As we reported in Solidarity 591 (5 May 2021), sustained strikes by bus drivers at Manchester’s Go North West succeeded in forcing bosses to back down from their plans to use “fire and rehire” tactics to impose new contracts. The dispute has now been formally settled, with drivers voting by a 79% majority to accept a deal that sees the “fire and rehire” plan scrapped.
The strike ran to 12 weeks in total, the longest bus workers’ strike in British history. Two workers sacked during the course of the dispute have been reinstated, with disciplinary charges against 37 more dropped. An above-inflation pay rise for the next two years has been secured, and Go North West has committed to not using “fire and rehire” tactics in future.
However, as some other disputes against “fire and rehire” have shown, an overemphasis on the means of imposition of changes to terms and conditions, rather than focusing on the changes themselves (i.e., making “fire and rehire” itself, rather than the new contracts, the issue) risks an outcome where bosses are able to impose most of the changes they wanted anyway, with unions declaring victory as long as bosses have backed away from using “fire and rehire”.
The settlement undeniably represents a compromise, with bosses making gains on issues like working time, unpaid breaks, and, potentially, staffing levels. The 21% minority who voted to reject the deal, against the strong recommendation of the Unite officialdom, shows there is a constituency of drivers, albeit a small one, which believes more could have been won. Some activists have criticised Unite’s local leadership for focusing picketing entirely around one depot, and blocking drivers from visiting other depots to try to expand the dispute and spread the action. Unite’s approach throughout the dispute was to accept cuts were necessary, and to propose alternative packages of cuts to those planned by the bosses, rather than rejecting the logic of cuts altogether.
Nevertheless, forcing a previous intransigent employer to abandon core elements of their plan is unquestionably a testament to the workers’ resolve. They should use the momentum to build towards further disputes to win back terms and conditions conceded in the dispute, and to make further gains.