Below is a report from Socialist Alternative’s participation in currently on-going strike pickets of workers at Go North West in North Manchester. If you want to show your support, send solidarity messages on your own or on behalf of your union branch to Unite branch chair Colin Hayden at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday 28th February was the first day of indefinite strike action by drivers at Go North West buses in Manchester. This strike action has begun in response to bosses’ decision to fire all drivers and rehire them on significantly reduced pay and increased hours. Previous negotiations broke down after the fire and rehire threat was not withdrawn: a one-off cash bonus was offered at an amount which would be dwarfed by the money lost from salaries in the long term.
The parent company Go Ahead is a multi-million pound company, who boasted late last year of having over £100m in cash reserves. They can afford to pay their workers a decent salary and treat them fairly, but they are more interested in maximising their profits.
Local members of Socialist Alternative attended the pickets from 4am to offer our support and solidarity. The strikers were determined and optimistic about the prospect of victory, and angry about the underhand tactics being employed by management.
Threatening to fire anyone who doesn’t sign the new contract, rather than entering into negotiations to meet the union’s demands, this has been interpreted by the drivers as a needlessly hostile approach. The manager at Go North West’s depot in Cheetham Hill has reportedly brought individual workers into his office, without union representation, in order to pressure and manipulate them into signing the contract.
Furthermore, it appears that over £100k has been spent on new security cameras and fencing to control and monitor the workers – money that could instead have been spent on salaries. The manager responsible has previously worked for other bus companies, where he has been involved in similar attacks on workers. The drivers are optimistic that this boss will be forced from his position as a result of his poor handling of this dispute.
To mitigate the effect of this strike action, the company has hired the services of a number of non-unionised coach companies, and is offering tickets for £1 for the duration of the strike. The company has also taken many buses to a different site from their usual depot, in order to prevent protestors from being able to stop the buses from running as they did previously.
Bus companies are coordinating their attacks on workers, using the pandemic as an excuse. This can only get worse as the Covid 19 Bus Services Support Grant comes to an end. Bosses think that they can capitalise on the difficulties people are facing in the pandemic, and that they can get away with their mistreatment, but we can beat them when we organise.
During our intervention into the strike, we raised the need for the transport unions and others to coordinate action across the many workplaces which are facing similar attacks. This struggle, and the fight against fire and rehire in British Gas, has the potential to set a precedent for business across the country. If these employers are allowed to get away with this appalling tactic, others will take note.
This strike can be an example to workers around the country who will know the power that they can have when they organise, unionise and fight. The whole workers’ movement must get behind these disputes to ensure their victory.
Socialist Alternative says
• Victory to the Go North West drivers!
• Coordinate public transport disputes – fight to win across the whole sector. Preparations to be ‘ballot ready’ should be made by every relevant part of the transport unions.
• For a fully renationalised integrated public transport system under democratic workers’ control
• Investment and implementation of green technology for public transport, on full union rates of pay and conditions.
Leaflet distributed by Manchester Socialist Alternative: “Solidarity with Go North West Drivers – Co-ordinate action against ‘fire-and-rehire’!”
Socialist Alternative gives our full support and solidarity to the Go North West bus drivers taking strike action in response to the disgraceful use of fire and rehire by the employers. As key workers, they and other public transport workers have risked their health and safety, as well as that of their families, during the pandemic, yet have been rewarded with threats and intimidation.
The stand taken by the drivers to undertake all-out strike action marks an important stepping up of the fight against these unacceptable attacks and the example should be shared far and wide. The bosses have so far shown that they are prepared to pull out all the stops to push through their agenda, despite the willingness of the union to negotiate.
During the strike action, it is likely that drivers from other companies will be drawn in to run the affected routes with reports that some non-unionised coach companies are already lined up. Practical support as well as solidarity from the wider workers movement to back up the solid action of the drivers will be needed more than ever.
A fighting strategy can win
The Go North West bus drivers should not be left to fight alone in this battle. Attacks are also being rained down on workers at other bus companies and this is only set to continue with the ending of the Covid-19 Bus Services Support Grant. Bosses are determined to make workers pay for the cost of the pandemic.
Over 2000 drivers in London are currently taking strike action against the company that employs them, RATP, who are trying to cut pay by up to £2500 a year. Some of these drivers are already the lowest paid on Transport for London routes. The drivers at First Buses in Bradford have also faced attacks on terms and conditions with the continuation of dangerous and unsustainable scheduling and a refusal by bosses to return to pre-pandemic work levels.
The drivers voted 85% in favour of strike action against these dangerous working conditions and the employers were forced to back down. Similar assaults by the rail industry employers on jobs, enforcing pay ‘restraint’, and the loss of temp jobs are very likely over the next months.The coordination of these and other transport disputes, such as those being fought by the RMT, has the potential to push back these attacks and call a halt to the use of the pandemic as a smokescreen for cost-cutting exercises.
At every unionised bus and rail employer not already in dispute, the unions should demand assurances from the employers that no change to staffing or terms & conditions will be proposed when the subsidies expire. Failure by any employer to provide these should be met with the swiftest possible move to industrial action. Anywhere in dispute needs to move to ballot and strike immediately.
We need coordination from the top. The leading committees and councils of Unite and the RMT need to come together to discuss a strategy of coordinated strike action, regionally and nationally, bus and rail. Links of active solidarity also need to be built at a branch level. In Unite, this starts with coordinating across the bus employers in Greater Manchester and reaching out to other groups of bus workers in dispute across the country.
Strike action should be planned on the same dates, or coordinated dates which have maximum effect on the employers. Links should also be built with the GMB British Gas workers currently fighting their own fire and rehire attacks.
We would suggest that a mass public online rally be considered, if possible initiated by the Go North West Unite branch and with speakers from other bus and rail disputes to help mobilise union members for action and start to tap into public support.