Over 20,000 bus workers were set to walk out on Friday of this week in the first London-wide bus strike since 1982.
Strikers include drivers, engineers, service controllers and instructors.
The workers are demanding a £500 bonus payment to compensate for a hugely increased workload during the Olympic games.
Other transport workers in London have already won similar or higher Olympic bonus payments.
But Transport for London (TfL), London mayor Boris Johnson and London’s 21 private bus operators have refused to negotiate a similar payment for bus workers.
Robert Laird is a bus driver and Unite union rep at Edgware bus garage. He told Socialist Worker that anger among London bus workers is running high.
“People feel it’s unfair that we are expected to deal with just under a million extra passengers with no reward, unlike other transport workers,” he said.
London’s buses carry seven million passengers a day, compared to four million on the tube system. Tube workers are receiving at least £850 while workers on the Docklands Light Railway are getting £900.
Friday’s coordinated strike will demonstrate the power of London bus workers, who have suffered below inflation pay rises for years. It should be the first step towards turning this situation around.
The action could reignite Unite’s stalled 2008 campaign for better pay across London and an end to two-tier working conditions.
The partial privatisation of London’s buses in the early 1990s lies at the root of the problem, according to Robert. “Our pay and conditions have been falling behind ever since then,” he said.
TfL operates the capital’s buses but private firms run them. Unite had to hold 21 separate ballots to call its London-wide walkout. The response was an average 94 percent vote for strikes.
A victory over the Olympic bonus could pave the way for action to reverse this slippage in wages and conditions.
“This action will lift the morale of bus workers,” said Robert. “We have a lot of responsibility and a difficult, complex job even in normal times—let alone during the Olympics.”
Union can win this fight
The Unite union has been campaigning for an Olympic bonus for London bus workers since the beginning of this year—and the union is determined to win.
This week it announced that it will add a day’s pay to its demand for every day that workers go on strike. That’s around £100 more per worker per strike day.
“Bus workers will be on the front line of London’s transport network during the Olympics but they have been treated with contempt by the bus companies and TfL,” said Peter Kavanagh, Unite’s regional secretary for London.
“If bus workers are forced to take strike action, we will increase our claim of £500.”
TfL is happy to dish out Olympic-sized bonuses to its bosses. The organisation’s top seven managers are set to receive £560,000—which works out at £80,000 each.