More than 5,000 London bus workers struck today over pay. The drivers at First Group and Metroline took action as part of a campaign by the Unite union to win a wage of at least £30,000 for drivers across all companies in London.
The strikes were solid and determined. This was the fourth day of strikes by First workers.
“There are no buses going out. No driver has gone in so far. It’s getting stronger.” That was the report from Osman, the Unite rep at First’s Westbourne Park garage in West London at 6am as the strike began to bite.
Strike action by another 1,000 workers at the Metrobus company was cancelled after the company took out a last minute injunction in the High Court.
Metrobus workers had already held a one-day strike last month. Many union members were angry to hear that management had running to the courts to stop their strike. Its last minute legal action proved that strike were rattling management and that it was attempting to regain the initiative.
A Metrobus driver told Socialist Worker, “The management treat us with contempt. Why do they need to go running to the high court just before the strike? That is certainly not an example of team leadership. They treat the workers like robots that drive their big red machines. We certainly plan to be part of future London-wide action.”
The strikes brought workers together. Five drivers, all originally from Kosovo, picketed at one entrance to Westbourne Park garage—all proud to be union members and on strike. They said it is vital that eastern European workers are fully involved in the unions here and pointed out they, like the vast bulk of immigrant workers, had come to fill jobs vital to our society, such as driving London buses!
J Mistry, the garage’s Unite branch secretary, said, “We’ve got to say enough is enough. The government is giving billions to the bankers. They get massive bonuses, where’s our share?”
Read the riot act
At the First garage in Dagenham the Unite rep Peter Damiano told Socialist Worker that the company had “read the riot act” over drivers’ “conduct” on the picket line. But the strike was still strong and more than 20 pickets gathered in the early morning. By 7am only three out of 150 buses had gone out. Strikers agreed that action had been as solid as the previous strikes.
Some 25 pickets closed the First garage at Lea Valley Interchange in east London.
Only a handful of drivers crossed the picket line.
One striker told Socialist Worker, “They are making us work longer hours while the company is clearing millions in profits. At the same time our pay is dropping behind. Now the credit crunch has added new uncertainties. We don’t know if our pensions are safe or not.”
At 6am a police van pulled up. Four police officers then marched into the depot. A few minutes later one bus pulled out. Dozens of others remained parked, the lights out.
A striker asked, “Why are the police here? The company is pushing its propaganda, and offering £150 for anyone willing to break the strike. But this has just added to our determination.”
Metroline workers were enthusiastic about being part of today’s strike action. Many had wanted to come out in the last round of strikes.
More than 30 strikers gathered outside the front of Metroline’s Holloway bus garage in the early morning. Another group of drivers picketed the back entrance. By 8am no buses had left the garage.
Matthew Haines, a Unite committee member at the garage, told Socialist Worker that the issue of pay is bound up with questions of long hours and safety. He said, “I work a four day rota which means sometimes I can work seven days in a row, on ten, 11 or 12 hour shifts. That’s without overtime. So that makes a 70 or 77 hour week.
“How is that safe for the public, the driver or the other road users? Bus workers are taken for granted—I think when we strike across London on 22 October people will see the impact we have and the vital job that we do.”
Strikers cheered a delegation of union members from First Group’s Northumberland Park garage who visited the Holloway picket line. Edwin Affainie, the Northumberland Park Unite rep, told the strikers, “We’ve got to stand together and stand firm. We were told that the strikes wouldn’t work—but we’ve done it. And we’ll keep fighting.”
Some 17 strikers picketed the Metroline Kings Cross depot. Passing traffic beeped in support. Only five drivers went in to work and strikers cheered when two of those came back out again and joined the strike. No buses had gone out by 8am. There was a very warm reception for a group of students from Kings College, London who brought a collection they had taken at university to the picket line.
At the Metroline garage in Willesden there were up to 60 on picket line—with more coming or going all the time.
Walcott, the Unite rep at the garage, told Socialist Worker, “So far so good. Nothing is moving here. Our directors are the fat cats and we’re the workers. That’s how it is. We have to fight for what we want. We want equal pay for equal work.
“It’s been stalemate between us and them since we were privatised back in 1994. Privatisation has been a disaster. If they can take over the banks, they should bring London transport back into the public ownership. They should nationalise all the utilities as well.”
Several thousands drivers at Arriva North, Arriva South, East London buses, East Thames buses and Transdev Sovereign are currently balloting to join a city wide strike on 22 October.
Workers in the RMT union at Metronet, which is responsible for maintenance in much of the London Underground, are also balloting for strike action to defend a union rep, Andy Littlechild. They could strike on the same day as bus workers, which would have a massive impact in the capital.