deal is linked to serious attacks on conditions.
Drivers at Stagecoach in Gloucester and Ross-on-Wye have voted for strikes after rejecting a 2 percent pay rise.