Over 2,000 striking Metroline bus drivers brought whole areas of north and central London to a standstill on Monday.
This was the second one-day strike by members of the T&G union campaigning for a pay rise to bring them into line with other bus workers in London.
The union has put in a claim for £11 an hour – a 6 percent rise from the current £10.33. Last week the company offered 5 percent, but this would still leave Metroline workers between £2,000 and £3,000 a year behind the average pay of other London bus operators.
Metroline has a fleet of 1,200 buses and operates 96 routes in north and central London. Their chief operating officer angered union members when he said last week that if Metroline workers don’t like the wages they should look for another job.
“We want justice,” said Abshir, a bus driver on the picket line at the Kings Cross depot. “I’ve been working here for five years, first as a conductor and then as a driver. I don’t want to go to another job – I want Metroline to pay the same as other bus companies.”
Ibrahim is a Metroline worker who joined the picket line at King’s Cross. He told Socialist Worker how people are struggling to live on the wages they earn.
“Consider the expense of living in London,” he said. “I am one of the unfortunate people who can’t get a mortgage to buy a house because my income is too low.
“I pay £110 a week rent and £30 a week on council tax. I take home an average £300 or £310 a week after tax.
“So that leaves me with £160 a week to pay for all the shopping for my family, to buy clothes for my three children, to pay the bills, to take my children out maybe once a month.
“How can I survive like this? We’re not out here from a love of striking. We have to take action to try to secure the future.”
Ibrahim is a Palestinian who came to Britain in 1976 to study. “I did a degree in engineering in London but I couldn’t get a job even with my qualifications,” he said.
“I have been working for Metroline for nearly six years – before that I worked in the clothing trade. I’ve done whatever I could to survive.
“Many of my colleagues are also from other parts of the world. We try to find money to send to help our families back home.”
Paul, a striker at the Holloway garage, told Socialist Worker that there is a wider problem with low pay.
“Lots of workers in London are claiming benefits and have to go through means testing just to make up wages,” he said.
“Bus workers should be considered key workers – we’re crucial to the city. Look at the impact that we have when we are on strike – London comes to a standstill.
“We work long hours, often until late at night. Shift work is bad for your health. Sometimes we don’t get to see our kids for a week at a time. It puts pressure on our families.”
There is also a wider issue of transport policy. “If London mayor Ken Livingstone wants people out of their cars, then there has to be a first class bus service,” said Paul. “That means treating the bus workers as professionals – treating people with some respect.”