Over 1,000 bus drivers at First Bus in Leeds struck on Monday against attacks on their final salary pension scheme. The company is trying to cap pensions contributions and link them to inflation.
This would mean that members of the scheme would not get the full pensions that they were promised. Many of the T&G union members involved feel that this is an attempt to dismantle the final salary pension scheme.
The action was very solid across Leeds. The strike began at 2am and by 10am management had only managed to get about 17 buses out. Despite torrential rain, the picket lines were optimistic and well attended.
About 20 pickets were on the gate at the Kirkstall Road bus depot first thing in the morning. Only three drivers went into work out of hundreds at the depot. Only one bus crossed the picket line in the first few hours of the strike – and the driver wore a mask.
The Kirkstall Road depot is on a main road and drivers were encouraged by support from passing motorists.
Mechanics from the garage arrived to go to work but turned away, refusing to cross the drivers’ picket line.
“We are totally united,” one driver said. “We are determined not to allow First Bus to destroy our pensions.” There was a strong mood of determination to build the next two strike days – planned for 23 and 24 December.
At the Bramley garage there were around 30 on the picket line at 5.30am. It was a mixture of people who have worked at the company for a long time and newer recruits.
For most people it was the first time they had been on strike. At Cherry Row, around 25 cheerful pickets gathered around a brazier.
Drivers consider pensions a fundamental issue. Some talked about how First Bus were recruiting drivers on false pretences, in particular Polish drivers, telling them that they’ll have a great pension entitlement.
The reality is that if this attack on pensions goes through then already low waged drivers will only be able to look forward to poverty in retirement.
First Bus managing director Steve Graham, has said that changes to pensions are necessary because people are living longer. But several strikers pointed out that First Bus can easily afford to pay decent pensions.
The company is the biggest bus operator in Britain and operates most of the buses in Leeds. It made £92.2 million profits in the first six months of this year.
Pensions are deferred wages. The alternative to a final pensions salary scheme is one that is linked to the ups and downs of the market.
This is cheaper for the company but means insecurity for workers.
Steve Bown from the T&G union told Socialist Worker that it had been a very successful day of action and that there had been a lot of support from the public.
“First Bus management have decided that they are going to do this nationwide, not just in Leeds,” he said, “And they have already done it in most other places. But in Leeds the members have decided to take a stand and protect their pensions.”
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