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Volume 51 Number 8, March 6, 2021 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Workers' Forum

Go Ahead Spy on Striking Manchester Bus Drivers

Over 400 drivers employed by Go North West began continuous strike action in Manchester on Sunday, February 28. Go North West, the regional division of Go Ahead Group, which runs many of the bus services once publicly provided by local authorities, responded by installing 80 new CCTV cameras at the Queens Road depot to watch drivers. The new cameras are in addition to a number that were already in operation.

The drivers' union Unite has condemned the tactic of intimidation, accusing the company of intending to use the cameras for surveillance and to crack down on the slightest break in any rules.

In particular, it is thought that management will attempt to gain leverage in the conditions of the pandemic by recording instances of workers supposedly breaching social distancing rules.

As an example of the atmosphere of oversight, threat and control being fostered, it is reported that managing director Nigel Featham has a screen on his desk monitoring the designated break area at the depot [1]. It is a return to obsolete methods of management, of inspectors or foremen, used in workplaces to intensify productivity and reduce so-called slacking. It is an afront also to workers' dignity.

The bus drivers are striking over new and inferior contracts being imposed under the threat of unemployment. Under the fraudulent claim by Go North West that the depot is "loss-making", drivers are being told that, if they do not accept new contracts, the depot will close. They have been given just eight days to sign, or be dismissed on May 8, in a move of brutal intimidation by the company.

Despite Go Ahead Group recording bottom-line profits - the shareholder claim on the new value generated by the work of the drivers - of £1 billion, its self-serving and capital centric definitions convert such an enormous figure into this or that depot being "uneconomic". This notion of what is "uneconomic" shows the total disregard of its private interests for the economy as a whole; it reveals how those interests are at loggerheads with the general interests of society. The depot will close, regardless of the impact on drivers' livelihoods and the destruction to the local economy and community.

Go Ahead Group own many bus franchises up and down the country, as well as internationally. In many localities in Britain, all routes have been taken over from local authorities. They are lucrative as fares are kept high and there are massive state subsidies to free bus-passes going into private owners' pockets in what is clearly a pay-the-rich scheme. All of which serves to highlight the question as to why should money not go straight into public funds and public authority rather than to private interests?

One demand of workers via their union has been for an independent investigation into the company's assertion that the depot is making a so-called loss. Go North West have refused to comply with this demand. Further, Go North West has been spreading the disinformation that drivers had "volunteered" in accepting the new contracts. Its method is to impose and spread confusion so as to retain total control.

Unite has been involved in "cost saving" negotiations with the company, which had already resulted in raising the profit, the added-value seized by the company, by some £1 million, along with a pay freeze of 12 months that had been accepted, upping the company's claim by a further £200,000. But Go North West wanted more, and unleashed their fire and rehire threat.

The company is attempting to impose terms and measures to drive up productivity by cracking the whip, so as to increase the new value produced by drivers, as well as to increase their claim over that value. Rather than "save costs", it gives the lie to the notion that labour is a cost.

The strike is workers asserting themselves in the face of imposition and intimidation, in defence of their rights and claims on the value they create. Underlying is the need is to organise a new direction for the economy. It raises the question of who has control over their working conditions and the private ownership of key transport sectors of the economy. It is for the workers and people broadly to constitute the new kind of public authority over buses and routes that is required.

"Go North West has revealed its true colours. The company is more interested in spying on its workers, trying to catch them out at every turn, than resolve this dispute," said Unite regional secretary Ritchie James.

"Bullying workers and their families to accept inferior terms of employment is not good industrial relations. The company is guilty of blackmailing workers in times of great uncertainty. It is undignified for the parent company to have £450 million of 'spare cash' floating around and then plead poverty to justify intimidating and bullying its own employees.

"Our members who have worked throughout the pandemic, ensuring key workers in Greater Manchester can get to and from work, are being rewarded for the dedication and commitment with huge pay cuts, which will mean that they and their families will struggle to make ends meet."


Notes

1. "Unite accuses bosses of spying on striking Manchester bus drivers", Tim Lezard, Union News, March 4, 2021
https://www.union-news.co.uk/unite-accuses-bosses-of-spying-on-striking-manchester-bus-drivers


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