Unite the strikes!
The fight by bus workers for better pay and conditions continues across the country.
In the West Country 300 bus drivers employed by Stagecoach West at depots in Bristol, Cheltenham, Gloucester, Stroud, Colway and Ross-on-Wye have voted for strike action. Many are currently paid less than £11 per hour. 70 drivers in Swindon are being balloted and might join the dispute.
In Bradford 300 First Bus drivers voted 77% in favour of strike action after an insulting 1.9% pay offer. A further 1,300 bus drivers in London, Kent and Essex are being balloted after a 1.5% pay offer by Arriva. This ballot will close on 1 March.
Start and stop
These strikes and ballots come following several settlements throughout the country. In Cambridge strike action was cancelled after a 7.4%-12.2% pay offer on 28 January, which came with a £300-£500 lump sum. In Manchester, an 8.9% pay offer, with a £750 one-off bonus, was offered to drivers after eight days of strikes in January. First Wessex drivers at Weymouth won 8.2% spread across two steps in April and November 2022, though other depots are still in dispute.
While these successes are welcome and should encourage others to strike, there remains little attempt by Unite’s leadership to link these struggles together and push for national demands. If bus workers can squeeze 7.5%-12.5% pay rises out of the bosses by taking just a few days of action here and there, imagine what they could achieve if they all struck together for a united claim.
Instead of accepting the fragmentation of bus services between privatised profiteers, we should be uniting them under the banner of ‘15% or £15 an hour’ whichever is the greater. Instead of a series of small victories in some areas, a national campaign of strike action could set minimum national standards for pay and conditions that local areas with strong organisation could build on.
Cost of Living
While the increased wages won by these strikes are of course welcome. RPI inflation is already 7.5%. Many basic food items and hosing costs are rising even faster. Then, in April, there is set to be a 54% rise in household energy bills; council tax and National Insurance is set to rise. Much, if not all of the recently won pay rises will be eaten away unless we act to stop the bosses robbing us of hard won gains.
Unite should set up price watch committees, made up of ordinary members, to monitor workers’ household budgets and demand that the employers add 1% to our pay whenever there is a 1% increase in our outgoings. Such clauses should be written into all settlements to ensure we don’t pay for the cost of living crisis; cut their profits, not our spending power!
We should demand of the employers:
We should demand of our union leaders: