Three crucial ballots will take place on the London buses in the next week. The outcome of these votes could decide the future of the Unite union’s campaign to win equal and higher pay and better conditions across all the bus companies in London.
At Metroline and Arriva North – two of London’s biggest bus companies – workers are set to vote over new pay offers. At Sovereign, part of the Transdev group, workers are to start a ballot over strike action.
Metroline workers will vote on Friday of this week on two offers. The first is a one-year deal of 4 percent.
This is the same offer that has already been rejected with a resounding 98 percent voting against it. The second offer is a two-year deal of 4 percent in the first year and the RPI inflation rate plus 0.25 percent from April 2009.
Paul Brandon, Unite rep at Metroline’s Holloway bus garage, told Socialist Worker that the union reps are recommending rejection of both offers.
He said, “In my view this is the most critical stage of the dispute so far. The London bus companies clearly think they have the upper hand. This cannot be allowed to drag on much longer.
“We must act swiftly with collective action to show that we are serious, determined and willing to take strike action whenever necessary.”
Garage union reps at Arriva North are split over whether to recommend the company’s 4.5 percent offer. Many drivers are angry that the “rise” would be funded through cuts in the overtime rate.
Unite is fighting for a 5 percent pay rise at all companies or a drivers’ wage of £30,000, which ever is higher. Over the past six months, the campaign has involved thousands of bus workers in voting for action – and resulted in several days of strikes.
The campaign suffered a setback in October when planned strikes were called off in the face of an injunction by one company and threats of legal action by others.
Many activists feel that the union should reballot and name the dates for a fresh round of strikes.
At Sovereign garages in north west London, Unite activists are campaigning to win a strike ballot, which opens on Thursday.
Activists at Sovereign have had to fight hard to make sure that rank and file drivers shape the union organisation at the garages.
One Sovereign driver told Socialist Worker, “It’s been a long struggle to get this ballot. We hope to strike in the first week of January.
“Managment’s latest offer is rubbish – it essentially works out as a 4 percent deal, with strings attached.”
There is also the question of what to do if the employers attempt to use the anti-union laws again to stop strikes.
“We have raised this among drivers,” one Sovereign driver told Socialist Worker. “We have to discuss the possibility of unofficial action to defy the laws if necessary.”
If Sovereign workers win their strike ballot, it will raise the need for solidarity from drivers at other companies.
Support for Pierre Talla
Unite activists are calling for a show of support for Pierre Talla, the Unite branch secretary at Hayes bus garage and Selwyn Dhannie, the branch rep at the garage.
The two drivers are to appear in court in relation to an incident that took place as they were traveling home from the demonstration that launched the London bus workers’ campaign in July.
The Unite union is backing Selwyn and Pierre – as should every activist.
Pierre and Selwyn are asking supporters to meet at 9am, Thursday 11 December, Westminster Magistrates Court, 70 Horseferry Rd, SW1P 2AX.
Around 400 bus workers at First Aberdeen are set to strike every weekend in the run-up to Christmas in a dispute over pay.
The dispute involves drivers, engineers and cleaners in the Unite union. The workers voted by 334 to 18 for strike action. The company has offered just 3.75 percent while the union is claiming 5 percent on all aspects of pay.
The workers are set to strike for 24 hours from Friday of this week and then for two 48 hour strikes starting on Saturday 12 December and Saturday 19 December.
Meanwhile Unite is consulting drivers at Stagecoach Bluebird in Aberdeen and across the north east of Scotland after management were forced into talks by two solid 24 hour strikes.
Over 100 drivers at Stagecoach in Worthing, south-east England, are set to strike on Friday over pay. The drivers, members of the Unite union, are demanding a pay rise to bring them into line with workers at other bus companies in the area.
The Stagecoach drivers earn £8.03 an hour. Drivers at Brighton Buses, Metrobus and National Express are paid at least £10 an hour.