Over 200 London bus workers demonstrated at sites across the capital on Thursday of last week demanding the right to toilets on their bus routes.
Many on the demonstration hoped that this would be the beginning of campaigning on a number of issues that will unite workers from different bus companies.
The workers, members of the T&G section of the new Unite union, toured the city on four double-decker buses decorated with signs calling for dignity and rights at work.
One handmade sign stated that dogs are treated better than bus workers, and asked if people would make their pets wait several hours for the toilet when they needed to go.
The bus workers were determined to make themselves heard as well as seen, bringing whistles, megaphones and even a brass band with them on their tour.
They protested at the Transport for London (TfL) offices, Westminster City Hall and the headquarters of London councils.
Nobby Norris, the Unite (T&G section) secretary at East London buses, told Socialist Worker, “I work at the garage in Barking, east London. There are 13 routes running out of the garage and there are only toilets on four of those routes.
“This has been going on for years – ever since the disbanding of London transport.”
Nobby points out that lack of toilets can lead to serious health problems. “I have seen workers lose their jobs after developing prostrate cancer and suffering other problems,” he said.
“Over the years we have seen people disciplined for taking time to go to the toilet. We have had guys forced to pee in bottles.
“This issue is bringing us together across London. We also need to come together on the other issues such as competitive tendering and pay.”
The demonstrations had an impact. London mayor Ken Livingstone sent a message that morning to bus workers saying that he supported their demands and that he has allocated funds to TfL to address the problem.
Westminster council also announced that it supports bus workers’ calls for more toilet facilities.
Many bus workers, however, felt that TfL and the councils were blaming each other and that there was not enough progress being made.
As bus workers gathered for the protests, Unite organiser Peter Kavanagh told the assembled crowd, “London bus workers are demanding respect and dignity.
“TfL say the matter is resolved, but we are not going to sit back and wait any longer. We want toilets on every route.”
Peter pointed out that there are wider issues facing all bus workers, such as the competitive tendering system under which different companies bid for bus routes.
This system encourages companies to cut costs by attacking wages, bonuses and pensions, and puts drivers under increased pressure to meet schedules.
Peter said, “We will not accept workers in different companies facing different pay and conditions. Every bus worker deserves decent pay, decent pensions, decent holiday pay.
“Bus workers carry 5.4 million passengers every week. They are key workers and need decent houses and pay.
“We should be getting rid of the tendering system that drives down bus workers’ pay.
“This is the start of the campaign and we will move on to the other issues.”
Paul Brandon, the chair of Unite at Holloway garage in north London, is a driver for Metroline buses.
Paul said, “One of the routes out of our garage is the C2 which goes from Parliament Hill to Regents Street. It doesn’t have toilets at either end of the route, so many drivers have been forced to become experts in bladder management.”
Paul told Socialist Worker that Camden council has refused planning permission to build toilets three times.
“I hope that something will come from the protest,” he added. “For a start it has ensured that the mayor of London and the local authorities realise what an important issue this is.
“One of the other good things to come out of this campaign is the coming together of bus drivers from different London companies. I hope that this will be the start of even greater projects and challenges.”
There were many women bus workers on the demonstration.
Mariseantoine told Socialist Worker, “This is a big issue for women drivers. If you try to stop for the toilet it may make you late, or you may get into trouble with the police. It is a problem for all drivers, but for women it can be a more serious problem.”
Mrs Whyte is the secretary of Unite at East Thames buses – a company that TfL directly runs. She said, “On the early shifts there is often nowhere open to use the toilet.
“Drivers are worried about getting into trouble for being late because they have to stop for the toilet. It is a basic right that we should all have.”
Keith Apple has worked at East Thames Buses for five years. He told Socialist Worker, “All the bus companies are putting profit before health when they should be looking after their workers.
“Public transport should never have been broken up.
“One of the problems we face is that if you have different people in charge it is harder to get our rights.
“Equal opportunities is one of the big issues we face on the buses. Many companies just ignore it.”
Keith said that the campaign is part of a wider fight. “Our campaign won’t stop here,” he said.
“The working class in general is under attack. If we are not being bullied at work, we are facing the fear of losing our job and the insecurity of how to provide for a family.”
Bus engineers across Tyne and Wear were to strike on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week in a dispute over pay. The workers, members of the Unite union, are employed by Stagecoach North East. They are set to strike again on Tuesday of next week.