[EXCLUSIVE! Published before The Argus, by Peter Knight, Brighton Thursday branch]
Bus drivers working for the Brighton & Hove Bus Company have fought and won an important deal in their pay dispute with the Go Ahead-owned business after T&G Unite members accepted an improved pay offer from management today.
Workers accepted the deal with 410 for and 73 against the new proposal which sees the drivers achieving a deal that matches inflation with many winning above inflation rates. The determination of some drivers to continue with their action is reflected in the 73 who wanted to continue to fight for all of their demands and is a sign of the resolve all workers will need when pay negotiations begin again in two years time. Having rejected previous offers, which would have meant a below inflation deal for many, workers voted for industrial action and threatened to walk out for six Mondays in a row.
But today, without even having to turn off the engines and lose a day's pay, with only the dates set for strike action, management have had to back down and offer a deal that matches inflation. This now means the abolition of the graded pay structure with all drivers above one year's service moving up to the top rate of pay. Plus, workers' demands to raise this top grade of pay by 4% was also achieved meaning all drivers have defended their pay against the soaring cost of living that they have never been to blame for.
Brighton & Hove Bus Company keeps putting up ticket prices and blames the rising cost of fuel for doing so. But this is simply a ploy to keep raising ticket prices and their profits. Owners, the Go Ahead group, arrange fuel costs in advance. At the moment they only pay around 57p per litre which is less than half the cost everyone else is paying at the pumps. The tax they pay on this only adds up to about 7p per litre meaning a massive tax break for the company. Last year they made a £5 million post-tax profit for Go Ahead shareholders. And yet management thought it could still get away with below inflation pay offers for the workers who were making them money.
Brighton Socialist Party members ran a stall on London Road one Saturday during the dispute to raise support from the public. Passing motorists and bus drivers honked their horns in support. Many people who signed the petition were disgusted that management had given themselves a 16% rise when those doing the hard work were left to face an affective pay cut. Everyone who came up to the stall supported the bus drivers' strike plans and donated to the party to help pay for leaflets that were printed and circulated publicising the real story. When workers and communities unite and stand up for each other's pay and conditions, the strength of their unity and resolve can bring victories, as demonstrated by today's step forward by the bus drivers.
Across the country public transport has been privatised. Billions of taxpayers' money is lost into the pockets of rich shareholders every year rather than improving the public services that everyone relies on day-to-day. The Socialist Party fights against privatisation in all its forms and campaigns for an integrated, publicly-owned and democratically controlled transport system. Only then, once public services are out of the reach of the profiteers and the self-serving capitalists, can free travel for all, decent pay and the protection of the environment be realistic and attainable goals.
For further information about our campaigns and ideas visit http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/