OVER 1,000 bus workers began an angry strike in Sheffield and South Yorkshire last Saturday over a pay deal from the First Group bus and rail company. The solid strike by members of the TGWU union continued on Monday and Tuesday of this week, and was due to escalate to three days next week. 'The company conned us, that's what's behind this strike,' one of the strikers told Socialist Worker.
'We voted for our last pay deal because they said they would level up the gap between different drivers' pay. For that we agreed not to strike for two years. Now they are saying that closing the pay gap wasn't in writing and that's why we haven't got it.'
Bus drivers around Britain are furious over the issue of different pay rates. Many are unlikely to stay long enough to get to the top rate because the hours, pay and conditions are so gruelling. In South Yorkshire the company's deal would have meant some drivers getting £5.85 an hour and some £6.92 an hour.
An added insult was that First Group wanted to take two bank holidays from drivers and only backdate the pay claim to May, not April. That sparked a massive rejection of the deal - some 1,051 votes to 70. The drivers then voted by 85 percent for strike action.
Up to 100 pickets were outside the Olive Grove depot in Sheffield, Britain's largest bus garage, on Saturday. They pointed out First Group raked in a profit of £216 million last year and its boss Moir Lockhead has a salary of £510,000.
'This is about keeping the managers rich and the workers poor,' said one driver. 'They can find the money for them but not for us. We make that profit for them. I start work at 4am. I can end up working until 12.30 at night, and we work on weekends. We're not allowed to have a social life.'
A seven-day strike by 350 First Group workers in Norwich in January forced the company to retreat in its attack on working hours. In South Yorkshire the strikers have the same determination to win.
The planned three-day strike next week can only increase the pressure on First Group and is also a chance for the strikers to raise support amongst people in local shopping centres.