Socialist Worker

London bus drivers gear up for more pay strikes

by Raymie Kiernan
Issue No. 2440

Buses were cancelled during last weeks strike

Buses were cancelled during last week's strike (Pic: Socialist Worker)


London bus drivers were set to strike again in their battle for equal pay with the capital’s 18 bus operators and Transport for London (TfL) on Friday of this week and Monday of next week.

The London Bus service was hit hard last week as drivers in the Unite union walked out for 24 hours on Thursday.

The strike was solid and caused over 1,000 more miles of tailbacks than usual during the morning rush hour—a whopping 1,511 miles.

There are currently 80 different rates of pay and over £3 an hour difference for London bus drivers doing the same job.

Battersea Abellio striker Bertolo told Socialist Worker, “I could start at 4am and have a night shift driver ahead of me being paid £3 an hour more but I’m getting just 9p extra an hour for driving at that time.”

TfL director of surface transport Leon Daniels published an open letter arguing that the strikes were “totally unnecessary”.

Responsibility

Absolving TfL of responsibility in the dispute he argued, “Bus drivers are employed by the individual (private) bus companies and have been for over 20 years.”

And Daniels, like other TfL directors paid six-figure salaries in the last decade, should know. They are part of what he describes as the “TfL family”. 

It is a revolving door between the public regulator and the bus firms’ boardrooms.

Daniels led a management buyout of Capital Citybus after privatisation, which was bought by First in 1998 for £11.1 million. He then worked for FirstGroup for 13 years before taking his current post.

He took over from David Brown, currently the boss of Go-Ahead Group, London’s biggest bus operator. Before joining TfL, he was chief executive of Go-Ahead’s London bus business.

Brown was also part of a management buy out at CentreWest with current TfL commissioner Peter Hendy in 1994. Hendy made £3.8 million from the privatisation and subsequent sale of CentreWest to FirstGroup in 1997.

Daniels insists the current system of single agreements between Unite and the companies “has regularly resulted in pay rises above the rate of inflation”.

But pay has been held down as bosses squeeze more out of the TfL contracts.

“Over the last seven years or so we’ve had only 1 or 2 percent increases but prices keep going up,” Pat, an Arriva driver of 21 years, told Socialist Worker. She added, “I think I’m in a worse situation now than when I started. The amount I’m left with after bills has gone down and down.”

Drivers confront Abellio boss at Battersea picket line

Drivers confront Abellio boss at Battersea picket line (Pic: Socialist Worker)


Confronted

Bertolo said, “Our wages have been frozen but our director got a £9,000 pay rise last year.” Abellio London and Surrey boss Tony Wilson was confronted by strikers at Battersea.

They asked him why drivers should be paid differently, or if he thought it was fair that experience gained by drivers did not go with them if they work for another firm.

He said, “It’s all about providing an open market” and even insisted the system was “good value for the taxpayer”.

Wilson said he believed Unite’s demand for sector wide negotiations “is illegal because it would set up a cartel”.

And he let slip his real worry—that if bus drivers were all paid the same, and private operators were sidelined, then there would be a clear argument for public ownership.

TfL directors and the bus bosses will fight tooth and nail against equal pay, they share the same interests. Only a determined struggle by the drivers can win.

Franklyn from West Norwood told Socialist Worker, “We have to stand up and fight this or the next generation of drivers will be worse off. They have given us no choice.

“Really we should make sure nothing moves out of the garages—if that means going all out then that’s what we have to do.”


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