Socialist Worker

Optare manufacturing strikers escalate their strikes to win higher pay

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2732

Optare strikers on the picket line last week

Optare strikers on the picket line last week (Pic: John Davies)

Workers at bus manufacturer Optare, near Leeds, have upped the ante in the fight for higher pay.

Unite union members at the ­factory began their second four‑day strike on Tuesday of this week.

They escalated their industrial action last week after a series of 48-hour strikes over the last two months.

Unite member Kevin said the “escalation is a response to the complete lack of communication from management and at board level”.

“It’s clear they don’t want to engage in any negotiations,” he told Socialist Worker. “We’re just the minions at the bottom.”

Workers say Optare CEO Graham Belgum made a “broken promise that he wouldn’t insult us with a 1 percent pay offer” in August 2019.

Kevin said workers can see through bosses’ attempt to downplay the impact of the strikes. “We saw on the company’s Facebook that two buses have come out,” he said. “They said the lockdown hasn’t affected it.

“But the people who made those buses know they have been stood in there for ten months.”

Solidarity from other trade unionists—and a recent legal win over picketing—has boosted ­workers’ determination.


Unite said police officers told strikers “to desist from picketing on the morning after new coronavirus regulations were introduced”.

North Yorkshire Police warned workers that “if they returned they would be issued with ­penalty notices for breaking lockdown rules”.

The High Court was set to hear a judicial review against the chief constable and health secretary ­earlier this month.

But Unite said the government “conceded that the right to picket should be upheld” before it took place.

Kevin said, “That was a win for the union which made people think, ‘That’s one up yours’.”

He said it’s “heartening to see the support coming in” as “obviously a few people are feeling the strain”. “We’ve had over £2,000 put into out fund,” he said.

“There’s been money from Wakefield and District NEU and Unite Community in York.

“I’m speaking at a Wakefield NEU meeting and going along to the People Before Profit meeting with John McDonnell MP.”

Optare workers plan another four-day walkout from Tuesday of next week.

A win at Optare would be a boost for all workers fighting bosses’ attempts to drive down pay.

Donate to the strike fund. Account name: Unite NE/200/1 Optare Branch. Account number: 20327132. Sort code: 60 83 01. Unity Trust bank

Four-week walkout in Wigan

Rehab workers at the We Are With You (WAWY) charity in Wigan and Leigh began a four‑week strike on Wednesday. 

Workers were outsourced from the NHS to We Are With You—formerly Addaction.

It provides alcohol and drug rehabilitation services on a contract to the Labour-run council.

Workers have held a series of strikes since August 2019 over bosses’ broken promise to keep up with NHS rates of pay.

One Unison union striker told Socialist Worker, “We can’t give up now—we are in the last six months of the NHS pay award.

“Just because it’s a caring profession doesn’t mean we should be struggling to get by. The money is there.

“I’m told that I’m not worth just over £30,000 when the top 2 percent of staff are on £60,000 and more.

“They always say it’s a ‘competitive market’ so we have to pay managers that much.

“At the other end we have a race to the bottom, with them saying, ‘We’d like to pay more, but we’re a charity’. The execs aren’t the ones supporting people with alcohol and drug problems.

“The business model creates unfairness—and the only way to change unfairness is to change the business model.”

Charity magazine Civil Society Media calculated that Addaction’s change of name to WAWY cost around £140,000.

Workers say it would take around £100,000 to include them in the NHS pay deal 2018-2021.

Donate to the strike fund—account number 20244354. Sort code 60 83 01. Unity Trust Bank

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