In an outrageous attack on trade union democracy, London bus operators have used anti-union laws to stop a strike that would have seen more than 14,000 drivers take action on Wednesday of this week.
The Unite union suspended the planned strike over pay after management at several different companies threatened legal action.
The union is now taking legal advice on how to challenge the companies’ attacks – many of which hinge on the details of the timing of ballot result announcements and over the details of grades of striking drivers.
Management at Metrobus had previously won a last-minute injunction to stop 1,000 drivers joining a strike on 10 October.
Union members had been building up to Wednesday’s strike for months. At garages across London, drivers responded angrily to the news that their strike had been called off.
A driver from First’s Lea Interchange garage in east London told Socialist Worker, “What the companies don’t seem to realise is that this will just make us more determined.
“At First we have already been on strike for four days – and every one of them has been a success.
“In vote after vote we have shown that a very big majority wants to strike. That should be our right.
“It’s disgusting that there are still anti-union laws that can stop us striking. And that this can happen under a Labour government.”
The legal offensive by the employers shows how rattled they are by the strength of previous strikes and by the threat of coordinated action across London.
In many garages the pay campaign over recent months has transformed and energised the union – with new people joining and becoming actively involved.
The biggest danger now is that the union allows the campaign to lose momentum and hands the initiative back to the employers.
Unite reps are set to meet on Friday to discuss the next step of the campaign.
Paul Brandon, Unite rep at Holloway garage in north London told Socialist Worker, “It’s unfortunate that Wednesday’s strike has been suspended – especially when it’s over what amounts to legal procedures that have allegedly not been carried out to the letter of the law.
“The mood in my garage is one of frustration – none of the issues have gone away and bus workers are still determined to continue to change their working lives for the better.
“The democratic decision of thousands of bus workers still holds true.
“If mistakes have been made, we must learn from them, move forward, and keep momentum going this year – by reballoting if that is necessary. Our struggle for justice continues.”
It is possible to challenge the anti-union laws. When Shell tanker drivers in Unite struck over pay in June they defied the law by taking solidarity action.
They won a 14 percent pay rise and no action was taken against the union.
During a dispute in Royal Mail last year, hundreds of post workers took unofficial action across Britain alongside the official strike.
Post workers in London have also struck unofficially and illegally on several occasions in the last few years.
One driver from Cricklewood garage in North West London told Socialist Worker that the union is in danger of losing the gains it has made.
She said, “It’s important that we don’t give up now. In the past, we have seen the union lead campaigns for a while and then call them off – that makes some people cynical.
“We have to build up a layer of rank and file activists who can keep up the pressure to make sure the campaign continues. I don’t think the union should have pulled the plug over the threat of legal action – I think a lot of people would have been willing to go ahead with it anyway.
“Most of us are angry and disappointed that the strike has been postponed.
“At the moment there is a big feeling that control of the strike has been taken out of our hands and that we’re not part of the decisions that are being made.
“It’s up to us to make sure that changes and that the campaign goes forward.”
Union activists should organise meetings in every garage and between garages to discuss where the campaign goes from here.
The union should also keep up the pressure over pay and the anti-union laws with demonstrations and protests – taking the fight back to the companies, Transport for London and the government.
Drivers in the Unite union at First Northampton started an overtime ban this week after management failed to meet their demands over pay.
More than 500 bus workers at Stagecoach in north east Scotland have balloted for strikes after rejecting a 4 percent pay offer. Results are due out this week.