Determined strike by UK bus workers at Arriva North West continues as GMB union declares ‘compromise’
Around 1,800 UK bus workers at Arriva North West are continuing their all-out strike for a pay rise to cope with the rising cost of living. The strike began on July 20 and is in its third week.
While workers are determined to keep fighting, the GMB union has indicated it is ready to reach a sell-out deal with the company. At the same time, Unite sabotaged a growing wave of strike action by bus workers by opposing unified collective action.
GMB and Unite union members work in 11 garages across the North West of England, including Birkenhead, Bolton, Bootle, Liverpool, Macclesfield, Manchester, Runcorn, Southport, Speke, St Helens and Winsford.
Workers voted by an overwhelming 96% on a 72% turnout to reject the company’s initial offer of 3% or 6% with conditions. Another offer of 8.5% was rejected without a vote as significantly below inflation, currently at 11.8% RPI. The Bank of England expects even the lowest CPI inflation rate to hit 13% in the last three months of this year, down from 9.4% now – the highest level in 42 years – and will remain “very high” in 2023.
In a July 29 press release, GMB organizer Robert Marnell said: “[T]The GMB is ready to talk when all parties are ready to come to the table and compromise… These workers are struggling to make ends meet – Arriva needs to recognize this and make them an offer that helps them make ends meet. in the face of the cost of living crisis.
The GMB bluntly states that it will ‘compromise’, meaning settling for a below inflation deal which it can sell to its members, on the basis that it is the best that can be achieved . But to cope with the rising cost of living – including average energy bills for the average household set to top £3,000 in the fall and rising mortgage rates – the working class must demand hikes salaries indexed to the cost of living, and backdated to include compensation for the erosion of real salary conditions since 2008.
World Socialist Websitejournalists spoke to striking bus workers on the picket line outside Liverpool and Wythenshawe bus depots in Manchester.
Strikers have expressed concerns about the cost of living and how to advance their struggle.
In Liverpool, driver John said: “If it keeps going like this, it’s only going one way. Everyone is going to be in dire straits if things keep going up.
“Capitalism doesn’t work. [What we want] is enough money to put food on the table and keep a roof over our heads, and we won’t get tricked.
“Everything is always fueled by money. If they can make money by destroying what’s there, they will.
Speaking of the role of Labour, John said: “I’ve always voted Labour, but I think I’m a bit lost at the moment. [But] we do not want to fall into communism. When the WSWS reporter explained the history of Stalinism in the Soviet Union and the internationalist program championed by the Trotskyist movement, he replied, “We never had socialism.
Expressing the basic principle that “unity is strength”, he said of the growing number of workers in conflict: “We must all call a general strike”.
Another driver, Bill, a bus veteran, said: “Unless you get an inflation raise, you don’t get a pay rise. Unless you’re all ready to go out at the same time, you’re not going anywhere. We need a new mindset.
Driver Jeff, who has worked for Arriva for four years, explained why Arriva workers left. “We are fighting against wages and working hours – there is no consistency,” he said. “The tiredness… when you finish at eight o’clock at night and they want you to come back at 6 o’clock in the morning!” If a driver is tired and worried about safety, he will punish you.
“They [the company] offered another offer yesterday – if you’ve worked for 12 months or less, £12 an hour that’s a £1 raise; if it is one to five years, 7.5%; and over five years, 9%. They try to come between us. We should all be paid the same for the same work.
“If they offered me £20 an hour I’d stick with that,” he said, pointing to his colleagues on the picket line. “If someone is eliminated, we are all eliminated.”
“About 10% of the world’s population owns all the wealth… Most of us worked during the pandemic and we got nothing,” he said, adding, “We got a letter of thanks”.
At the Wythenshawe depot, driver Alan said: “We’re solid, still going flat out and we’re not going to stop. It’s about young people, their mortgages, their lives.
Referring to the recent union/company meeting to resolve the dispute, he said: “Management are still singing from the same score, where they had offered a £250 bonus. We refused it. It’s so bad now, your money isn’t going anywhere,” he said, adding, “We can’t keep accepting 2%, 3%, 4%. These deals don’t cut the mustard.
Another picket agreed, saying, “I can’t even afford to go to work; that’s before making money!
Driver Jim said: “We sent guys to other depots. We’ve been to other depots to tell them we’re still going strong.
While workers recognize that workers can only fight victoriously if they are united, they face not only the transport companies, but also the GMB and Unite, which are corporate organizations that side with the big business to impose attacks on jobs, wages and conditions. The union bureaucracy seeks to remove strike mandates, but where it is forced to sanction them under pressure from its members, it then works to limit and isolate them, within companies and between sectors, in order to ‘Intimidate acceptance of below-inflation wage agreements, voluntary layoffs and/or breaches of terms of service.
Unite has suppressed a possible unified strike wave among its members at Arriva North West, Arriva Yorkshire and Stagecoach Merseyside. At Arriva Yorkshire, he backed a substandard deal worth between 8 and 10 per cent, after workers pulled out for two weeks. At Stagecoach Merseyside, after just one day of strike action, Unite managed a 10.3% rise to 11.9% from January 2023 so wages will no longer keep up with inflation.
Arriva North West, part of Arriva UK, is owned by German parent company Deutsche Bahn. In an article on its website, Unite cites research it commissioned revealing “that over the past 10 years a total of £560 million has been paid out in dividends from Arriva’s UK bus division to parent company Deutsche Bahn. During this period, Arriva North West bus workers have contributed around £60million to the company’s profits.
Unite’s general secretary, Sharon Graham, said: “Rather than invest in its own workforce, Arriva has harnessed the profits and relocated them to Germany.
According to Unite, Deutsche Bahn is one of the largest companies in the world and is “effectively owned by the German government”. It is “extremely profitable and has paid dividends of £5 billion to the German government”.
The Unite article continues: “Since the start of the pandemic, UK bus companies, including Arriva, have received considerable financial support from the UK government…Unite asks if UK taxpayers’ money has really – thanks to offshoring – found its way into German government coffers?
This nationalist appeal distracts workers from the necessary class struggle across workplaces, branch offices and national borders. Multinationals, both British and German, exploit employees all over the world. This is not to call on hostile governments to relocate profits, but to mount a collective struggle that prevents such vast fortunes from being wrested from the backs of the international working class in the first place. Unite makes no mention of the wages and conditions of workers employed by Deutsche Bahnin Germany.
A fight for a real increase in the cost of living must be waged against the corporatist and nationalist unions through independent rank-and-file committees. Join the fight to build the International Alliance of Rank and File Committee Workers and contact us today.