WORKERS AT First Group buses in Sheffield and South Yorkshire have won a major victory after three weeks of indefinite strike action.
Speaking before the multi-million pound company caved in on Monday, one striker told Socialist Worker, “They thought they could walk all over us.
“Then we voted for a strike, and an all-out one at that. It was a big decision, but the right one. Not a single bus was on the run, but the company definitely was.”
That was proved right within 48 hours when a mass meeting of 200 strikers was adjourned for stewards to receive news of the company’s climbdown.
Workers were to vote on Thursday of this week on the new offer. It was one which First Group had said it would never come up with.
Management has conceded the pay rise that workers put in for. This will give an increase of over 5 percent to the lowest paid.
The offer is a two-year deal giving 30p an hour more this year, backdated to 1 April, and another 30p an hour next year. Crucially, there are no strings.
The company, which makes £9 million a year from its South Yorkshire operation alone, had demanded that any pay rise was paid for by cutting sick pay.
Dave Hill, a bus driver from the Halfway garage in Sheffield, says, “This is a great victory, but I would like to know why this has taken management three weeks.
“Why have we had to lose hundreds of pounds in wages? Why have pensioners had to go without their buses?
“All we wanted was the 30p backdated to 1 April—it was our money anyway.
“It shows that indefinite strike action is the way to win. I hope it sends a message round the country.”
Another driver commented, “We’re a bit unhappy that it’s a two-year deal, but apart from that they’ve backed down.
“The engineers in the garages are balloting, and there’s a good chance that when they see what we’ve got they’ll go out too.”
Solidarity from the engineers and from bus workers in other parts of First Group meant that for the first time the company did not dare bring in managers and scabs from around Britain to break the strike.
That is a key example for all workers in the bus and rail industry, who often face such strike-busting tactics.
First Group workers in Bristol may well be next to take on the company.
Workers on Arriva’s franchise in the north west of England and Wales are also in dispute over pay.
Pay, working hours and conditions in the bus industry have become notorious since privatisation and deregulation.
The victory in Sheffield is the latest sign of a fighting spirit among bus workers which, if tapped by the unions nationally, could make serious inroads against the bus barons.
Reballots have opened the way to bigger struggle