DRIVERS employed by the bus privateer Go North West, marked five weeks on indefinite strike against £2,500 per annum pay cuts with a powerful 1,000-strong cavalcade, rally and march in Manchester on Saturday afternoon.
Unite union branch chair and strike leader Colin Hayden told the rally ahead of the march: ‘This is day 35 and we’re stronger than ever.
‘We went on indefinite strike against the fire and rehire of 500 drivers. The company has tried to impose worse sick pay, worse pay and conditions. But we’re solid. We’re out and we’re staying out, it’s as simple as that.
‘We will fight with all our strength. It’s an honour to chair this branch. Our drivers will stand fast and we’ll be here to the end.’
Manchester North Labour MP Graham Stringer said: ‘This is appalling management, simply a disgrace. The strikers here are in the vanguard of the fight against fire and rehire, which is a system that is simply not acceptable. This is not a dispute in a vacuum, this is a national fight against the private bus companies.
‘Manchester City Council has made a small step by voting for reregulation now. The next step must be the renationalisation of public transport.’
Richie James, Unite Regional Secretary, said: ‘These strikers have led a magnificent fight against a rogue employer. We offered, as a trade union, to improve the company’s profits, but two weeks later they suspended Colin and then gave members just eight days to sign the new contract.
Then last week they actually threatened to close the garage if they didn’t get their own way. Go North West want to cut the sick pay. Our fightback is here. One-in-ten workers are affected by fire and rehire nationally. We haven’t joined up the struggles yet, but we have to do so.’
Sophie Davies from Sisters Uncut, said: ‘Solidarity with the brave strikers. We are part of the movement against the Police Bill which extends police powers. It empowers the cops to criminalise resistance, criminalise protests like this one. This Bill will criminalise trade union activities. Our struggles are united against the violent state.’
Annette Wright, Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union and Manchester Labour Councillor, said: ‘It’s not easy going on indefinite strike. At the council this week we voted to commit the council to refuse to contract with companies that use fire and rehire. We have to bring the buses back under local control.’
As the march was assembling, numerous strikers and their supporters spoke to News Line.
Striking driver and Unite member Chris O’Gormley said: ‘These attacks by the private companies on bus drivers are happening all over the country. We need to bring all the struggles together. Renationalise the buses now, for the safety of the passengers and for the livelihood of the workers.
‘My dad used to be a tram driver. He said there should be a revolution and I agree with him.’
Striking driver and Unite member Alesi Dufek said: ‘We are fighting for our rights. They are pushing us too far, cutting sick pay, holiday pay, meal breaks, forcing us to work longer hours, creating bigger physical and mental stress, which means more fatigue, higher risk of health issues and less time with family and friends.
‘Nationalise the bus network. These private companies are only interested in profits. What they are threatening us with now is just the beginning. In one or two years they will come back again, claim that they are losing money and cut our pay and conditions again.’
Driver and Unite member Muhammad Warraich said: ‘I believe that unity is strength. I’ve been with the union since 1997. People from all walks of life should work together against this industrial dictatorship.’
Driver and Unite member Drich Boumba said: ‘All the strikes and struggles against these private bus companies should unite. What is happening to us is happening everywhere and what’s happening elsewhere is happening here too. For instance, they want to impose remote sign-on here as well, and we don’t want it.
‘Let’s have national strike action to beat fire and rehire. The more noise you make the better it is. We are very strong, the determination is great, the boys and girls here are so motivated. We won’t back down!’
Driver and Unite member Mike Kasiuk said: ‘We have to beat fire and rehire. All our rights have been fought for by previous generations and we have to pass them on to the next generation. Under their plans we’ll see less of our families. Mental health is an issue, we’ve got kids and we’re fighting for them.’
Driver and Unite member Mark Hothersall said: ‘We are getting a lot of support from the whole community and we need as much support as we can get. There are people out there who bring us food and water every day. They want us to win as much as we do. Call national action to win the fight.’
Driver and Unite member Howard McArthur said: ‘We’re on strike because of fire and rehire. The bus company claims that 84% of its workers have “voluntarily” signed the new contract which will basically cut pay. But Unite says that it’s illegal, that it’s an illegal contract and that fire and rehire is illegal, so Unite has called all the drivers out on strike.
‘But at the same time as Unite says that what the company has done is illegal, it also says that the engineers’ contracts haven’t yet been affected, so they can’t come out on strike with us, which I think is ridiculous. I just wish that Unite was itself united, although I’m not, of course, saying that that’s the union’s fault.’
Reading RMT Branch Chair James Denny, who had travelled up to the demonstration with the branch banner and a delegation from Berkshire, said: ‘Fire and rehire is finding its way around the country. We are facing the greatest attack on terms and conditions and welfare that we have seen for a very long time. We need a general strike for a whole range of reasons.’
As the march wound its way through the streets surrounding Manchester’s Queens Road Bus Depot, local residents came out onto their doorsteps and clapped and cheered the strikers and their families and supporters as they went by.
At the end of the march, Colin Hayden told News Line: ‘It’s been a great day. Now we want national action to win this fight and to defeat fire and rehire.’