A mixed pattern of ballot results at three London bus companies last week shows the urgency of calling new strike dates and building a network of activists that can take the campaign forward.
Bus drivers employed by Metroline in north and north west London showed the mood to fight over pay that still exists in many places. They voted to reject two pay offers and so continue with their dispute.
The Metroline drivers voted by 70 percent to reject a one-year deal worth 4 percent, and by 84 percent to reject a two-year deal comprising 4 percent this year and the RPI rate of inflation plus 0.25 percent next year.
But at Arriva North, drivers voted by 882 to 647 to accept a pay offer of 4.5 percent which includes a cut in overtime rates. Drivers at Arriva South voted by 613 to 244 to accept the same deal.
The Arriva votes are a setback for the Unite union’s campaign to win higher and equal pay through united action across the London bus companies.
But there are still thousands of bus workers officially in dispute over unsettled pay claims.
Last week’s votes point to the importance of what Unite activists and reps do on the ground. For six months the London bus campaign has shown the enthusiasm and commitment of rank and file drivers.
But after the union suspended planned strikes in the face of threats of legal action, several companies seized the opportunity to try to push through pay deals.
In this context, the role of networks who can organise and argue to take the struggle forward have become more important.
At Arriva, reps were divided over whether to recommend the deal. But at Metroline, the reps and some rank and file union activists built on their experience of strikes two years ago to argue that workers should hold out for more – and should be part of London-wide action in the new year.
Even at Metroline, the results varied from garage to garage – again suggesting that there is a subjective factor at play.
The most powerful way to win improvements on the London buses is still for strike action across the city.
A recent Unite newsletter rightly argues that there should be a ballot at all companies that have not settled early in January.
The union will need to be ready to confront possible legal challenges – and some activists are raising the possibility of defying the law if necessary.
Drivers at Transdev Sovereign are already balloting for strikes in the new year. If they win their ballot, the union will need to throw its weight behind the strike – this could be the next crucial test for the London bus workers’ campaign.
Unite union activists at Metroline report that management have been attempting to dictate which posters Unite can display on its union notice board.
One poster bearing a Mr Carrot character clutching a wadge of cash with the slogan “Vote to reject Metroline’s Christmas carrot” was allegedly banned by the management.
Bosses did, however, allow a similar Mr Carrot poster with more extensive wording.
One driver told Socialist Worker, “Management’s actions give a new meaning to the term petty bourgeoisie.”