Socialist Worker

Bus strikes can shut down London

by Esme Choonara
Issue No. 2122

Bus workers from Lea interchange, east London, on strike last month (Pic: Swalee Emambacus)

Bus workers from Lea interchange, east London, on strike last month (Pic: Swalee Emambacus)


Up to 6,000 London bus workers across different companies will strike over pay on Friday of this week. This will be followed by an even bigger strike on

22 October that could bring London to a standstill.

Some 3,500 London bus workers at First and Metrobus have already taken strike action in recent weeks, with mass pickets of up to 100 people outside many garages.

An additional 2,500 drivers from 11 Metroline garages in north and north west London will join Friday’s action.

The strikes are the latest step in the Unite union’s campaign to win equal and improved pay and conditions across all the bus companies in London.

They will be an inspiration to the millions of people across Britain fighting for better wages, challenging privatisation or fed up with being treated with contempt by their bosses.

Bus workers at several different companies have voted overwhelmingly for action. Unite members at Metroline voted by 88.5 percent to strike.

A driver at Metroline’s Cricklewood garage told Socialist Worker, “When the First drivers were out it was frustrating for us.

“We really wanted to be on strike alongside them. Now we’ve got a chance to be part of London-wide action.”

A driver at First added, “Things cannot continue the way they are. The low pay means many of us have to work 60 hours a week just to pay the bills.

“No one should live like that. We want to have time for our children, to have some quality in our lives.”

Quality

Unite is calling for a driver’s wage of £30,000 or a rise of 5 percent, whichever is higher, based on a 38-hour week.

Competition to win routes from Transport for London has driven down pay. There can be as much as £6,000 a year difference in rates between rival bus companies.

Joe Boahene, the Unite branch chair at First’s Westbourne Park garage, said that the mood among drivers is good.

“The drivers are ready to strike again,” he told Socialist Worker. “They are all happy to hear that we are not on our own and that Metroline drivers are joining the action.

“We had some encouragement last week when we heard that the company’s head negotiator is ‘retiring’ from the negotiations.

“We think it’s a sign they are rattled.”

Around 2,500 workers in the RMT union at Metronet, which is responsible for maintenance work on most of the London Underground, are also balloting for action over the victimisation of Andy Littlechild, a union rep.

Their ballot closes on Wednesday of next week – which means the union could call action alongside bus workers on 22 October.

And thousands of drivers employed by Arriva North, Arriva South, East London and East Thames buses are also balloting for strikes in time to join the action on 22 October.

Keith Apple, a Unite rep at East Thames buses, told Socialist Worker, “All the signs are that we will win the vote for strike action. The last offer of 4 percent was overwhelmingly rejected.

“We need to make sure that union members see that our campaign is part of a bigger picture.

“How long is the working class going to be paying for the rich? Whenever they mess up, they expect us to pay. Bus workers need to stand up and be counted.”

Strength

There are many stories that show how the campaign is gathering in strength. At the London General company, management tried to stop Unite reps from balloting on the premises.

The reps took the ballot boxes outside onto the pavement – where they won an overwhelming vote to support strike action and signed up a number of new union members.

At Transdev Sovereign, one of the companies with the lowest rates of pay in London, drivers voted last week by an incredible 98 percent for strike action in a consultative ballot.

They are now proceeding to a formal postal strike ballot.

The result is a victory for the rank and file drivers who have, in the space of a few months, transformed the union branch from one which went along with many management demands to one of the strongest sections of the pay campaign.

This campaign can win and it can also strengthen the union across London’s buses. Workers at different garages need to build up grassroots networks to share information, advice and solidarity.

The bus strikes should also give confidence to other workers that there is a real mood to fight over pay.

Trade unionists should take collections and messages of support to the picket lines to build support for, and links with, this key group of workers.

Watch this site for reports of Friday's strikes


Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

News
Tue 7 Oct 2008, 18:07 BST
Issue No. 2122
Share this article


Related


Tags



Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.