Students at the University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University have launched a “boycott First” campaign to support the ongoing industrial action taken by bus drivers at First’s Rusholme depot.
Using the tagline “rather have no choice than first choice,” the students are urging other students to not use the First bus to show solidarity with the bus drivers.
In a dispute that has been ongoing since October, First bus drivers at the Rusholme depot have been on strike on Mondays across November after the revelation that they are being paid up to £95 a week less than colleagues working at the Queen’s Road base just five miles away, equating to almost £5,000 a year.
The campaign was launched by two second-year University of Manchester students, Leah Millward and Nathan Johnson and third-year Manchester Metropolitan University student Frankie Leach, and many students have expressed interest in it.
International Politics student at Manchester Metropolitan University, Frankie Leach, told The Mancunion: “we’re not asking people to join the campaign, it’s not like we want people to sit down in meetings; it’s literally that we just want them not to ride the First Bus, it’s the literally easiest thing to do.”
Represented by union Unite, 96 per cent of drivers voted to take industrial action leading to riders going on strike every Monday across November, and this will increase this to three-days a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) until the dispute is settled.
Neil Clarke, regional officer at Unite, said: “this is about fairness and equality. It’s about people doing the same job, for the same employer in the same city, getting paid the same as their colleagues.
“This disparity is morally and ethically bankrupt, there is no justification for it.”
Manchester Momentum has organised a “#BoycottFirstOnTheFirst” event for the 1st of December from 7am to 10am, encouraging students and others to join them on the picket line outside the Rusholme Depot, just before the ‘Curry Mile’.
Ahead of the demonstration, Frankie Leach said: “we’ve put out stuff on Facebook to invite people to the picket line but obviously it’s seen to be quite a political thing to do. We’re trying to make this not really about politics and more about supporting the drivers so even if it just means getting a different bus on a morning, that’s what we want to encourage people to do.”
University of Manchester Students’ Union Campaigns and Citizenship Officer, Deej-Malik Johnson, also said that he “completed supported” the campaign.
Deej said: “I really encourage students who are able to to get involved in the boycott, to show that bit of solidarity because students and workers, when we come together, the world is ours. We look after the workers because we’re going to be workers but we look after workers because everybody in our society deserves decent pay and conditions.
“I am going to be doing stuff around the Students’ Union, and I know that other students are putting stuff up around the University, publicising what is happening.
“One of the biggest things is about raising awareness. Knowledge is power. If we let people know, I know that people will want to help out their fellow workers.”
Commenting on the ongoing dispute, Phil Medlicott, Managing Director at First Manchester, said: “we remain extremely disappointed that staff from one of our depots are continuing to strike, but I’d like to reassure customers that we will continue to operate services from our Rusholme depot.
“We are doing everything we can to resolve the situation, but I have stressed to Unite the Union that, following extensive negotiations since April, the situation has remained unchanged since our final offer at the start of October; an offer which was recommended by them.
“We already have 30 drivers who have returned to work at Rusholme and I’d urge all staff who are still involved with the strike to think about the impact this is having on their friends and families and to return to work next week.”
Leaflets given to passersby during pickets on Mondays across November said that “the last thing the drivers want to is to cause disruption to our loyal customers” but asked customers to “respectfully request that you opt for an alternative public transport service operating in the area.”