“Fair pay, now!” shouted striking bus workers outside the CT Plus bus garage in east London in the early morning of Friday last week.
More than 40 strikers had braved the cold to join a loud and lively picket.
Derrick Campbell, the Unite union rep at the garage, told Socialist Worker, “It’s not just the drivers that are out. It’s the office staff and the engineers too. We are all united in this.
“They offered us 2.25 percent – which doesn’t sound too bad if you are on good money to start with, but for our workers it wouldn’t amount to much at all.
“Drivers here get a lot less than other bus workers in London. There is no overtime or weekend rate and nothing extra for working rest days.”
CT Plus is owned by the HCT Group – a registered charity that boasts that it is “the only social enterprise that operates red London buses” for Transport for London. It states that its vision is “social justice and equality for all” and that it is run with a “community ethos”.
Yet the workers at CT Plus tell a very different story.
One striking driver told Socialist Worker, “The company says it’s for the community. But there is no flexibility, no consideration for people with children or those with religious needs.
“And we have seen a lot of union people pushed out. Management just want ‘yes’ men here – they certainly don’t want to treat us with any respect.”
“There is a lot of feeling about the two-tier approach from management,” said Derrick.
“If you’re a manager you get sick pay from day one of illness. If you’re a driver it’s day three.
“The company pays 9.6 percent of managers’ pay into their pension – but drivers only get 5.1 percent.”
Pickets were angry about bullying in the garage. Managers had warned probationary drivers that their jobs were at risk if they took part in the strike.
This had frightened some into working. But most were defiant and determined to win.
Strikers talked about the last time the garage was on strike – two years ago, when they took action against the sacking of their union rep.
The loss of the rep had a bad impact on the union, but now it has rebuilt and is fighting back.
One driver told Socialist Worker, “The bosses don’t see the work we put in. I have been here for two and a half years.
“I start at 4.30am in the morning. But there is no unsociable hours payment, except after 7pm on Sundays.
“They expect more and more out of us. We have to look after the safety of the passengers. Then they say we have to smile all the time.
“They seem to want us to be social workers – but we are not paid to be social workers.”
Unite organiser Pete Kavanagh congratulated the strikers on their action.
He said, “The company says it creates jobs for the local community. Our union wants jobs – but not on the back of low pay.”
He went on to point out how the tendering system is driving down pay rates across London.
“We will be moving to a ballot of every single London bus worker to say: will you strike for one rate?” he said.
Drivers of buses from other companies in the area sounded their horns in solidarity as they passed the picket.
And a Unite rep from the East London Bus Group – where drivers have held three very successful days of strikes – joined the picket.
“We have to stand firm,” he told the strikers. “We should all be paid equally. Keep up the fight. If needed, we’ll all be out together.”