by George Arthur
Stagecoach bus drivers in Barnsley and Rawmarsh have stepped up their fight to improve their wages. They plan strikes on alternating days next week. A mass meeting of drivers, members of the Unite union, rejected Stagecoach’s latest offer. The company has refused to backdate any pay increases to 1 June last year, as the drivers demand. The workers voted to strike on 4, 6, 8 and 10 February, and to follow this up with further strikes if managers do not produce a reasonable offer.
Other bus drivers recognise the importance of this dispute. “We’re expecting delegations to our next strike from areas as far away as Ayrshire,” a union rep said. Bus drivers attended a meeting of Barnsley trades council on Wednesday of last week to explain details of their case. Delegates were shocked to hear how it took eight strike days to force Stagecoach managers to negotiate over wages. “Stagecoach took us over six years ago and we’ve had very little increase in our wages,” one driver said.
Another added that managers look very tired when they turn up at 5am to operate a scab service on strike days. “They hate it when we strike on a Saturday—it spoils their weekend,” the driver said. An FBU rep told Barnsley trades council how he had boarded a Stagecoach bus by mistake on the first strike day. When he realised there was a strike on, he asked the driver why he was scabbing. “He told me he wasn’t a scab, he was a manager. I told the rest of the bus passengers that the driver was a scab, that I would not travel on a scab bus and was getting off. A load of other passengers got off with me.”
Few passengers are using Stagecoach buses on strike days. People have visited picket lines to say they were involved in the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike and would never use a bus driven by a scab. Barnsley College lecturers gave money to the drivers’ hardship fund, citing the difference that solidarity had made to their own recent dispute.
“That gave strength to our members to fight on until we succeeded,” said a UCU rep. “We want the bus drivers to see that they can win.”
The trades council voted to organise a demonstration in Barnsley on the first strike day this Saturday. Workers hope to see union branches from around the area turning up with banners: Saturday 4 February, 10.30am, assemble at Barnsley bus station for a rally at the picket line followed by a march through Barnsley town centre.
Messages of support should be emailed to Barnsley Unite branch secretary Tony Rushforth at firstname.lastname@example.org Cheques should be made payable to TGWU 9/9 Barnsley and sent to A Rushforth, 45 Tune Street, Wombwell, Barnsley S73 8PX