Hundreds of bus workers took to picket lines across London last week as they struck to demand an Olympic bonus. The Unite union members’ walkout last Friday was the first London-wide action on the buses since 1982.
There was a real spirit of unity on the picket lines. Black, white and Asian, working for different companies, bus drivers struck together for fair pay.
Jake works as a bus engineer and was outside West Ham bus garage, on strike for the first time. “Everyone’s had enough of what’s happening,” he told Socialist Worker. “It’s great to see everyone out together.
“It makes being in a union have more meaning when we come out in the rain and do something instead of just talking.”
Bus driver Ben Chipperfield has struck twice before, but never with all the other drivers in London. “To get the backing of everyone makes a huge difference,” he said.
“We’re undervalued for everything we do. People don’t know what it’s like from the inside—how patient we need to be, how we’re always up before 2am.”
Ben’s partner Melissa is also a driver. She said, “We’re not even allowed to take time off during the Olympic period. Some people have even been told they can’t even have weekends.
“We work so much we hardly see our kids. Spending a few weeks with them in the summer holidays is like their little treat for the year. Now we’ll be working the whole six weeks that they’re out of school.”
More than 70 pickets gathered outside Leyton bus garage in east London. And there were some 150 pickets outside the Lea Interchange—within a few hundred metres of the Olympic stadiums.
“This area will be bedlam during the Olympics—and so will London as a whole,” said Iqbal, one of the pickets. “We deserve a bonus. In fact, we deserve better pay all round!”
Strikers were determined to see a clear victory. And they were excited by Unite’s decision to increase its pay claim to add every day’s pay the workers lose by striking.
Errol Whyte, a bus engineer at Westbourne Park, said solidarity would be the key to victory. “Our fight for Olympic pay is the same as public sector workers strikes for their pensions,” he said.
“After working hard all your life, people deserve a decent pension. It’s unbelievable when you look at the bonuses of directors and bankers—they’re outrageous compared to ordinary workers’ pay.
“If we don’t fight it can only get worse. I hope our strike can show people there’s an alternative to just accepting this bullshit.”
Michael at Bow garage in east London agreed—and argued escalation was the way to win. “We need to strike not just for one day but for weeks,” he said. “If we struck on the opening ceremony of the Olympics then they’d have to listen.”
High court ruling is a bump in the road
The bus strike involved 17 of London’s 20 privatised bus operators. But three companies—Arriva the Shires, London General and Metroline—obtained a court injunction to stop their workers from striking.
The full judgment was due out as Socialist Worker went to press. The Unite union says it will appeal.
But nevertheless, it marks a dangerous return to the courts by bosses using so-called “irregularities” in ballots to get strikes called off.
It comes after an appeal ruling that had stemmed the tide of employers running to the courts. Before that there was a period where it seemed almost impossible to organise a legal ballot.
The unions need to be ready to step up the fight against the Tories’ anti-union laws—not just legally, but industrially as well.