Protesters disrupted Go North West’s services for two days this week showing how community and trade union activism can work together, reports Chris Neville
The direct action at the Queen's Road bus depot in Manchester ramped up this week with two consecutive days of action ahead of the suspended trade union rep, Colin Hayden's upcoming disciplinary hearing.
In terms of effectiveness, the two days were very different. On Wednesday, perhaps thirty activists, including members of Momentum, the Labour Party and local left-wing groups turned out at 5 am to disrupt the day's rush-hour services from departing as they had on two other previous occasions.
Greater Manchester Police immediately deployed officers in an attempt to avoid disruption but the sheer number of activists meant that the police were heavily outnumbered. Seemingly due to this, the police adopted a much softer and friendlier approach than they previously had. Although the police would not let them block the exit of the depot as they had in the past, activists effectively used a technique of walking slowly in front of buses that had just left the depot on the understanding that they were not blocking the highway if they were walking at a slow pace.
Wednesday's action was the best attended and most effective so far. Buses that should have departed between 5 am and 6 am were still backed up into the depot at 7:45 am. Managers that were present became visibly frustrated and were abusive towards the activists. It was obvious that the repeated disruption had rattled them and, with the results of a consultative ballot at the depot this week being announced as 94% in favour of proceeding to industrial action, it's not hard to see why.
There is a clear divide in the depot staff's attitude towards the recent action. On one side are the drivers who are having their terms and conditions reduced, and on the other side, the management and maintenance staff. Driver support was overwhelmingly positive this time. After a police officer issued an activist a final warning for 'walking too slowly', one driver approached them to explain why it was important to allow them to continue and how the company was a terrible place to work.
Thursday's action painted a different picture. The turnout from activists was much lower, with around eight present. GMP seemed to have allocated extra resources in anticipation of this and a ridiculous number of police officers turned up. The police didn't seem to have any plan or coordination and were sending out mixed messages to the activists in terms of what they deemed to be acceptable. Despite pleas from activists for the police to allow peaceful protest and not take sides, they blatantly sided with the bus company. As a result, the disruption to Go North West's services was much lower than the previous day. GMP became increasingly hostile, repeatedly threatening arrest. When three police vans turned up, the activists decided to call it a day.
Today's setback hasn't put much of a dampener on the issues at hand though. The recent ballot result proves that the vast majority of drivers are ready to collectively take a stand and support each other against bullying tactics from the management. The community activism in support of the drivers is a novel way to take a chunk out of Go North West’s earnings whilst circumventing the UK's draconian anti-union legislation. Trade unionists and community activists across the country should work together to take similar action in support of upcoming industrial disputes.
There will be a demo planned on Friday 11 September at 10:30 am outside the bus depot. The organisers have asked for members of the public to join alongside trade union and community activists to show their support for Colin in a public display of solidarity.
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