Thousands of bus workers in the north west of England took their pay fight up a gear with a strike on Monday.
The strike meant drivers and engineers at 11 Arriva North West bus depots have now walked out for seven days over six weeks.
They’re fighting for a pay rise in line with inflation and an end to pay disparity between depots.
Members of the Unite and GMB unions have voted overwhelmingly to reject the bosses’ outrageous “final offer” of just 1p an hour more than the previous offer.
And they are set to strike on Monday and Thursday next week, then from 12 to 14 December and again from 20 to 23 December.
An Arriva North West driver told Socialist Worker that escalating the strike is “absolutely the right thing to do”.
“We’ve got to fight this,” he said. “It’s about basic solidarity. If some of my brothers are out on the picket line, I would just never cross it.”
In October workers struck alongside the RMT union for 24 hours. The united strike sent some parts of Liverpool and Manchester into total gridlock.
A Unite member who works in a Manchester depot told Socialist Worker that a deal is overdue.
“We shouldn’t be negotiating in November for a pay deal that was due in April,” he said.
“The bosses are offering us 1p, but people just find that insulting.”
Bosses resorted to leaning on workers to swap their rest days, meaning that some services were running from some depots.
Other tactics were more vicious.
“Drivers felt isolated because bosses were ringing them up saying they should work on their days off,” said the Unite member.
“And they threatened non-union members with breach of contract if they didn’t cross the picket line.”
At Wythenshawe bus depot in south Manchester trade unionists brought solidarity, including a financial collection from Unison children’s services branch.
Four days of strikes in the busiest shopping week of the year is a serious escalation—and the bosses are getting nervous.
Arriva North West management are keen to discredit the strikers. They’ve been posting on social media that strikers plan to walk out on 10 December—which is a derby day for both Merseyside and Manchester football clubs.
Unite regional officer Neil Clarke said bosses “are deliberately trying to turn the public against striking bus drivers”.
Arriva has blamed workers for prolonging the dispute.
But as one driver pointed out, “We started out asking for a 3.7 percent rise, but now we’re asking for 3.1 percent.
“The unions have shown we are willing to compromise but Arriva aren’t coming to us with serious offers.”
Drivers say a decent pay deal that bosses can easily afford would get them back to work in time for Christmas.
Rusholme driver says, ‘Bosses make millions in profit - they should be ashamed’
Unite members at the First Greater Manchester bus depot in Rusholme struck on Monday, demanding pay in line with drivers at other depots.
Workers have struck every Monday in October and November, but escalated their action to three days this week.
Drivers at nearby Queen’s Road depot run some of the same bus routes—but are paid an extra £4,500 a year.
Striker Robert said pay disparity was “disgraceful.” “The company should be ashamed of themselves,” he added. “They make millions in profit and all we want is to be treated fairly.”
The depot sits on a main road into central Manchester—and drivers there say it’s one of the busiest bus routes in Europe.
On the picket line, dozens of Stagecoach drivers tooted their support and drivers said passengers were “generally supportive”.
The pay differences date back to 2013, when First Greater Manchester took over the depot from coach operator Finglands.
Four years on, pay for managers and supervisors has been brought in line with their equivalents from other depots—but drivers’ pay hasn’t.
Labour councillors for Rusholme ward were on the picket line showing solidarity with the strikers.
Rabnawaz Akbar said the pay disparity was an “unjust anomaly” that was only revealed to drivers once they signed the contract.
Dave has been a bus driver for 25 years and has never struck before. He said the dispute was about dignity.
“It’s not about the extra 20p or 40p more an hour, it’s about parity,” he said. “And they always find money when they want bigger depots.
“When I started as a bus driver people would use overtime to get luxuries, like a holiday. Now people rely on overtime just to get by.”
Driver Gary told Socialist Worker how extra money would mean “not having to always rely on overtime”. He said it would give “a better work life balance so I can see more of my family”.
Managers have resorted to bullying tactics to try and break the strike. This includes laying on a daily buffet for scabs, filming pickets and implementing an overtime ban for strikers.
But the strike is clearly hitting the bosses—they had to recruit managers from far afield as Weymouth, Devon, Anglia and Bristol. Even then services only ran half as regularly as normal.
Workers hope the escalation of the strike will be unsustainable for the scabs. And strikers remained upbeat.
Driver Robert said, “The camaraderie here is amazing. This strike means for the first time we’ve got real friendship, and the trust grows stronger every day.”