BUS WORKERS in Devon have forced their bosses into big concessions after nine days of strikes. The strikers' RMT union general secretary Bob Crow says, 'Our members' stand against low pay in the company has been nothing short of magnificent.' Their determination has won massive support among the travelling public in Exeter and Torbay.
The 700 workers have suspended strikes and are now voting on a new pay offer from company bosses. Union officials recommended acceptance of the deal, and were claiming at least a partial victory over Stagecoach bosses. It's easy to see why. They went into this strike for an increase in pay from £5.93 to £7, and to defend paid breaks and holiday entitlement, both of which have been under constant attack since privatisation.
The deal is a pay increase of 7.9 percent, to £6.40 an hour, and retention of paid breaks and holiday entitlement.
The whole package will run for a year and not 20 months, which is also an improvement on any previous proposal. Although the pay dispute may be over, there is still a clear determination to make sure that there are no victimisations and to keep pressing on other issues. The threat of compulsory redundancies and of service reductions, as a result of any cuts Stagecoach makes under the guise of clawing back money, were also being seen as possible causes of further strikes.
Finally there is still the issue of the lower offer made to the Travel Shop staff who joined the strike. The drivers, in a gesture of solidarity, even offered to give up 1p of their proposed hourly increase to help boost Travel Shop staff's pay, but local senior manager Hilditch rejected this.
Local RMT union official Phil Bialyk said, 'The union will not accept compulsory redundancies. I'm of the view that Stagecoach is intent on cutting services anyway and it is using this dispute as an excuse.'
But this is still a victory, and a victory won by determined strike action and vigorous picketing. A victory made possible, as well, by the level of support from other workers and service users across the city.
Bus workers across the country, especially those employed by Stagecoach, can learn from this and be encouraged. Determined action can shake ruthless bosses and also prove extremely popular with the general public.
The strike has also generated a level of contact between rank and file workers across the city that hasn't been seen in years. And that's going to be crucial in the fights brewing elsewhere.