News & Analysis  •  Workplace, Trade Unions, Strikes

Manchester wins control of buses – now fight to nationalise them

28 March 2022
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In a significant legal victory, Labour’s Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has won a court case in defence of his plans to bring the city’s buses back into public control. Bus companies Stagecoach and Rotala, who claimed there were flaws in the decision-making process, brought the legal challenge.

Judge Julian Knowles rejected their objections, noting in passing that ‘bus companies view franchising as less financially advantageous’. Quite.

Burnham aims to model the new system on London. This would give local elected politicians control over timetables, fares, and ticketing of buses, trams and trains. However, the 16 bus operators in the city will still be able to bid for the franchises and seek to maintain profit levels by squeezing every ounce of surplus labour from their workforces.

Nevertheless, this victory is an important step forwards for transport workers, passengers and the working class movement. Thirty years of privatisation and deregulation have left Britain’s bus networks in the hands of four big monopolies run for profit.

Local government control over how public transport is run will ensure political pressure can be applied to gain better pay and conditions for workers and better, cheaper, greener services for passengers.

Now we must follow through and start a campaign for taking transport services into public ownership as one of the central aims of the labour movement in every town, city and county. Trains, trams and buses should be run under workers’ and passengers’ control.

Not only that, we should also demand that local public transport is free for everyone. It has been estimated that it would cost just £3bn per year to make buses across the country free of charge: something that would benefit millions and could be paid for by taxing the rich.

Unite has been conducting an ongoing campaign of industrial action on the bus networks, with Stagecoach in particular being targeted, including in Manchester. The Unite leadership should be pushed to make a campaign for nationalising the bus service a key demand in this fight, and to carry this demand into the Labour Party.

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