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

Alistair Tice

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withdrawn in subsequent years.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

There is also hope that this victory will give bus drivers elsewhere
the confidence to strike for decent pay and conditions.