There were dramatic scenes at First Manchester bus depot today as protesters stopped scab buses during a strike by drivers.
Unite union members at the Rusholme depot are now in their 13th week of strikes in a battle for pay parity.
Workers at other First Manchester depots are paid up to £5,000 more for doing the same job.
Strikers are demanding a pay rise from £9.05 to £10.50 an hour. They also want a written guarantee that their pay will be brought in line with other depots by 2020.
Managers were desperate to keep some services running and resorted to sneaking a scab driver out of a different gate.
Workers think strike-breakers were taken by management to nearby Queen’s Road depot. But in the first three hours of Wednesday’s strike only four buses left the depot—a much reduced service.
Police were called and violently pushed protesters out of the way, later bundling two people into a police van.
The solidarity demonstrations show the potential for unity—and have a huge impact on strikers’ morale.
Driver Robert described it as “tremendous”. “This is about working class people sticking together and helping each other,” he said.
Regular visits from trade unionists and other supporters have been a vital source of solidarity. Robert said strikers could have “folded after a few weeks without all this support”.
John was there bringing solidarity from UCU union. “It’s important to be here because bosses are trying to fragment the workers,” he said. “We need to maintain pay parity and insist that it’s one rate for the job.”
The strikes have been well supported by the local Labour councillors, who joined pickets today.
Rusholme councillor Jill said, “The company is cynically trying to wear the workers down. We’re representing the local community. People live here and use these buses, and we’re here to support the workers.”
The strikers have invited bosses to talks at the Acas mediation service. But Robert said, “We’ve already won the moral victory. Passengers are getting more behind us as the strike goes on.”
Some four months into a bitter dispute, Rusholme depot is turning into a divided workplace.
Scab drivers eat lunch in their cars to avoid entering the canteen during lunch breaks.
Previously bosses recruited an army of scab labour to keep services running. But that proved too expensive once the strikes escalated to three days a week.
Low pay means the depot is understaffed. As driver Howard said, “People can’t afford to work here.”
Manchester’s bus routes go to tender in 2019—so different bus companies can bid for different routes. And drivers say the First Manchester bosses’ intransigence won’t reflect well on them during the tendering process.
“The routes don’t necessarily go to the cheapest bidder,” said Robert. “They also take into account who gives the best service.”
Several strikers said that “more political pressure” is key to winning the dispute.
“Having someone like Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell on the picket line would really make a difference,” said Robert. “But I get the feeling Corbyn holds back a bit now, because he’s due to be the next prime minister.”
Strikers were also disappointed that not all local MPs had been to show their support.
“When it’s election time and they’re knocking on doors and kissing babies, we will not forget who didn’t support us.”’