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Devon Bus Workers Fight Low Pay
ON 8 July rail and transport union (RMT) members working for bus company Stagecoach Devon took the first of a series of one-day strikes.
The turnout was immense - in Exeter only four drivers turned up to work, by lunchtime this had been reduced to three, as one of the four abandoned his vehicle to join the union and the strike.
Steve Bush, Devon
Across Devon about 700 RMT members were on strike. The mood on the 150-strong picket lines in Exeter was determined.
The drivers' demands are modest - they want an increase from £5.93 an hour to £6.50 for drivers, with an equivalent increase for all other Stagecoach Devon staff. Crucially they demand this without any further attacks on working conditions.
Stagecoach Devon Manager Chris Hilditch is making much of his 'offer' to drivers of £7 an hour - but this 'increase' with all the strings attached would mean an average decrease in pay for drivers of £6 a week, as well as a decrease in staffing levels.
Stagecoach took over the Devon Bus services a few years ago, promising better services and better conditions for staff.
In their first year they asked staff to forego a wage increase in order to invest in the run-down bus fleet.
The workers agreed, on the understanding that when profitability came, they would share in it. As Stagecoach employees all over Britain have found, this was a lie.
Stagecoach Devon are making obscene profits - £2 million last year alone but employees have seen little but attacks on their working conditions.
Drivers receive no time off in lieu of wages for working weekends or unsociable hours, they receive no overtime, just a flat rate.
They are expected to carry out an unpaid half-hour vehicle inspection before they start driving. As one driver put it: "They want a 21st century bus service with 19th century pay and conditions."
On the first strike day, managers who hadn't driven for years took to the wheel, along with scabs from other Stagecoach areas - who were paid £15 an hour with their travel and accommodation at £70 a night provided.
With no vehicle safety checks and hardly any training, the results were both dangerous and farcical. Buses consistently broke the 5mph speed limit in and out of the depot with lights and indicators not working.
One scab reversed a bus into the managing director's car. A bus demolished part of the historic Bickleigh bridge and the engineering manager got a ticket for driving a bus with a defective tyre in Exeter High Street.
Public support for the strike is huge. Most of the travelling public are fed up with Stagecoach's appalling service and support the drivers' modest demands. Hundreds signed petitions on the first strike day.
Socialist Party members were warmly received on the picket lines. We hope this determined action will win an important victory against low pay in the South West. Strikes are continuing on 15,17,21,23 and 25 July.
In The Socialist 19 July 2003:
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