Strike action over pay by around 3,500 London bus workers at two companies brought many garages and bus routes to a complete standstill this morning.
Drivers and supervisors at First Centrewest and First Capital in east and west London in the Unite union were starting a 48 hour strike – their second strike action in a fortnight. They were joined by Metrobus workers at garages in Crawley in Sussex, and Croydon and Orpington in south and south east London.
There were large pickets at all the garages on strike. Strikers at both companies were clearly buoyed by the joint action. Strikes were solid at both companies with only a handful of buses going out – mostly driven by managers.
At many garages there were reports of people joining the union on the picket line.
The action was part of Unite’s campaign for equal higher pay across all London garages. Unite official Len McClusky spoke to strikers at Westbourne Park in west London. He told the strikers that drivers at other companies are set to join the action. If necessary “we will bring London to a standstill”, he said. “You are an example to other bus workers across this city.”
At Orpington bus garage around 100 Metrobus strikers had gathered by 7am. They brought flags, a gazebo and even a barbeque. Drivers on buses from other companies hooted support as they went past.
Drivers Steve and Chris told Socialist Worker, “It's been a very good turnout. We planned it so drivers join the picket line when their shifts would start, so we should have a steady flow of people all day.
“Why is it that in one garage just up the road drivers get £4,000 more for doing the same routes in the same area?
“We all do the same job – so we want the same wage for every bus driver.
“The Mayor of London said the city’s bus drivers are among the finest in the world, so they should pay us the money to show it!
“It's not all to do with money though, its about the terms and conditions we're having to work under.'
Metrobus drivers at the Croydon garage formed a lively picket line, with 40 drivers standing strong and more planning to join at the shift change later in the day.
Many of the conversations on the picket line were about how to win more united action across London and drivers from a number of bus companies turned up to offer their solidarity.
People were honking as they drove past to give their support and drivers delivering goods to the depot refused to cross the picket line.
Brian, the branch rep at Croydon, told Socialist Worker, “I'm over the moon today, especially with the younger drivers who are out here for the first time.”
In Crawley around 30 pickets gathered outside the Metrobus garage.
Metrobus is the major bus operator in the area so the strike had a big impact – the bus service in the town was practically shut down for the day.
Drivers were confident and determined. They were enthusiastic about being involved in the London pay campaign, even though they are based some way out of the capital city. Many talked about their concerns over the low rate for new starters at the company.
Strikers said that management’s latest pay offer included so many strings that many drivers would only break even and some may actually face a pay cut.
The same spirit of determination was evident at the First picket lines.
Around 50 strikers joined the picket line at Greenford bus depot in west London. Branch chair of the Unite union Naynam Shah said, “We are certain the strike is solid.
“And it is a boost that Metrobus are out with us and that other companies will be balloting soon.
“It's a disgrace that the bus companies making millions are refusing to give us a decent pay rise.”
At Westbourne Park in west London, more than 60 pickets joined the early morning picket. Striker Omar told Socialist Worker, “The strike is very good. We’ll see what happens after tomorrow – but we are prepared to strike again.
“The company is making so much money. But I have to live on about £350 a week – for me, my wife and two children. It is hard because the price of everything is going up.”
J Mistry the Unite branch secretary at the garage, added, “We are the lifeblood of London – we don’t want to have to bring the city to a standstill but we will if we have to.”
Between 30 and 40 pickets gathered at garages in Dagenham, east London, and at Willesden Junction and Alperton depots in west London.
Some 60 strikers massed outside Northumberland Park depot in Tottenham in North London.
On the picket line at Lea Interchange in east London, about 60 strikers had gathered by 6.30am. No routes had been covered although managers had taken out a couple of rail replacement buses.
One of the strikers told Socialist Worker, “Why is it that gas and electricity companies can put up their bills by as much as they want to but when we ask for a pay rise we get below inflation offers?
“We are prepared to go all the way in this dispute.”
Nerbel, the Unite union rep said that the strike was very well supported. He told Socialist Worker, “The company had better understand that we are serious. They can try all the tricks in the book, but they can’t break the people’s heart.”
Ballots for action over pay are ongoing at several other bus companies across London. Bus workers should build yes votes in the ballots and campaign for more united action in the future to win decent pay.
Thanks to Paul Smith, Steve Henshall, Joseph Choonara, Simon Byrne, Bea Leal for sending reports.