The pay battle on the buses moved forward this week with more than 2,000 drivers in east London set to strike for a second time and bus workers in the north west of England throwing out a new pay offer.
Hundreds of drivers are expected to join picket lines when 2,300 Unite union members at East London Bus Group (ELBG) hold a 48-hour strike on Friday and Saturday of this week. This follows a solid one-day strike last week.
A driver from ELBG’s Upton Park garage told Socialist Worker, “It’s about fairness. Management have taken pay rises – they got profits and brand new cars, they fill their bellies.
“It’s hard for us – everything is going up, fuel, petrol, council tax, rent.”
Another driver said that spirits were high after last week’s action. “Everyone felt it was long overdue,” he explained. “It’s not just about the pay – it’s about the way we are treated by this company.”
ELBG is just one of the flashpoints on the buses as bosses try to use the recession to impose pay freezes on workers.
First Bus drivers in Bolton, Bury and Wigan overturned Unite’s recommendation last week, with 75 percent voting to reject a three-year pay offer.
The drivers had struck every Monday for the last two months against a pay freeze. They are now set to restart their strike action.
The new offer was a miserly 0.6 percent for this year, linked to “staff productivity”, 2.5 percent in 2010 and 2 percent or the RPI rate of inflation for 2011.
Bosses were “disappointed” that the drivers rejected the “new attractive pay offer”.
But workers know that First – Britain’s largest transport operator – has the cash to fund a decent pay rise. It raked in £134 million profits on its bus operations last year.
Drivers at First in Essex are to hold their fifth day of strikes against the pay freeze on Monday of next week. First drivers in London have also just finished a strike ballot and are expected to call action.
The anger runs deep. Drivers everywhere talk about the increased threat of disciplinary action, the long hours, the replacement of experienced workers with new starters on lower rates, and the attacks on pensions and working conditions.
Privatisation has driven down pay and conditions, and broken up the bus industry. In most companies the union now has to negotiate garage by garage, or area by area.
The fight over pay can begin to turn back the attacks and build a national network of activists on the buses.