Socialist Worker

Metrobus workers are the latest to join London-wide battle of the buses

by Esme Choonara
Issue No. 2118

The Lea Interchange picketline in east London last month

The Lea Interchange picketline in east London last month

Around 1,000 bus workers at Metrobus in south east London are set to join the pay battle on the London buses when they strike alongside 2,500 First Bus workers on Friday of this week.

The drivers at Metrobus voted by more than 90 percent for strike action. “We’re really pleased with the result of the strike ballot,” said Metrobus reps Brian, from the company’s Croydon garage, and Steve, the rep at Orpington.

“It clearly shows the mood for action over pay. For the first time in years all three Metrobus garages are united. We feel that we are all fighting together for justice.”

Brian and Steve spoke to Socialist Worker outside the Unite union’s London bus workers’ conference on Friday of last week. Activists met to discuss the campaign to win an equal and higher wage, and better conditions across all the London bus operators.

There are pay disputes ongoing at many bus companies in London. Thousands of drivers at Arriva South and Metroline are starting postal strike ballots this week after workers at both companies voted by over 95 percent for strikes in recent consultative ballots.

The strike by Metrobus workers has been timed to coincide with the beginning of a 48-hour strike by workers at First Capital and First Centrewest. This follows a very lively and solid 24-hour strike by the First workers earlier this month.

Osman, the Unite rep at Westbourne Park bus garage, told Socialist Worker, “Our last strike was very strong – and we know that this one will be even better supported.

“Drivers are determined to win this fight. First is the biggest bus operator in Britain. It makes huge profits – yet it refuses to pay us decent wages.”

Another First worker added, “Management are trying to undermine our unity by encouraging people to work during the strike. They show us no respect at all. Shame on the company for treating us this way.

“None of us can really afford to strike. We’re losing three days pay. But we have no choice. We have to make a stand – and we have to make the company listen to us.”

The First and Metrobus strikes are the opening shots in a fight involving bus workers across the capital. The strength and resolve of the strikes will be important in ensuring that the struggle for decent pay goes forward across London.

The stakes are very high and many drivers at other companies are asking when they will be joining the strikes.

The campaign on the buses is part of a growing pay fight among workers squeezed by low pay and soaring costs.

Workers at other bus companies should support the strikes by visiting the picket lines and – most importantly – by refusing to settle for less than the union’s claim for 5 percent or £30,000 based on a 38-hour week.

Passengers, transport workers and environmental campaigners responded angrily to news last week that Boris Johnson, London’s Tory mayor, is putting up bus and tube fares in the city by an overall figure of 6 percent.

This will involve a hike in both single fares and the cost of some travelcards.

It will hit low paid workers struggling with rising costs. London is already one of the most expensive cities in the world for public transport.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT transport workers’ union, condemned the rises.

He said that if the mayor needs extra cash for the London transport network, he should be “looking at ways to end the shocking waste” caused by private financing of the London Underground network, rather than “squeezing passengers even more with inflation-busting fare hikes”.

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