“They make £11 million in profits in Leeds alone, and all their offer adds up to is around half a million – its a shame it has to come to this to get them to give us more.” Those were the words of one of the Unite members picketing this morning outside the two First Bus depots in Leeds.
Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party
Over 100 pickets were at the Hunslet depot, whilst around 30 were outside Bramley depot, the latter being shut down completely for the day. Busses were parked three deep at Hunslet at around 8am, when by that point the depot would usually be largely empty.
Whilst management had prepared for the strike, by sending busses to the disused Cherry Road depot in Lincoln Green, pickets who were sent there said that 16 left there, whilst maybe a few dozen left the Hunslet depot, staffed by a handful of scabs who were offered £11 an hour, plus a £50 bonus to break the strike, as well as managers from other areas around the region.
The small number of busses operating is far less than the hundreds that usually run, and probably not enough to adequately run even the skeletal service that First is trying to provide today. Indeed, one driver on the picket commented how he had told managers they need to increase capacity further on his route as busses are overcrowded at times even when operating a full service!
Whilst Leeds is one of the areas that brings in the most revenue for First, drivers in Leeds are paid £2 an hour less than those in nearby Halifax. Whilst drivers were offered 3% for the year, although half of this would not be paid until January, managers have had upto 5% in pay and bonuses.
As one worker described to me “In the past the union has just recommended to us what management has offered us, but this year they put it to us to decide whether we wanted to push for more.”
This more militant attitude reflects the fact that bus drivers have won a series of disputes in the region and nationally in the last year or so. Drivers have won disputes in both Bradford and Huddersfield, the latter being the lowest paid depot in West Yorkshire.
Given the substantial disruption the strike has caused, most of the drivers were confident that the company would be forced to come back to them with an improved offer. But even if a substantial increase is won in Leeds, a logical next step would be for First drivers across West Yorkshire to organise to push for a higher, unifed rates of pay across all First West Yorkshire sites.