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Yorkshire bus drivers: Determination pays off
AFTER THREE weeks of indefinite strike action, South Yorkshire First bus drivers have won a significant victory in their pay dispute. This was one of the longest continuous strike actions in the UK bus industry for 30 years.
The Transport and General Workers' Union (TGWU) members have voted to accept the revised pay offer of a 30p an hour increase this year and another 30p next year.
Most importantly there are no 'strings' attached to the deal. Previously, management wanted to make the rise 'self-financing' by first refusing to back-date the offer to April and then by withdrawing first day's sick pay.
Drivers rightly saw this as the thin end of the wedge. If accepted this would have resulted in First withdrawing sick-pay throughout the rest of their group of bus companies, and second and third day sick pay being withdrawn in subsequent years.
Indefinite strike action
After one and two-day strikes last year, the bus drivers were determined not to mess about this year and voted overwhelmingly for indefinite strike action. The strike was solid throughout with picketing at all four depots, including round the clock at Olive Grove in Sheffield, where up to 150 demonstrated some mornings.
This unity was reinforced by the overwhelming support from the public who were shocked by the £5.85 an hour pay for such a hard job. This was reflected in radio polls, the local paper's letters page and the £565 raised by Socialist Party members for the strike fund.
One shop steward, Les, told me that since they'd gone back to work he'd not had a single adverse comment from passengers, most saying: "Welcome back driver."
The bus drivers' determination was strengthened by management desperation. They swung from threatening to run scab buses, to calls for arbitration, to advertising for Polish drivers! Even on the day the bosses capitulated, drivers had received letters threatening that they'd be sacked "at the appropriate time".
The strikers remained confident because they knew that the company had the money to pay up - First made £10 million profit last year in South Yorkshire alone and £161 million worldwide. It was estimated it would only cost them three days profits to settle - in the end it cost them 21 days!
As TGWU branch secretary Martin Mayer said: "We have a victory but there's anger among some members that we had to go on strike to get this deal."
There is also hope that this victory will give bus drivers elsewhere the confidence to strike for decent pay and conditions.
In The Socialist 21 August 2004:
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