Friday, 26 June 2015

‘I ALMOST KILLED MYSELF WRITING THIS BOOK’


Martin Fletcher survived the 1985 Bradford City fire disaster and wrote a book earlier this year containing dramatic new revelations. But it’s come at a cost, finds Mark Metcalf 

BIG ISSUE NORTH 22 - 28 JUNE

The author of a new book that challenges the accepted theories on the 1985 Bradford fire disaster that killed 56 people, including four of his relatives, has heard nothing from any of the major football organisations in Britain. 
“They were silent 30 years ago and so I am not shocked that none have made contact today,” says Martin Fletcher. 
Bradford City fan Fletcher was 12 when, sitting in the all-wooden main stand alongside his father, brother, grandfather and uncle, he watched the final home game of the season, against Lincoln City, his side having already won promotion to Division Two. 
Forty minutes into the game, smoke began to rise in the stand where he was sitting. Certain that it would be swiftly dealt with by the fire brigade, police officers ordered the section where the family were sitting to empty into the rear corridor. With the stairwell only big enough for one person at a time there was a big squeeze. When Fletcher saw flames rising and then swore he was clipped round the ear by his dad and was grateful when his uncle suggested the two children go ahead together. When his younger brother, Andrew, 11, refused, he set off on his own. 
“I thought I’d be back in my seat in no time. Even when I arrived in the corridor and it was packed I had no concerns. I was even able to speak to my dad just behind me when I did start to worry. 
“When things cleared, however, the stairwells were cut off by fire. People sought to reach the nearest turnstile exit when the fire erupted and a wall of black smoke packed with carbon monoxide killed many people. 
“I had accepted death but I chose to carry on, gripping the wall before running straight through the burning stand until reaching the perimeter wall, where I was dragged over it by other fans. I was badly injured but I dashed for the safety of the terrace – within a minute the entire stand was an inferno.” 
Fifty-six supporters died, including all four of his relatives, and it was only thanks to the bravery of other supporters and the police, 42 of whom were injured, that others escaped. 
Despite his grief, Fletcher did well at school and, with his mother’s support, went to university and began a career as a chartered accountant. 
Promotion came at a cost for Bradford City, who after winning their only major trophy, the FA Cup in 1911, largely played their football in the lower leagues of professional football. Going up meant Bradford would be required to significantly improve facilities at their Valley Parade ground. It was not before time. Parts of it had previously been condemned after inspections had highlighted dangers in the structural foundations. The 74-year-old main stand was wooden and at an earlier match that he had attended his dad had told Fletcher off for dropping a Kit-Kat wrapper down though a hole under his seat, because that was considered a fire risk. On her first visit, Martin’s mother Sue challenged her husband about what would happen if the stand caught fire. 
Prior to the fire, safety concerns had been expressed by many authorities, including West Yorkshire County Council (WYCC), who in July 1984 warned the club about combustible materials beneath the main stand. WYCC had previously used legislation to close a rickety Yorkshire County Cricket stand in Bradford but failed to act against the he football club, which had few resources and had been bought for just £20,000 by local businessman Stafford Heginbotham in 1983. 
Heginbotham said bringing Valley Parade up to scratch for games that were certain to attract larger crowds in Division Two would cost £400,000. Seventy-five per cent of this would be covered by funds from the Football Grounds Improvement Trust (FGIT) but the remaining £100,000 was still a significant sum. 
Heginbotham told the press the day after the fire that he had been planning to renovate the stand, with steel already on site. Photos proved there was no steel. The club’s attempts to claim it had not received WYCC’s correspondence collapsed. Meanwhile, Heginbotham was in financial trouble as, faced with international competition, his company Tebro Toys was on a two-day working week. It was to be wound up in January 1986 with debts that would be worth around £5 million today. 
This meant that it was public money – £1.46 million from WYCC and £488,000 from FGIT – combined with fire insurance proceeds, that helped Bradford City, which contributed nothing, to rebuild the ground. The club was even left with a £200,000 surplus. In 1987, Heginbotham sold his stake in Bradford City for £450,000. He retired to Jersey as a tax exile and died in 1995. 
By this time the club had lost the civil case brought against it by Martin’s mother. This followed an inquiry that was started just 13 days after the forensic search of the site was completed. The inquiry lasted five and a half days. 
Previous disaster inquiries, such as in 1971 when 66 Rangers fans died at Ibrox Stadium, had been headed by a Lord Chief Justice. On this occasion a High Court judge with less seniority was appointed by the Home Secretary, Leon Brittan. The judge, Lord Popplewell, had stated before the inquiry that “blame will not be apportioned” and concluded that the cause of the fire was the dropping of a lit match, cigarette or tobacco. Following the Popplewell Inquiry, football forgot about Bradford. 
The family had moved to Nottingham and Fletcher began to follow Nottingham Forest. On 15 April 1989, he was at the FA Cup semi-final between Forest and Liverpool at Hillsborough. He had
to choke back the tears as he watched the unfolding disaster that resulted in 96 Liverpool football fans losing their lives after the police lost control and supporters were unable to exit the terraces because of metal fences at the front. He asked his mother: “Why didn’t they take the fences down after Bradford? Did our family die in vain?” 
It wasn’t until some years later though that Fletcher had the idea for his book. 
“I was at the Bradford City versus Arsenal game in the Premier League in February 2000 and was with my mate Ben chatting at the Bantams Bar at the back of the Kop. We were chatting about the fire and he asked me was I happy at what Popplewell had concluded. I said: ‘That’s just the way things were back then.’ Although he said nothing the look he gave me made me realise he knew I didn’t believe what I was saying.” 
Fletcher unearthed flaws in the inquiry and inconsistencies between what Heginbotham and Bradford City told the press and authorities. 
Despite Popplewell’s explanation that the fire was probably caused by a lit match or cigarette, no clear evidence or testimony was presented that anyone was smoking. The Timber Research and Development Association, the one independent body that had previously inspected the main stand, submitted evidence to the inquiry that disputed whether a “small source of ignition on its own... could have been the primary cause of the ignition of the timber structure”. 
Fletcher has also revealed that Heginbotham had experienced many more fires at premises belonging to him. Valley Parade was one of nine. All followed a similar pattern in that once started they spread quickly, produced an incredible amount of toxic smoke and devastation, and all caught the  fire brigades unaware. Altogether, Heginbotham received today’s equivalent of £27 million in insurance payments. 
Journalist Paul Foot, now dead, had first raised the issue of fires at Heginbotham’s businesses in 1985 but no authorities, including major football bodies, felt this was worth investigation. 
So has anyone contacted Fletcher about the contents of his book? “None of them. 
It’s no surprise as they also said little 30 years ago. Only Andy Burnham MP, who did a lot of good work establishing the facts about Hillsborough, has called for a fresh investigation after stating the 1985 inquiry was conducted in undue haste.” 
But if the authorities are staying shy of Fletcher, ordinary people are not. “Fresh information has been sent to me that needs examining. I’d welcome more. Readers of the book have been very supportive, although there is a handful of Bradford City fans, some of whom rushed to condemn it on Amazon and message boards on the day it came out – when they clearly could not have read it – who are claiming to speak for everyone in Bradford. Clearly they don’t. 
“Friends tell me that many local people support what I have done as there is dissatisfaction about the Popplewell Inquiry. This has led to me questioning whether I am wrong in the book to state I am not in favour of a fresh inquiry. I am keeping my options open.” 
Fletcher does not regret spending so much time researching and writing his book – even though he has often gone without paid work to do so. “It has been tough. I’d say that for the vast majority of my last nine years my weekends and evenings have been taken up by it. 
“It has been painful – very painful– and I have had weight fluctuations of 50-60lbs on several occasions and seven or eight seizures. Last time I was unconscious for half an hour. I have almost killed myself, literally, writing this book. 
“It has come as a relief to have finally had the book published. I have set out the facts and don’t make any allegations. Readers can make up their own minds.” 
The book is dedicated to the author’s mother “for showing me the light and making me fight – still smiling.” Fletcher admits he was worried when he presented her with an advanced copy of it, especially as it discusses many family issues. He needn’t have worried – she told him it was “perfect”.
Fifty-Six: The Story of the Bradford Fire by Martin Fletcher is out now (Bloomsbury Sport) 





Thursday, 25 June 2015

Support Teesside Construction Committee

SUPPORT TEESSIDE CONSTRUCTION COMMITTEE 
DEFEND THE NATIONAL AGREEMENT FOR THE ENGINEERING INDUSTRY 
JOIN THE PROTESTS AT THE WILTON SITE 

For the twelfth time so far, hundreds of Teesside construction workers will tomorrow morning protest against the failure by the consortium Sita/Sembcorp to pay the nationally negotiated rate for the job on a new £250 million waste to energy incinerator project.

In an industry where blacklisting is only too real then this is the latest brave move by the Teesside Construction Committee. (TCC) This is a joint body of Unite and GMB members who understand that if the consortium are allowed to escape justice this will set the tone for pay and conditions on future construction projects regionally. 

Workers started protesting after being blocked from working on what is the former ICI Wilton site and then discovering the pay rates and terms of conditions were below those negotiated annually between employer representatives and trade unions (Unite, UCATT, GMB) and known collectively as the National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry. (NAECI)  

Under NAECI the pay rate on a new build site is £16.10 an hour. It is understood that overseas workers specially brought in by recruitment companies earn £2000 a month with deductions of £100 for travel and £600 for what is generally shoddy overcrowded accommodation. 

Sita/Sembcorp has stated 'all workers have pay rates equivalent to each of their relevant national agreements,' which according to advanced scaffolder Tony, "is a play on words. Many workers are from overseas countries where rates are below what have been negotiated here and which we intend keeping in place." Tony's application for a job at Wilton was ignored even though there are now around 400 workers on site. 

With major construction projects, costing around £3 billion, being planned across Teesside in the next few years, one of the protestors last week told me, "We are fighting for everybody's future. We can't allow the employers to bring in labour that undercuts our wages and conditions, including safety, which is very poor on this site and just this week there was an incident where a falling hammer narrowly missed hitting someone."  

TCC and the trade unions requests to Sita/Sembcorp to allow an independent audit of its books have meanwhile been refused. Overseas workers say the company can be interviewed if they provide the interpreters. The refusal to allow independent interpreters is clearly because they will confirm TCC's claims over pay and conditions. Employers also know the trade unions will speak to overseas workers and by inviting them to become members can move towards ensuring the  NAECI agreement is maintained.

Sita/Sembcorp has also claimed that there isn't the skills base locally to complete the site. Yet, as I know from my family background, Teesside has historically had a huge and skilled construction workforce that simply does not want to now be exploited. 

Unions are also looking to the long term. They have requested Sita/Sembcorp to set up an apprentice training fund.  This has been refused. 

The protests have achieved some success. One scaffolding firm,SGS, has increased the hourly rate it was paying from £10.97 by over a third. There are ongoing discussions over ensuring it pays the NAECI rate. "Standing together has helped ensure mine and other worker's pay has leaped and now we need to ensure that’s mirrored right across the site," said one of the scaffolder's. 

The sight of hundreds of protesting workers on all four gates last Friday at the site was a clear indication that there is no chance of the protestors going away. Protestors handed out leaflets and talked to staff. When the chance to speak with overseas workers appeared they took it, only to be told "boss says not to speak to you." 

The struggle therefore continues and the twelfth protest will take place from 6.30am to 9.00am tomorrow. A further eight protests, at least, are planned unless Sita/Sembcorp agree to abide by NAECI. Anyone wanting to support the protestors is welcome. 












Tuesday, 23 June 2015

BRADFORD AND CHARTISM - new recording will help with city walk

BRADFORD AND CHARTISM
If you would like to find out the Chartist working-class movement in Bradford there is now the chance to download a recording that can be listened to you as you stroll round the city centre and visit some of the important locations of the time. 

Chartism was a working-class movement that began in the mid-1830s to campaign for basic electoral reforms that were outlined in what became known as the People’s Charter of 1838 – a vote for every man over 21, secret ballots, equal sized constituencies, no property qualifications to become an MP, payments for MPs and annual parliamentary elections. 

This was not popular with those who did run it, which increasingly meant industrialists rather than just the aristocracy. Previous attempts at reforming parliamentary representation had proven unsuccessful and had been drowned at St Peter's Field, Manchester on 16 August 1819 when a crowd of in excess of 60,000 was charged by the cavalry and, at least, 15 demonstrators lost their lives in the Peterloo Massacre

Chartism began with a series of huge meetings showing popular support. In 1839, 1842 and 1848 millions of people signed petitions that were rejected by the House of Commons. When these were rejected by the House of Commons it led to a minority of Chartists abandoning constitutional methods in favour of more insurrectionary activities with Wales and Yorkshire prominent. 

On 4 November 1839 in Newport, South Wales several Chartists were arrested. John Frost led an armed rebellion to secure their release. When the 3,000 crowd were fired upon by the military at least 20 were killed. Frost and other march leaders were later found guilty of high treason and transported for life.  http://www.unitetheunion.org/growing-our-union/education/rebelroad/plaques/#Chartist%20sculpture%20and%20plaque

Early in 1840, a number of Bradford Chartists took several police officers prisoner, only to be later overpowered by a larger opposing force. Eight were sent to York for trial. On Wednesday 18 March 1840 Robert Peddie, William Brooke, Thomas Drake and Paul Holdsworth were found guilty of riot and conspiracy. 
It transpired that the authorities had placed a spy in the Chartists ranks and that he had concocted many of their activities. 

Despite these setbacks there remained some local Chartists willing to try and use physical force as a means of winning their demands, of which, five are, of course, in place today. 

In April 1848 there was a huge gathering in Bradford. According to R.C. Gammage, a prominent Chartist whose book on the movement is regarded by many as the most authoritative, "Thousands attended ...pikes were brandished and not the slightest interference took place by the authorities. Bradford was that day in the possession of the Chartists." Over the following weeks, training and drilling was organised in Bradford and other local towns, including Bingley, and a resolve was manifested to forcefully resist any attempt to arrest the leaders. This though proved unsuccessful when Bradford magistrates issued a proclamation against such proceedings.

When the military were called out the Chartists fought with their bludgeons only to be eventually overwhelmed. Many were arrested and charged with drilling and threatening to shoot the constables. The numbers grew when others who continued to train with arms were also taken into custody. 

When the prisoners appeared at the York assizes J.J Johnson and W. Sagar were found guilty of riot and assembly and were sentenced to two years imprisonment with hard labour. Other prisoners received smaller terms of imprisonment. They included blacksmith Isaac Jefferson - who was well-known as Bradford's 'Wat Tyler', Tyler being the man who led the Peasants' revolt against the Poll Tax in 1381 - who was fortunate to receive only four months in jail. A broken Jefferson later helped bosses ferment animosity against arriving Catholics from Ireland that led to Anti-Catholic riots in Bradford in the 1850s and in 1862. 

Some of these men, including Jefferson, and women such as Celia Butterfield who also participated, were brought back to life at the long-running annual Bradford Festival on 12-14 June 2015. The Rising of the Moon is a 50-minute street play written and directed by Javaad Alipoor, artistic director of Northern Lines Bradford. 

The Shoulder of Mutton was a place where
Chartists met in 1848. (photo - Imran Manzoor)  
Javaad Alipoor (photo courtesy of Imran Manzoor) 
The highly entertaining play, featuring some impressive performances from non-professional and professional actors, toured Bradford city centre, stopping off at some of the important places of the time such as the Shoulder of Mutton pub, The Old Bank (now a pub), the magnificent Old Wool Exchange (now a Waterstones book store and in 1848 ‘the cavernous heart of a cruel Empire’) and the City Hall. Curious passers-by asked what was going one and audience members were able to listen to an MP3 recording featuring a fictionalised account by one of the police spies within the Chartist movement. The recording, which even if you can’t do the walk is still worth listening to, can be dowloaded so anyone can undertake their own walk. What also helps is that many of the buildings from the time are still in use in Bradford.

“Bradford was central to the Chartist movement, especially in the Yorkshire West Riding. By 1848 Chartism was heading towards defeat. Yet local people, disappointed that constitutional methods had been ignored remained at the forefront of the physical struggle,” said Alipoor. 

To find out more go to: -

Praise for the play by those who attended on Saturday 13 June 2015 
Receptionist Amanda Norman “I really enjoyed it. I have just done history at University and this added to my knowledge. I learnt a lot as I don’t know much about Bradford but it really brought things to life. 

Katherine Watson “I have always had an interest in Chartist history in general and this has expanded my understanding about what happened in Bradford specifically. My favourite moment was listening to one of the leaders giving a rousing speech outside the Old Wool Exchange when I was all ready to storm the barricades. We know the Chartists went down to defeat but five of the six Charter demands later became incorporated into our political system.” 



Wednesday, 17 June 2015

What future for rural areas under the Tories?

This is a slightly edited version of an article for the Landworker magazine of Unite. It was written three weeks ago. 

It took just eight days for the Conservative-run Hertfordshire County Council to demonstrate that the Tories are going to use their general election success to continue bashing ordinary people in rural communities. 

On 15 May, all 42 Tory County Councillors agreed to cut a further £1.47 million from its bus budget. This was up from the originally proposed £887,000 last year. It means during their 5 year term at county hall the Conservatives have slashed the supported bus budget by almost two-thirds from £7.1 million to £2.4 million. 

The cuts were made despite a 22,000 signature petition opposing them, which pointed out that they would impact on people in towns and in rural areas. According to Community Development Action Herts there are “people in rural areas facing problems relating to unemployment and low income. There are also additional barriers and issues, particularly around access to services and resources.” As the Tories would say; “tough.” 

Labour leader Leon Reefe branded the cuts as “devastating.” Bus operator, Sullivan Buses, were recorded in council documents as stating “Disappointed that these are additional to proposals to remove funding from evening and Sunday services. Very disappointed that proposed savings are now double that of the previous consultation despite the opposing responses.  

“Cuts impact on people going to and from work; many are on low pay and/or young.”

When the Tories came to power five years ago, Caroline Spelman, the DEFRA secretary, claimed Labour had "run down rural areas" during its 13 years in government from 1997. Although the number of rural businesses had risen under Labour, whilst food and farming had been put at the heart of the economy, Spelman claimed the Tories would need to make up for "lost time."

Spelman, of course, proved unfit for office. She was swiftly chopped following the crass attempts to sell off the English public forests, which ran into massive public opposition and forced a climbdown - although possibly not permanently as the direct link that has lasted for decades between the Forestry Commission and the government was later cut.

Yet anyone unlucky enough to have read the 2015 Conservative Election manifesto would have noticed that the Tories, far from making up for ‘lost time’, couldn’t even make up an imaginary list of rural successes. It's not that the Tories were unable to invent utterly laughable claims such as 'the Great Recession has given way to a Great Revival' and 'we are fixing the economy so that everyone feels the benefit' and even 'we have been the greenest government ever!’, Yet they really did have very little to say on their countryside record since 2010. Consequently, they have promised very little over the next five years and have been reduced to stating they will support ' the rural economy and strengthen local communities' whilst also promising a free vote on the Hunting Act such that the rich can legally roam round on horseback in search of foxes. 

More horses, of course, may well be needed as a means of rural transport as between 2010 and 2015 accessible bus services collapsed in many locations. And as the example in Hertfordshire shows then the Tories really do love swinging the axe!

Similar cuts in other services will leave many residents, especially the elderly, fearing a trip to their local GP surgery. Less than 65 per cent of rural residents live within 4km of a surgery and many do not possess a car. Meanwhile, the government is pushing ahead with phasing out the minimum practice income, which subsidises small GP surgeries, and this may force many rural practices to close. 

There was also little in the manifesto to suspect the Tories are going to act to resolve the housing crisis affecting local people in rural communities. 

The Tories oversaw the lowest levels of peacetime housebuilding in almost a century. As the better off bought second homes in the countryside this made houses completely unaffordable for the majority. The number of new, affordable rented homes being built by councils and housing associations was far too low. Yet now the Tories are threatening to force these associations to make them available for sale at heavily discounted prices. Even the Liberal Democrats were opposed at this idea when it was proposed during the general election with Lord Paddick saying the move would result in "longer waiting lists for homes and fewer social houses."

The Lib Dems, of course, rarely, perhaps ever, offer a serious threat to the Tories. It was Nick Clegg’s lot that assisted the Tories with their biggest attack on the countryside. The long-standing Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) was the best protection that rural workers had against poor wages and conditions. Whilst it will continue in Scotland, Northern Ireland and, thanks to Welsh Labour, in a slightly revised form, in Wales, English workers wages are no longer protected. 

It is estimated that the AWB abolition will see farm workers in England annually lose around £24 million. This was money that would have been spent locally to boost local trade and businesses. 

The long-term damage of the AWB going cannot be underestimated. Why would young people decide on a career in farming or agriculture when all they can expect is rotten pay, poor working conditions and no decent, on-ongoing training? Yet the average age of farmers is already in the late 50s. 

Meanwhile, of course, cuts to staffing levels at the Forestry Commission (FC) have been severe and have reduced the services this great institution provides at just 39p per person. Are further cuts part of a plan to eventually convince the public that the FC should go? Let’s hope not. Yet, somewhere in the near future who would bet against the Tories returning to plans to sell off our forests?

The coalition government during its term in office attacked agricultural workers' heath and safety conditions with business secretary Vince Cable outlawing proactive Health and Safety Executive inspections in many areas of the economy including agriculture. Cable claimed this would "remove unnecessary red tape and put common sense back into health and safety whilst reducing business costs." All it did do was help ensure that agriculture continued as the most dangerous and deadly sector to work in and that Britain's green fields remained the killing fields.


This is certainly now going to be the case as many Tory MPs are also keen fox hunters and desperately want to see the animal ripped apart in the name of sport. Cameron has thus promised them blood. He will be introducing a free vote on repealing the ban on hunting with dogs that was introduced by the Labour government at the start of the twentieth century. The struggle to prevent fox hunting returning may lay down a marker as to whether the Tories can expect significant opposition to their reactionary plans to attack ordinary people in rural communities. Instead of Tally Ho, how about HERE WE GO! 

Want to support workers internationally? Register with LabourStart.org

Anyone seeking to support workers' rights internationally should register with the news and campaigning website LabourStart.org

LabourStart provides in more than 20 languages, daily labour news that is collected from mainstream, trade union and alternative news sources by over 700 volunteer correspondents. The organisation also runs a special health and safety newswire jointly with Hazards magazine. In addition, the LabourStart ActNOW campaign conducts on behalf of trade unionists global campaigns that have frequently forced companies and governments to negotiate with unions and/or release jailed trade unionists. 

Despite the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimating that the agricultural sector worldwide employs around 1/3rd of the available labour force, many of whom are women and children, it is often difficult to keep up with developments as the sector is often ignored by the mainstream media. 

LabourStart's correspondents help overcome this and there are currently 1,000 agricultural sector articles online. These include recent articles highlighting that Human Rights Watch are concerned that Israeli settlement farms in the occupied West Bank are exploiting Palestinian child labour to cultivate, harvest and pack agricultural produce, mainly for export to Europe and the USA. 

Much better news was reported in February 2015 that in the Sindh Province of Pakistan the first ever Agriculture and Fishing Workers Union has been registered in the country with 400 members, including 180 women. The union’s development owed much to an ILO project, Promoting Gender Equality for Decent Employment, which provided training on leadership, gender equality and paralegal skills for those who led the successful effort to establish the union. 

Gulfam Memon of the Sindh Labour Department, said the new union, "would help agriculture and fishery sector workers negotiate better working conditions and enhance occupational safety and health coverage." 

Good news also from Morocco where over 1,000 agriculture workers, mostly women, on five large farms in the fertile Meknes region are celebrating the signing of their first-ever collective bargaining agreement between the Democratic Labor Confederation and the agro-industry employer, Les Domaines Brahim Zniber.

Meanwhile, whilst ActNOW was not as we went to press conducting any campaigns related to agricultural workers there was nevertheless an urgent need for Unite members to add their voices to demands for respect for trade union rights in Hungary, Iran, Swaziland and Kenya. 

LabourStart also has a weekly radio programme at radiolabour.net as well as a twitter feed and an archive of photos showing how trade unionists and labour groups are fighting for their democratic, economic and political rights. These are things we all need more of in a world where the corporate media is doing its best to protect the power of a tiny elite and which LabourStart is doing its best to oppose. 

For more details about joining the LabourStart mailing list and/or become a correspondent then go to:- LabourStart.org or email info@labourstart.org 
@labourstart


Mark Metcalf, volunteer correspondent for LabourStart.org  

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Solidarity success for Bradford bus workers

Original at: -http://unitelive.org/triumph-in-solidarity/


Mark Metcalf, Tuesday, June 16th, 2015 Following a two-day strike in April, Unite bus drivers in Bradford prepared for further strike action against their employer First Group last week over jobs losses and attacks to terms and conditions.

 But the action was suspended on Friday (June 12) after talks lead to a breakthrough agreement accepted by members.

In a resounding success for Unite’s bus members, First Group management has agreed to conduct meaningful negotiations with the union in the event of proposed major changes to core routes.

 To accommodate meal breaks on mixed rota shifts, management has further agreed to in-creased hours and will also be reviewing cashing in time by drivers at the end of each shift. In a related development, two of three Unite reps who were suspended on purportedly false charges have been reinstated.

 UniteLive spoke to Unite officials involved in the dispute, who attributed the successful agreement to members demanding their rights in solidarity.


First walk out in 16 years


377 drivers walked out for 48 hours on April 27, after the 576 bus service was transferred to the nearby Halifax depot with the alleged loss of eight jobs.


Union-management relations had historically been very good. But when management acted without reference to the union, members were determined to reassert their negotiating rights.

“We felt we had no other option except to take strike action. It was our first walk out in six-teen years,” said local Unite branch secretary Mohammad Taj (pictured), who has also previously served as TUC president.

 Hundreds mounted lively picket lines round the clock which ensured just three drivers crossed.

 Other members of the community acted in solidarity, including a lorry driver who dropped off parts he was delivering outside the bus depot gates. Postal workers refused to deliver the mail and even two police officers, seeking to collect CCTV evidence of a potential crime, refused to cross.

 Council leader David Green, a Unite member himself, attended in support, as did local MPs Imran Hussain and Naz Shah.

“We were delighted with the response of the members and they showed great solidarity and the picket lines were certainly entertaining,” said branch vice president Mohammed Qamer Shafi (pictured), who was also one of the three reps who had been suspended.

The strike action disrupted the bus schedule with only a handful of buses running.

 “We are sad our action meant some of our loyal customers were inconvenienced but we felt that our display of unity means that services in Bradford are more likely to be properly maintained in the long run,” Taj explained.


Members’ resolve

On bus drivers’ return to work after the April walk-out, the company approached Unite to discuss members’ concerns. But when negotiations again broke down earlier this month, the union threatened eight days of consecutive strike action – a move backed in a ballot by a 90 per cent majority on an 80 per cent turnout.

 “The vote showed the strength of feeling amongst our members,” said Shafi.

 The company again invited the union to negotiate with them and discussions took place earlier last week, concluding in an agreement satisfactory to both sides.

 “The company has agreed to properly negotiate with us if they intend changing any core routes,” noted Taj.

 “They have also made a series of concessions to improve the terms and conditions of drivers including the new starters,” he added.

 In response to Unite’s concerns that the company was not investing in the service and the workforce, First Bus has also agreed that it will employ 12 more drivers to ensure it has a full complement of staff and has moreover agreed to invest up to £2 million in purchasing 12 new buses.

“Two suspended reps are now back at work and we are fighting to get Taj Salam, our branch president and chair of the Unite national passenger sector, back to work. Members feel strongly about this,” said Taj.
  
Shafi hailed the solidarity members showed as the dispute unfolded.

"We are pleased with the final outcome, which was only made possible by the resolve of Unite members, who are also grateful for the support they received from the union region-ally and nationally,” he said.