Unite members at Arriva North West started a continuous strike on Wednesday 20 July. The company offered its workers a mere 3 percent, or 6 percent in exchange for strings including cuts to sick pay. That’s after RPI inflation hit 11.8 percent in June, and in the middle of the latest Covid wave. The Magpie reports.
The dispute involves depots across Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Cheshire, but the heart of the dispute is in Merseyside, where Arriva is the dominant bus operator. It comes as part of a small but significant rising wave of strikes prompted by the cost of living crisis. Unite members at Stagecoach Merseyside recently settled a dispute after winning a significantly improved pay offer. Arriva is already involved in a long-running strike in Yorkshire.
Very few workers are scabbing and Arriva is making no attempt to run services during the strike except in Macclesfield and one hospital shuttle in Liverpool. Though the absence of school services over the summer will create some spare capacity, the general shortage of drivers will make breaking the strike very difficult. There are attempts by transport authorities to find other operators to run subsidised Arriva services, for example Goodwins are running two services in Greater Manchester. Strikers say that not only is Arriva not receiving the subsidy, they are being forced to pay for the cost of providing the emergency service, so the strike is still having an impact.
Bus drivers worked throughout the pandemic and see no reason they should be facing cuts to their living standards or hard-won terms and conditions – particularly when there already is a driver shortage. How does the industry expect to attract workers if drivers’ unsocial hours aren’t reflected in their pay?
With so many disputes in the bus industry, there are real opportunities for Unite to learn lessons, particularly in taking a more proactive approach to spreading action to other areas or operators, and involving strikers in more than picketing outside depots that aren’t operating. A continuous strike makes it much easier for others to give solidarity, and to build connections between this strike and the growing number of others. Strike solidarity can help popularise the idea of striking and bring more workers into the battle to stop our living standards being eroded by rising prices.