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10 November 2017

Huge support for Merseyside strikes of bus drivers and train guards

Hugh Caffrey, North West Socialist Party

Public transport across Merseyside was nearly shut down by bus drivers and train guards taking strike action on Wednesday 8 November.

Bus drivers employed by Arriva in the Unite union mounted another day of solid strike action in pursuit of a 3% pay rise.

Train guards in the RMT union, on the Northern franchise and on the Merseyrail network, took equally solid action.

This left mainly only Stagecoach buses running - and those because Stagecoach backed down and gave a pay rise earlier this year!

Commuters using the arterial route through the Birkenhead tunnel found it took 35 minutes to travel the usual five or ten, with city centre carparks overflowing well before office hours began.

This is a powerful reminder to workers and employers of the potential power which working people hold - without our labour, nothing moves! While both the buses and the guards' disputes are connected with wider strikes, the major employers in the city centre will no doubt have beaten an angry path to the doors of Arriva management, and to city region mayor Steve Rotheram who is overseeing the removal of the Merseyrail guards.

Mayor Rotheram is already very sensitive on the guards issue, having not reacted well when greeted at a demonstration in Huyton on Monday with shouts of "Keep the guards".

A members' meeting of the RMT union unanimously agreed to organise a big "Keep the Guards" public lobby of the Transport Committee on Thursday 7 December, 1-2pm at the Cunard Building on Mann Island, Liverpool waterfront.

The Liverpool-based mayor, Joe Anderson, has entered the fray, trying to pit bus drivers against guards by agreeing with one and attacking the other.

No-one will be fooled by this transparent attempt at divide and rule. Transport strikes on Merseyside have a particularly historic resonance with their role in the past of bringing the working class together across divides induced by the ruling elite.

Effective action

Across the national rail network, about 30% of it will have been affected by the guards' strike, despite the so-called PUGs (persons utilised as guards) scabs organised by management, bringing new meaning to the phrase 'pug ugly'.

The morale of strikers remains high, for example on the Green Lane Arriva picket line a vote to continue the strike action was unanimous.

Coordinated strike action has shown an enormous power, and should be repeated until the employers and office-holding politicians back down.

Public support is colossal. Endless media stories putting the management case and highlighting the handful of individuals who agree with them, have had almost no effect whatsoever.

Mobilising public support by calling big demonstrations led by the striking unions would bolster the strike action and put enormous pressure on the managers to resolve the disputes.

Also, it would put big pressure on an incoming Labour government to swiftly return public transport to the public sector, reverse the cuts to services and staff and instead cut fares to an affordable level.

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 10 November 2017 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.

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