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16 December 2017
North West: Arriva bus drivers' action wins pay rise
Hugh Caffrey, north west region Socialist Party
Unite in the north-west has achieved a victory on pay after bus company Arriva backed down and offered a two-year pay deal, accepted by a majority of members in a ballot this week.
Unite states that the deal is worth 3.2% this year backdated to April, and 2.6% from next April, which is broadly equivalent to Unite's claim for a 3% pay rise.
Faced with a massively solid strike even in the run-up to Christmas, this brutal employer used provocative scabs, calling the police on peaceful pickets, media spin, 'new' offers worth less than the old ones, and so on.
Yet the strikes remained overwhelming solid and public support remained resoundingly high. This is a testament to just how sick are workers and the public of rip-off companies like Arriva, and of the determination of the drivers and engineers and the basic solidarity of working class people.
Big business was starting to scream in protest, as Arriva bickering over pennies cost them millions of pounds in lost revenue - the strike had the effect of turning the wider boss class against the employer at fault in this dispute.
This important victory will give confidence to the ongoing struggles in the region, not least the Firstbus strike in Manchester for fair pay, and the Merseyrail and Arriva Northern disputes to retain the train guards.
Determined action by these transport workers has great potential power in its effects on the local economy.
Pay parity still to be won
Arriva has for years had a deeply divisive pay structure, presumably intended to cut across disputes like this, where different pay rates apply to different garages or areas.
Unite's policy is for pay parity by levelling up the lower-paid areas in Greater Manchester and Cheshire to the higher-paid rates of Merseyside.
While a percentage pay rise has been achieved, pay parity is still a long way off and the desire to fight for it is clearly one of the reasons for nearly one-third of Unite members rejecting the offer. Arriva will no doubt be hoping that by the end of the two-year deal the workforce will have become resigned to unfair pay at slightly higher hourly rates!
Unite is now in a strong position to wage a campaign to strengthen its organisation across the garages, demand pay parity, and if that isn't forthcoming then to launch a serious campaign for it at the appropriate date.
Demand public ownership
The political case for buses to be returned to public ownership needs to be taken up by Unite and the wider trade union movement with the public, and demand that the Labour Party take it on too.
The Labour leadership and left should be demanding that instead of metro-mayors like Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram spinning the Tories' pro-market Buses Bill as something radical, they mobilise support for re-municipalisation of public transport to be guaranteed by the next Labour government.
Labour presently shows no inclination to do this but the Socialist Party will continue to do so.
Rotheram and Burnham have had enough buzzwords about 'integration' and 'smart ticketing' and who knows what else, but nothing useful to say about the dispute, which in practise has meant siding with Arriva bosses who aimed to just sit it out.
Socialist Party members have been on the pickets every week across the region, helped build wider support, advocated strike demonstrations and helped mobilise a turnout for it when one was called in Liverpool.
We issued five strike bulletins to update strikers in this and the other public transport disputes around the region about what was taking place. These were welcomed by pickets; at many garages almost snatched out of our hands.
A few individual Labour Party members may have visited a few picket lines, and Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson - seemingly as part of a longstanding personal vendetta against Arriva management - supported the workers' claim once their action was happening, but this aside, the deafening silence from both Labour's left and right on the strike has not gone unnoticed by strikers.
The Firstbus dispute in Manchester, where drivers in the Rusholme garage are paid £5,000 a year less than another garage only five miles away, remains ongoing.
Here too Andy Burnham remains resolutely silent, although some Labour lefts have visited the pickets. Strikers facing an equally brutal and provocative management can take heart from the Arriva drivers withstanding such treatment, and can link up with the likes of the Mears housing maintenance workers to demand that the Labour Party acts to address their concerns by using its considerable clout through the franchising, contracting, etc, procedures.
The local trade union movement needs to rally round both disputes, mobilise serious numbers for all solidarity action which those involved would wish to be organised, and help these determined workers to win what would be major local victories for our class.
The conclusion for the national union leaders should be that workers are willing to fight. They're not cowed by the Trade Union Act, if anything this has made angry union members more determined to wage serious struggles until victory.
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