June strike - photo Iain Dalton
June strike - photo Iain Dalton

Bus drivers and other key workers deserve inflation-busting pay rises

John Vasey, Paul Thomas, Bernard Davies and Iain Dalton, Socialist Party members in West and North Yorkshire

Around 650 members of Unite, drivers, engineers and other workers for Arriva Yorkshire, started indefinite strike action on Monday 6 June over pay, after a 96% vote for strike action.

Strikes took place in Wakefield, Dewsbury, Castleford, Selby and Heckmondwike in West and North Yorkshire. With some pickets there from 2am on the first day, joined by more workers as the morning went on, there was a determined mood.

In the run up to the strike, Arriva Yorkshire management had waged a propaganda war against the workers, alleging the strikes are ‘unjustified’ as the company offered a ‘significant increase’ to drivers – a paltry 4.1% initially, when RPI inflation is 11.1%.

After dragging talks out for around eight months, they are only offering to backdate half of this rise. As several drivers explained, with many having worked overtime to keep buses running, then not being paid properly for those hours can mean a substantial loss of money.

Members are rejecting Arriva’s offer with their feet.

Over 200 joined the picket in Wakefield, the largest depot, at the height of the morning. Over 60 in Heckmondwike enjoyed a BBQ on the picket line.

In Selby workers picketed from the early morning. The impact of the strike was seen at the bus station in the town, which was locked up with no sign of any buses running. When Socialist Party members visited depots it was clear no buses were moving.

Moreover, there was significant support from the public.

Bus drivers with Stagecoach, who took three and a half weeks’ strike action in South Yorkshire, tooted support. One driver shouted out of the bus when passing: “Give them a good fight”.

Taxi drivers were tooting support when passing. They have also been on strike in Wakefield earlier this year. The Wakefield Drivers Association that led these strikes put out a statement of their total support for the bus strike. It said: “With the cost of living at an all-time high, out-of-control energy costs, soaring food prices and many drivers being affected by food poverty, it is only right that bus operators pay a fair deal for its employees/bus drivers.”

If Arriva try to ride out the strikes without making an offer that meets the workers’ demands, then such support will be crucial.

Bus drivers, like many other key workers, were lauded as heroes as they worked through the lockdowns to keep society going.

Yet employers are doing everything they can to resist giving workers a pay rise that keeps up with the soaring cost of living, let alone makes up for years of austerity pay squeezes.

It’s in the interest of all workers that Unite members at Arriva beat their employers’ bully-boy tactics.