Ian Allinson a member of rs21 and rank and file candidate for UNITE general secretary in 2017, writes about the successful resistance by Manchester bus workers to the imposition of Fire & Rehire using Covid-19 as an excuse.
Strikers were celebrating after voting to accept an offer and return to work. The strike was defensive – resisting an employer which used fire and rehire to try to force through a dramatic worsening of terms and conditions and an end to meaningful bargaining over future changes.
Strikers are rightly proud of their epic fight – the longest bus strike in British history. The strikers achieved a lot. Not just fighting off fire and rehire for themselves, but winning a commitment from the whole Go Ahead group never to use it again. They won the reinstatement of two sacked workers and disciplinary threats against 37 more. They won an above-inflation pay deal for two years. They were almost entirely successful in stopping attacks on their sick pay and time allowances. They prevented the employer being able to unilaterally make future changes.
All the strikers recognise that this wasn’t an unqualified victory. Most accepted the logic that they had to make concessions to ensure the viability of their employer, an issue discussed in my previous article about the strike. The workers had agreed to offer major concessions on unpaid meal breaks and a longer working day, on a temporary basis for two years until bus franchising comes in. Go Ahead refused to make any commitment to give back these concessions. Everyone involved recognises that there will be battles to come, particularly when bus franchising starts in two years’ time.
The concessions led to Go North West needing fewer staff and Unite reps worried that cuts would be made by firing people on the flimsiest of pretexts. This led them to agree a severance programme to cut staff.
There were steps that could have been taken to put more pressure on Go Ahead, as discussed in the previous article. But the Unite apparatus discouraged strikers from visiting other bus depots to build solidarity. Last week, when Unite officers tried to push members into balloting on the offer, there was strong opposition, forcing the ballot to be delayed while rostering concerns were addressed in further talks.
Even this week, there was 21.5% ‘No’ vote. There was huge pressure from the Unite apparatus to accept the deal, leaving strikers unconfident that they would get the support they needed if they fought on and most concluding that this was the best deal they could achieve.
Even strikers who are critical of the Unite leadership are clear that they won, even if they had won less than they should. There’s no shame for workers in making compromises or concessions after putting up such a hard fight. The strikers are going back to work having shown that workers can beat fire and rehire, having successfully fought off the worst of Go Ahead’s attacks, feeling their strength, and having made powerful bonds between themselves and rejuvenated the networks of activists who provided solidarity. They are an inspiration and they are right to be proud.
19th May 2021
This article was first posted at:- Video | Interviews with Go North West bus strikers
3. The British eft and the UK state – Chapter 6. Two forces for possible future Socialist advances –Ian Allinson’s Grassroots Left election campaign for the UNITE general secretary and the appearance of anti-racist, pro-migrant Left Remain forces in the new Labour intake – Allan Armstrong, RCF