The Socialist 24 November 2005
Don't let 'fat cats' axe our NHS
Sheffield bus protest
AROUND 300 people marched through Sheffield last Saturday, 19 November, to protest at First's bus fares rise. As one woman put it, "I only want to ride on the bus, not buy it!"
The demonstration was called by "We Want Our Buses Back!", the campaign group initiated by Socialist Party, which now enjoys widespread support. The TGWU busworkers' branch secretary, Trades Council, Pensioners Action Group, Green Party and Respect were all there. But most protestors were bus users angry at First's price hikes (fares up 36% since last year) and service cuts.
One woman said, "I'm 50 and on my first demonstration. Where's my mum gone?" And there were lots of young people too, especially college and school students. One told me he paid £8 a week in bus fares just to go to school!
Significantly, Jan Wilson, Sheffield's Labour council leader, joined part of the march. Together with city MP, Clive Betts, attacking First's fare rises in parliament, this shows the pressure local politicians feel under. But the best they can offer are Quality Bus Contracts by 2009. However, New Labour Transport Minister, Alistair Darling, makes it clear "there will be no return to the regulation of the 1980s."
As the demo reached City Hall, marchers burst into spontaneous applause showing how pleased everyone was with the response. At the rally, speakers attacked First's lies and blatant profiteering, calling for them to be sacked.
Colin Wray (Socialist Party) said we don't want another private operator in their place but need re-nationalisation of all public transport. Campaign convenor Calvin Payne said we can't wait four more years and must increase pressure on the council, calling for a mass lobby of the council meeting on 7 December.
Staffs bus drivers' victory
AFTER SEVEN one-day strikes, 400 bus drivers in North Staffordshire have achieved a significant victory over First Bus management. They are likely to vote to accept the company's latest offer, which will increase pay to the £8 an hour drivers were demanding.
Although the full £8 an hour won't be paid until April 2007, the initial rise from the current £6.60 will be backdated to April this year and most of the unacceptable strings previously attached have been dropped.
The drivers' solidarity and determination stunned First Bus bosses - every strike day was solid with no buses moving. Polish, Czech and Hungarian drivers previously brought in by First Bus to try to drive down wages and as potential strike-breakers stood shoulder to shoulder on the picket line with other drivers.
The massive support that drivers received from local working-class people was shown by the 3,000 names collected on Stoke Socialist Party's petition in support of £8 an hour for the drivers.
Even after the eighth and ninth strike days were called off, after the latest offer, people still queued to sign our petition. Many drivers thanked us for our support. One driver said: "You have supported us from day one. Thanks for all your help. Our union (TGWU) gives millions of pounds to the Labour Party but they have done nothing!"
Most drivers will accept this latest offer, but aren't fooled by the bosses' propaganda. They know management will try to claw back what they've been forced to concede. But after the solidarity shown in this struggle they're more confident that they can fight back.
Similarly, if First Bus bosses try to push up fares to maintain their inflated profits they will meet massive opposition from ordinary working people. This is also a victory for thousands of workers in the area who are paid a pittance and an important step in the fight for a minimum wage of £8 an hour.
In this issue