London bus workers in the Unite union were set to take their campaign to City Hall on Wednesday of this week.
The protest will tell London mayor Boris Johnson that bus workers want action to stop the low pay and the vastly differing rates across London buses.
The demonstration comes at a crucial time in the union’s campaign. Unite suspended a strike of 14,000 workers last month in the face of threats of legal action by employers.
The union is currently seeking legal advice, but activists are rightly determined to make sure that the campaign does not lose momentum in the meantime.
Union reps at different companies are continuing to press a united pay claim – for a 5 percent rise or £30,000.
And at every company the issues of long hours and increasing stress have helped to fuel the mood to fight.
Employers have used the pause in strike action to try to regain the initiative and push through pay deals at individual companies – so far with no success.
Workers at East London Bus Group and Selkent voted last week by 1,577 to 474 to reject an offer of 3.8 percent. Some 92 percent of drivers also indicated that they still want to strike over pay.
At Metrobus – where workers held a solid strike in September before management won a high court injunction to stop a second strike – workers narrowly rejected a 4.2 percent pay offer.
One driver at Metrobus’s Croydon garage told Socialist Worker that the feeling for action wasn’t fully reflected in the votes.
“Many people didn’t vote because they felt dejected at being prevented from striking,” he said.
“But now drivers are excited again. We expect to be holding another strike ballot soon and are sure we can win it.
“The company has really shot itself in the foot with its legal action. Drivers are also angry at changes to our rotas that mean working more days without a rest.
“This sort of thing has been going on for years but we’re not putting up with it any more.”
Many bus workers are also asking why the union still funds a government that maintains anti-union laws.
At Travel London, part of the National Express group, management have offered a 4 percent rise. Union members say the offer also includes attacks on paid breaks.
Workers there are to vote on the offer on Friday of this week. Pierre Talla, branch secretary at the Hayes garage, told Socialist Worker that there is a big mood to reject it.
He said, “Drivers want to know why they keep being balloted – they have said they want to strike and that is still the case.”
The key question now is getting the strike action back on course. The employers cannot be allowed to use the anti-union laws to derail the democratic decision of thousands of bus workers.
This dispute is still about winning decent pay. But now it is also about defending the right to strike.
Stagecoach drivers strike
Hundreds of drivers at Stagecoach Bluebird in the Highlands and north east of Scotland struck on Tuesday of this week over pay.
Workers have repeatedly rejected an offer of almost 10 percent over two years and are fighting for £10 per hour.
The strike was very successful and had a big impact – with school bus services particularly hit.
Workers are set to strike again on 21 and 24 November
Meanwhile Unite union members employed by First Bus in Aberdeen are balloting for strikes over pay.
They have rejected a 3.75 percent offer and are demanding a 5 percent increase on all elements of pay.