NEARLY 2,000 bus workers across west London struck for the day over pay on Monday this week. The action hit services in Greenford, Acton, Uxbridge, Orpington, Alperton and Westbourne Park. It was the workers' second official one day strike. Members of the TGWU also struck for the day on Wednesday of last week. The drivers and conductors work for a company called Centre West which is owned by First Group, Britain's largest bus operator.
Workers at the 750 strong Westbourne Park depot in west London had already held a successful unofficial one day strike last month against management's threats to discipline drivers. First Group drivers in the Bristol, Bath and Somerset area were also set to hold a one day strike on Friday of this week. The action is being fuelled by anger that First Group made £55 million profit in the first six months of this year. Yet bus workers work long hours for poverty wages.
One driver at the Westbourne Park depot says, 'It's virtually impossible to live off the wages. Your family takes second place. You are just so tired when you get home. My mortgage goes up. My bills go up. You are forever in the red.'
The solid strike action has rattled the bosses. Centre West has the tender for many key routes from west London into the city. On strike days the company not only loses the profit from bus fares but it faces fines from London Transport for breaking its contract. On top of the official action, workers at the Orpington depot staged a two day unofficial stoppage last week. The Orpington workers blacked a bus that a scab had driven out during Wednesday's strike. They were furious that when a worker refused to drive the bus on the Thursday he was suspended, so they walked out for two more days!
In response to this mood of militancy, management are trying to intimidate the workers into ending their action by threatening to derecognise the TGWU. George Rhoden, the union rep at Westbourne Park, says: 'The company's solicitors have written to the trade union saying it is giving 90 days notice to break off all links with the union. It is saying it will stop all deductions for the union from workers' pay from Friday 3 December.'
Derecognition would be an attack on every bus driver. But more solid action can call Centre West's bluff. The TGWU's national leadership must campaign in support of the west London strikers. It should organise a levy and call for bus workers from First Group companies around the country to join the Centre West strikers' picket lines. Already Tony Benn MP has shown his solidarity with the strikers by joining the picket line on Monday.
The strikers have organised bucket collections for donations from the public. One driver says, 'Every penny helps. Management know we are poor already and have to work six days a week just to get by.' A one day strike is now planned every Monday. The strikers can build support for their action by going into workplaces in the local area, collecting money and speaking at union meetings.
Messages of support, requests for speakers and donations: TGWU, Westbourne Park Garage, Great Western Road, London W9 3NW. Phone 0171 229 7131 ext 233.