South Wales Stagecoach victory

Union rep speaks to the Socialist

Stagecoach workers' picket line in South Wales

Stagecoach workers’ picket line in South Wales

Lee Hunt, Blackwood Stagecoach Unite branch secretary spoke to Mariam Kamish

When the strike started, we had nothing. We were just individuals – standing on our own under our umbrellas. But people had got sick of being on £9.50 an hour. There was no way you could get more without becoming a supervisor. Some even used to ‘cleck’ on each other to try to climb the ladder.

On the picket line, people worked together. They built up a bond and I stepped back and let them sort it out. By the end, they had barbecues going.

And we had support. One day, nurses came down from Pontllanfraith Leisure Centre where they were doing jabs and gave us cash from a whipround they’d done for us.

We did 17 days on strike. We had 300 drivers in Brynmawr, Cwmbran and Blackwood, and not one crossed a picket line. It was hard work. Every day I’d get up at 3.30am in the morning to be on the picket line from 4am to 4pm.

The strike really brought up the morale. When we balloted on the offer, only two voted against. They just liked being on strike!

We won £10.50 an hour, backdated to April. And drivers are prepared to do whatever they have to in the future. Because now they realise they run the union as members – it’s not just the secretary and the chair. We’re stronger than we have ever been before.

The manager tried to make us pay for our own pay rise. One of his tricks was to offer existing drivers a pay rise – but new hires would be on the old rate. If we’d accepted that, he’d just have got rid of us over time.

Now he’s trying to roll back what we’ve agreed. He wanted to take our Sunday break time off us, because it wasn’t specifically named in the agreement. In Brynmawr he wants to change their hours. But our ballot is good until January, so I’ve told him we can come back out on strike tomorrow if need be.

Part of the problem is Stagecoach has different agreements for each council area. So, they’ve been taking routes off us and sending them to depots where they settled for less.

National Express is currently in talks to buy Stagecoach, but they won’t want the local routes we do. The Welsh Government would like a Transport for London style arrangement and just set fares and pay levels.

But Unite’s position is for Transport for Wales to take buses into public ownership. Then, we could have investment in green transport. And it would be good for passengers – with one ticket across the bus and rail network.

The latest is – the manager wants to revisit all issues in January, but we can ballot again. These days, what drivers say goes!”

Stagecoach workers have demonstrated how we build the union: We organise. Next, we take action. Then we build on an industrial level to bring union actions together. After that, we take struggle onto the political plane.

The workers won a £1 an hour rise to £10.50, backdated to April with attacks on sick pay and rights for new starters also fought off.

Drivers and passengers shouldn’t be at the mercy of private companies with their sky high fares and contempt for drivers’ pay. We demand that Welsh Government takes the bus companies into public ownership – and creates an integrated public transport system owned and run by Transport for Wales.

With decent pay rates for all public transport workers – and reasonably priced tickets that passengers can use across the bus and rail network.