This morning around two dozen supporters of the First Bus drivers' strike blocked buses from leaving the Queens Road depot in Cheetham Hill for an hour and a half, disrupting services in North Manchester and Salford.
Drivers from the Rusholme First Bus depot have been involved in an ongoing strike for 13 weeks trying to win pay parity with drivers from the same company at other depots throughout Manchester. They are paid 23% less than their colleagues, which equates to a differential of around £5,000 a year, with no pay rise for four years.
There have been Unite union pickets at Rusholme three times a week backed by blockades by their supporters, and today those supporters, who included trade unionists, members of the Labour Party and the People's Assembly, spread the direct action to Queens Road.
The peaceful protest, which was not official union action, began at 5:45am and succeeded in stopping buses until 7:30am. The police arrived towards the end of the demonstration but no attempt was made to move the protesters and no arrests were made.
"We've been protesting in Rusholme totally peacefully, and we've come here today, to the bigger depot, to create this disruption to send the message to First even more strongly, that you've got to be fair to these drivers" James Quinn, a resident of Rusholme and Labour Party member told the Salford Star.
"It's a straight forward case that they deserve to be treated equally" he added "At the moment Rusholme First Bus drivers, who drive that very busy route down Wilmslow Road, have a rate of £9.05p per hour, while the drivers here are on £12.10 an hour.
"When First took over that depot in Rusholme four years ago they promised that the company would work towards parity with other depots and that's not happened" he explained "The drivers are good people, they just want to get back to work, but they want something that leads towards parity. £9.05 an hour for driving the busiest bus route in Europe is not acceptable and we want First to sort this out."
Joining this morning's blockade was Salford Labour Councillor, Kate Lewis... "I just think it is an important cause" she explained "These bus drivers in south Manchester should be paid the same as those in north Manchester. It's the sort of fight that any good trade unionist should be involved with; it's a fight about equality. I think people from Salford should support a cause like this but in the end it's the principle of workers' rights."
Also at the protest were Rusholme Labour councillors, Jill Lovecy and Ahmed Ali...
"We've been supporting the drivers from the beginning" said Councillor Lovecy "One of the big issues is that Manchester First Bus was created by taking over existing companies where people were working on different terms and conditions, and their management strategy was to play the different groups against each other and not towards the same set of terms and conditions over a period."
Her sentiments were echoed by Councillor Ali, who asked "Why is there a £5,000 difference between Cheetham Hill and Rusholme? It's the same company. When First took over the company they should have harmonised everything. They should make up, pay up and bring parity amongst the drivers."
At a snail's pace, the regulation of buses is gradually being sorted by Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham. Could these bad practices by the First Bus company potentially harm them when Burnham gets control over the area's buses? "Potentially, yes" Councillor Ali responded...
In the meantime, the action continues and is set to escalate.
The Salford Star asked First Bus for a comment about today's disruption...
"There was disruption at Queens Road" a spokesperson confirmed "I can confirm that the protesters have now dispersed. We remain extremely disappointed that some of our Rusholme drivers are continuing to strike and that protesters have been attending the Rusholme depot during strike days, which has affected some services from leaving the depot.
"We'd like to stress that these people are not associated with the strike or business and we are working with the police to ensure that we can operate as many bus services from Rusholme as possible" the spokesperson added.
Main photo by Steven Speed