Socialist Worker

Bus workers’ pay fight is at a crossroads

by Esme Choonara
Issue No. 2136

The London bus pay campaign has reached a crucial junction. Thousands of Unite union members across several major companies are still waiting for news of a new ballot for strikes – more than three months after their previous action was suspended in the face of legal threats.

In many ways it is remarkable how far the campaign has come since the battle for an equal higher rate of pay was launched last July.

Since then there have been impressive votes – often of over 90 percent – at company after company to kick out rotten pay offers and to strike.

Drivers at First, Metrobus and Metroline all took strike action last autumn before the union called off a much bigger London-wide strike following a high court injunction at Metrobus and threats of legal action from other companies.

The union says that it is to reballot workers at the companies still in dispute.

And despite a few companies – most significantly Arriva – settling their 2008 pay deal, drivers at other companies such as Metroline and First have voted as recently as December to continue the dispute.


Many union activists are concerned, however, that if there is no ballot soon, workers will lose confidence and the potential for a powerful grassroots union movement on the London buses will be lost.

Meanwhile a strike at Transdev Sovereign in north west London planned for Monday was suspended following arguments at one of the garages about the way forward.

The union has since held discussions at both garages in the company to try to reach agreement and a strike planned for Wednesday 11 February may still go ahead.

The Sovereign workers held a very successful one day strike earlier this month. Management responded by stepping up pressure on workers to individually agree to a pay offer, then by imposing the offer without agreement, but then also offered some concessions to the union over changes to conditions.

However, management now says that these concessions are off the table.

Sovereign workers are paid the lowest rates in London.But the company – which has repeatedly boasted record profits in recent years – says it cannot afford to pay the Sovereign workers any more than the offer it has already made, which works out at around 4 percent on basic pay.

It has also said that it won’t consider the drivers’ demands to cut shift times and look at rosters to address the issues of long hours.

One driver at Sovereign told Socialist Worker, “Management have dug their heels in and so should we. This is the next chapter of the dispute. The the mood now is solid among workers.

“Drivers from the two garages are building up links to strengthen union organisation. We have come a long way – but we must push on with our dispute.”

The best boost for the dispute would be to get the London-wide strike ballot underway and to let them know that they won’t be fighting alone.

Send messages of support to the Sovereign workers at

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Article information

Tue 27 Jan 2009, 18:47 GMT
Issue No. 2136
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