SEVEN hundred Stagecoach bus workers in south and east Devon are set to take four more days of strike action in their fight to win £6.50 an hour. Strikes were planned for Thursday and Saturday of this week and Monday and Wednesday of next week.
The workers, members of the RMT transport union, have taken nine days of strike action so far, including taking four continuous days two weeks ago. The RMT say they have decided to stagger the strike days because Stagecoach bosses are bringing in scab managers from around the country to drive the buses. The union says the staggered strikes will increase the costs to Stagecoach for funding the scab operation.
Stagecoach management has tried to convince the public that some drivers have returned to work. But they fail to point out that these were seven management grade controllers who originally joined the strikes but have since returned to work because of extreme management pressure, including threats of suspension. One of these individuals was disciplined and demoted after he refused to drive a bus on strike days.
Lynda Quick, branch secretary for RMT Number 2, told Socialist Worker, 'Support from the public and other trade union branches throughout the country, both moral and financial, has been unbelievable.
'Despite the intransigence of Stagecoach Devon managing director Chris Hilditch and his threats of redundancy, we are as determined as ever to win.' A strike support group has been established and we have organised street collections and received donations from trade unions.
Workplace collections are also taking place. Phil Chadwick, CWU branch secretary of South West Number 1 branch, said, 'The Stagecoach pay offer is similar to that made by Royal Mail to the postal workers-there are more strings attached than there are to a philharmonic orchestra.
'We represent 2,500 postal workers in Devon and we stand fully behind the fair and just claim for the Stagecoach workers.' Hilditch has said that he is considering referring the dispute to arbitration. However, he has also indicated that if arbitration finds in favour of the workers, he will not abide by the decision. The time has come for the RMT to call an all-out strike.
Stagecoach and its boss Brian Souter feel there is more at stake here than just financial considerations. They are afraid that if the Devon strikes are successful this will give confidence to other Stagecoach workers around Britain. They are terrified that other bus drivers will use collective action to pursue their demands.
Souter and his lackeys are set on crushing this strike with all means at their disposal. They have been taken by surprise by the level of organisation and the determination of the workers.
Support for the bus workers is extremely high, and the RMT should now increase the pressure on Stagecoach.
I HAVE read about the strikes that bus workers have held recently. Although the mood of militancy hasn't hit us yet, we are facing the same issues. In our place we had a wage rise recently that was the first for two years. It's around 4 percent. But the company has put the fares up for the second time in six months! We've lost a few drivers because of the pay.
People are leaving in frustration over pay and long hours. In Britain bus drivers' hours are about an hour longer per day than drivers in Europe. Every bus carries adverts saying they will train people to be drivers. But so many have to work overtime. Some are working 13 days out of 14. When you see drivers at the end of a shift they look drained.
BUS DRIVER, Crawley
BUS DRIVERS for First Group across Portsmouth ended their strike action last week after they voted narrowly to accept a new pay deal. Bus driver and TGWU union branch secretary John Biddle told Socialist Worker, 'The vote was 149 to 118 votes to accept. To be honest I'm gutted. I voted against and I told the officials I would not recommend the deal to drivers. It's not good enough.
Every driver will get 30p extra an hour on the basic rate. There is an extra 20p for working Sundays and bank holidays. From April next year there will be an extra 20p for working on a Saturday after 1pm. I'm so annoyed the offer was accepted. I think our union official swayed the vote by recommending it.
He threatened we would have to go out for three or four days in one week and the drivers thought they just couldn't afford that. So we are back in work now and not on strike during the weekend when the big local festival is on. This happened two years ago. The company was facing a strike around the Festival of the Sea. They panicked and offered us a deal. Now they've done it again, and we've got union reps agreeing there is no more money in the pot.'