Socialist Worker

A challenge to the companies that profit from London's buses

by Paul Brandon
Issue No. 2107

London bus drivers are gearing up for a summer offensive. The campaign, organised by the Unite union, is bringing together 28,000 bus drivers, engineers and supervisors from across the capital and from within the private bus companies.

They will demand a common high rate of pay for each profession and improved conditions.

Pay is an urgent issue on the buses. In the garage where I work, I hear from many drivers who are struggling just to meet the rising costs of household bills.

Many bus workers can't afford to live anywhere near their garage. They have to drive across the city to get to work and along with many key workers they are being hit really badly by the rising price of fuel.

Trade union activity in the London bus industry has seen something of resurgence in recent years.

For many of us the significant spark was ignited during the Metroline dispute in 2006. Over 2,000 bus drivers decided enough was enough and went on two one-day strikes for better pay.

Following the strike, reps from across London have been attending meetings and passionately discussing the need for a wider collective fightback, through strike action if necessary.

The key issues are clear. They are significantly better pay and conditions, shorter working hours, improved toilet facilities and challenging the role of wages in the competitive tendering process – the system that allows private companies to bid for and win bus routes under contract to Transport for London.

Disparity

Questions long asked by bus workers once again came to the fore – if we all do the same jobs as drivers, engineers and supervisors, why are our pay and conditions so different?

This disparity across the companies is made clear in our campaign literature. Why do some companies pay £50, £60 or £70 a week less than others? Why do some companies get away with paying little or no sick pay? Why do holidays and pensions vary so much from one company to another?

We are not the only ones asking questions. Companies are more than aware of issues within the tendering system.

Work and routes can be lost in a bidding battle to rival competitors with lower pay and conditions. Our campaign rightly calls this a 'race to the bottom'.

The campaign demands that wages are removed from the tendering process. After all, our wages come from the same Transport for London pot.

Yet this creates more valid questions. Where does this leave the credibility and viability of having a privatised, profit-seeking system running the capital's buses at all?

Why not create a more unified system, with those who create the wealth sharing in the wealth?

In his first month in office, Boris Johnson, the new mayor of London, stated that 'we have the finest bus drivers in the world in London'.

Agreed – and it's time for him to match the words with action and help deliver the finest pay and conditions.

As the finest bus drivers we are performing nothing short of heroics on a daily basis in a very difficult and stressful environment. We work long hours and remain undervalued.

'Without us, London stops' is a recurring theme in meetings across London and hints at the radical action bus workers are prepared to take.

Is it so unreasonable for our campaign to demand that a London bus driver should earn £30,000 when a London Underground driver already earns £38,000?

Or to demand a 38 hour week along with a 7hour 36mins day when we work in some cases 11 and 12 hour days?

Bus workers are prepared to strike if necessary. The time for action is upon us. It's time for bus workers to rise up and unite in the knowledge that our collective strength can change our working lives for the better.

Paul Brandon is a London bus driver and Unite rep at Holloway bus garage. He writes in a personal capacity. For more about the campaign go to » www.londonbusworkers.com


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News
Tue 24 Jun 2008, 18:51 BST
Issue No. 2107
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