UK: Arriva South pay dispute: fact vs fiction

An article last week on the World Socialist Web Site exposed Unite’s efforts to ram through a below-inflation pay cut against bus drivers at Arriva London South. It has been publicly attacked by defenders of the union.

The article, “Activists” promote Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham in Arriva South London pay dispute, met with an outpouring of vitriol by a small group of union “activists” after they were challenged by drivers to respond on social media.

Our article quoted Unite’s “pay talks update” posted at Brixton garage on April 7, which stated the union’s offer was “a lump sum of £750 added on top of the backdated 3 percent”. Unite’s update explained, “The company said they would go away and seek permission for this and get back to us.”

WSWS wrote, “Behind workers’ backs, Unite was offering a wage deal that was rejected by drivers across Arriva South in a ballot on March 25.”

Like Arriva’s earlier 1.5 percent offer, drivers had rejected 3 percent because it was below inflation.

With Brixton being re-balloted for strike action, the only purpose served by Unite’s update was to demobilize drivers and tamp down their determination to win an above-inflation pay increase.

In the week preceding our article, drivers’ anger had erupted against Unite’s attempted sabotage of the pay fight at Arriva, with threats of resignation from the union. On April 6, the London Bus Rank-and-File Committee held a meeting of Arriva drivers to discuss the way forward.

The union “activists” responded by claiming the problem was simply a few bad apples, namely regional officials John Murphy and Peter Kavanagh. Sharon Graham, they claimed, was stepping in to put her own officials in charge of pay talks and was busy “reforming” the union. Unite’s resurrected 3 percent offer, exposed by WSWS, was a devastating blow to such claims.

In response, the union “activists” unleashed a torrent of abuse against WSWS on a WhatsApp group for Arriva South drivers. They denounced the WSWS as liars and saboteurs who were splitting workers’ unity. In two hours, just five individuals posted 76 denunciations of the WSWS.

Their barrage aimed to create maximum confusion. It was accompanied by demands from Kevin Mustafa and others that this author be removed from the group.

When challenged to explain how WSWS’s article was inaccurate, Unite rep from Wood Green Peter Skinner stepped forward. He claimed it was a “lie”, “tosh”, “rubbish”, a “fairy tale” and “disingenuous” to cite December’s 12-month CPI inflation rate of 5.4 percent. WSWS should have cited the lower inflation rate of 2.9 percent from April 2021, when last year’s pay round began.

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