Wolverhampton and Black Country branch of Socialist Party

Midland Metro Workers Strike Back!

November 12, 2022

Richard Gingell, Black Country Socialist Party

In the West Midlands, joining the fight against the rising cost of living, are the drivers, conductors and other tram-service workers at West Midlands Metro Limited (MML), members of Unite the Union.

These workers facilitate over a million journeys a year, providing vital connectivity between Birmingham and Wolverhampton. 

Their reward for this? £22,000 a year – just a smidgen over minimum wage, making them some of the lowest-paid workers in the industry. It’s no surprise then, that after 23 years of operation, the workers at MML have finally had enough.

In the face of increasing bills, and a constant churn of staff unable to make a basic living from these wages, the workers of MML are out in force, with over 50 total days of strike action planned between now and early January.

They demand an increase to £27,000, to bring them up to par with similar workers elsewhere in the country.

Over the first seven days of strikes, workers picketed the depot near Wednesbury town centre.

As senior grades have driven trams out on the scab service that management have implemented, they’ve been greeted with the sound of sirens and bullhorns that have been audible from a mile in each direction!

While a fair wage would be a good start, conditions also need improving.

Early starts and late finishes eat into rest days, throwing off a much-needed work/life balance. Management are quick to point out that there is a payment for this – however it’s a paltry one, built into that £22,000 figure, and the only thing keeping them from the rock-bottom of the minimum wage.

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MML’s solutions to its problems have been simple: hire an excess of managers, steal back their budgets from the pockets of their staff, and work those staff to breaking point. Unfortunately for them, the workers at MML are united and are fighting back. It’s time the company started listening to its workers, as soon it’ll have no choice.

Unite members at West Midlands Metro have joined the fight against the rising cost of living in decisive fashion. As some of the lower-paid workers in the industry, it’s no surprise that after 23 years of operation, the workers at Midland Metro Ltd (MML) have finally had enough, and are part way through 53 days of strike action.

The company has been happy to pay controllers and instructors to run a skeleton service on strike days, without conductors to take fares and ensure passenger safety. If it’s good enough for these higher grades on £35,000 to drive a tram during the day time, surely £27,000 is good enough for full time drivers doing early and late duties?

Where's Labour?

Despite support for the strike from across the workers’ movement, Labour councillors in Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Sandwell have been largely silent. Could it be that they are embarrassed at the fact that it’s a Labour councillor, Birmingham’s Ian Ward, who heads up transport for the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), while its subsidiary company MML pays metro workers such low wages for intolerable shift patterns?

This is the same Ian Ward who was involved in attempts to fire and rehire Unite members working on Birmingham’s bin lorries five years ago, before being forced back by determined strike action. Labour councillors make up a majority of WMCA’s transport committee – the buck stops with them as much as Tory mayor Andy Street and MML managers.

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Unite should use this leverage to apply pressure on Ward and other Labour councillors on the WMCA. No money from Unite members’ dues should go to support campaigning by the councillors concerned while this dispute is ongoing. This same approach helped secure an inflation-busting pay rise for bin lorry drivers in Coventry, after the Labour council attempted to smash the union.

Support for the strike is clear. A Saturday demonstration in Wolverhampton and Birmingham city centres, advertised to local residents and trade union branches, could attract hundreds – as a similar rally for RMT strikers did - and show transport bosses that a large part of the travelling public back the strikers.

Written by workers for workers.

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