The stakes are rising in the London bus workers' pay campaign, with around 5,000 workers striking last Friday and workers at two major companies voting overwhelmingly to join an even bigger strike on Wednesday of next week.
This action will involve thousands of drivers from different companies and could shut down much of London.
Drivers in the Unite union at Arriva South voted by 86 percent to strike. Drivers at East London Bus Company voted by 75 percent to strike.
Last week’s strike by drivers at Metroline and First Group showed the determination of workers to win better and equal pay across all the London companies.
The bus company bosses are clearly rattled. There were signs that they are trying to regain the initiative from the union.
Most significantly Metrobus management took last minute action in the High Court to stop their drivers joining last week’s strike (see below).
Many strikers at First reported that management stepped up attempts to get people to come into work.
As 20 pickets gathered outside First’s Dagenham garage on Friday morning, Unite rep Peter Damiano told Socialist Worker that the company had “read the riot act” to strikers over their “conduct” on the picket line. This did nothing to dampen the spirits of the strikers.
At First’s depot at Lea Interchange in east London around 25 strikers picketed the garage from early in the morning.
A police van pulled up at about 6am. Four police officers then marched into the depot.
A few minutes later one bus pulled out. But dozens of others remained parked, the lights out.
One striking driver told Socialist Worker, “The company are pushing their propaganda, and offering £150 for anyone willing to break the strike. But this has just added to our determination.”
Across all the picket lines the action was strengthened by the feeling that the dispute is not just about pay, but about winning respect and justice from the company.
Unite reps from some of the First garages were cheered as they toured the Metroline picket lines to offer solidarity.
At Metroline’s Holloway garage in North London, Unite committee member Matthew Haines told Socialist Worker, “The economic situation is hitting us badly with rising bills and housing costs. Pay is not keeping up.
“I’ve recently moved out of London – I was paying over £1,000 a month for a one bedroom flat.
Now I face at least an hour’s commute at both ends of my shift.”
Brian Pannet, chair of Unite at Willesden Metroline garage, spoke to Socialist Worker from the 60-strong picket line there.
“Metroline workers last took action two years ago, on our own, and won a 5.5 percent pay rise,” he said.
Like many bus workers, Brian wants to see the buses taken back under public ownership.
“The government can bail out all these bankers – why not renationalise everything?
“I’d like to see an end to the anti-union laws. I want to go back to the days when workers could just walk out on strike.”
The bus strikes should be an inspiration to everyone fighting over pay or privatisation.
It shows that an economic crisis can fuel workers’ anger.
The dispute also raises wider questions about the future of public transport.
Delegations of hospital workers, teachers, lecturers and students took banners and collections to last week’s picket lines.
Other workers should get behind the bus workers and build solidarity with their pay battle.
For more strike reports and pictures go to » Solid bus strikes rock the capital