London bus workers in the Unite union took their protest directly to Transport For London (TfL) when they temporarily occupied its office in Southwark last Wednesday.
The drivers were campaigning for central pay bargaining across all the city’s bus operators.
Around 60 drivers occupied the foyer of the office waving flags, singing slogans about equal pay and dancing to drummers from Unite’s Justice For Cleaners campaign, who had joined the protest in solidarity.
Inside the occupied office, one Unite official told cheering drivers, “If there is no equal pay, there will be no peace on the London buses. If TfL won’t listen, they will be met with strikes.”
“We are fighting for respect and dignity at work,” Matt, a Unite rep from Go-Ahead, told Socialist Worker.
“I have seen 50 and 60 year old men reduced to tears by managers and by the stress of the job.”
Earlier in the day over 100 drivers had protested on the green at Marble Arch.
Some union members revealed boxer shorts carrying the slogan “stop the race to the bottom” in reference to the tendering system that is driving down wages and conditions as companies compete to cut costs.
Unite says that there is a “real prospect” of London-wide strikes over the issue.
Drivers everywhere report that they are coming under increasing pressure, with new forms of monitoring and inspections and a rise in the number of disciplinaries.
A Unite member from Metroline’s Harrow Weald garage told Socialist Worker that bus workers need to launch a city-wide strike ballot. He said, “If we don’t fight now—what will this mean for future bus workers?
“Drivers are working long hours just to make up pay. It is very dangerous when we are not getting enough sleep.
“I have seen many relationships breaking up because people have no time to spend with their families.
“We have stress from other road users, passengers, ‘mystery travellers’ and now the threat of cameras in the cabs… it all adds to the pressure.”
“The company says it has no money for pay—but it can afford new uniforms, and to fit the cameras to spy on us.”
Central pay bargaining is essential, he added. “At the moment we are getting the run-around. TfL says talk to the company.
The companies say talk to TfL. Meanwhile the drivers are working themselves to death—that’s why we need to strike.”
Peter Kavanagh from Unite pointed out that the competitive tendering system means that “companies with the lowest wages and the longest hours are being rewarded by Boris Johnson”.
There were delegations from many different companies at the protest.
At First, East London Bus Group (ELBG) and Go-Ahead the bosses are attempting to use the recession as an excuse to impose a pay freeze.
At other companies there are disputes or campaigns over issues such as canteen facilities, pensions, spy cameras and disciplinaries.
Workers at Metroline are currently in pay negotiations. But so far, bosses have offered nothing.
Betty Gallacher, the Unite convenor for Go-Ahead said her bosses have offered a zero percent pay “rise” at the same time as they found money to buy East Thames—which was the only TfL-owned bus company.
“When I heard that, I thought we have to strike,” she said to cheers. “We all have to go back to our garages and motivate people to strike.”
A Unite rep from ELBG told drivers how their company is taking on the company over canteens and pensions.
ELBG has also set up a subsidiary company with drivers on even worse pay and conditions.