Socialist Worker

London bus strike rattles bullying boss

by Raymie Kiernan
Issue No. 2518

“I have no respect for you. I have contempt for you” - Tower Transit boss Neil Smith (right) harangues strikers at Westbourne Park

“I have no respect for you. I have contempt for you” - Tower Transit boss Neil Smith (right) harangues strikers at Westbourne Park (Pic: Socialist Worker)


One of London’s top transport tycoons broke down in fury today, Friday, as over 1,000 of his workers walked out on strike.

Tower Transit is one of the bus firms contracted by Labour London mayor Sadiq Khan’s Transport for London (TfL). Boss Neil Smith laid down the gauntlet to strikers with an appearance—and a tirade of abuse—at the picket line at Westbourne Park bus garage.

He called drivers “bastards” and a Unite union rep “full of shit”.

The 24 hour strike hits Atlas Road depot and Westbourne Park garage in north west London and the Lea interchange depot in east London.

It involves over 1,000 drivers, engineers and controllers in Unite, and affects 28 bus routes. Another walkout on bank holiday Monday, affecting Notting Hill Carnival.

Unite said the dispute is over the imposition of roster changes “and a failure by an increasingly hard line management to commit to constructive industrial relations”.

That’s putting it mildly.

Smith was clearly trying to intimidate workers. He told the pickets, “Go on strike for a month and I will make no concessions.

"Do you know where I make my money? In Singapore, in Australia. I support employees who are loyal to me.”

He then claimed workers were only interested in “hurting the company”.

“You are hurting us every day,” one driver shouted back. “You sack the drivers, you cut our pay, you cut our schedules. You take money from every single driver and put it in your pocket.”

It’s true. This is how bus firms in London increase their profits. TfL pays them a set income and takes the revenue. So to turn a profit, companies must reduce costs.

Last year Tower Transit’s turnover was over £100 million, up 40 percent on the previous year.

Pickets at Lea interchange depot

Pickets at Lea interchange depot (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Yet Smith had the cheek to call a union rep a “thief”. He went on, “I have no respect for you. I have contempt for you.”

Contempt

Smith has plenty of contempt to go around, as an interview on Channel News Asia revealed last year.

“The problem” he apparently faced in London was “a very large immigrant workforce that you have to train”. That’s as opposed to the “highly educated workforce of people with high aspirations” in Singapore.

One driver told Socialist Worker, “You see what we’re up against. We’ve all got bills to pay, we’ve all got families but we’ve got to stand up to this.

“Many of us here have seen three takeovers but this is the worst it’s ever been. They don’t give a shit about us and don’t respect us in any way.”

The real reason Smith was at the picket line was, as one driver put it, “He’s feeling the pinch.” The strike is strong and picket lines were big.

“What he forgets is he actually works for TfL,” the driver said. “They will care about the service during the strike.”

He’s right. But it raises questions why the public transport body is handing cash to bullying managers.

“Sadiq Khan said he would support the bus drivers if we voted for him but we are still waiting. Why are we still working with different conditions and different pay?” asked one driver.

The workers at Tower Transit deserve the support of every trade unionist in London for their strike on Monday. Get down to your nearest picket line and show the bully boss they are not alone.


‘Show of strength’ on Weymouth mass picket

On the mass picket in Weymouth

On the mass picket in Weymouth (Pic: Tim Nicholls)


Over 50 bus drivers and their supporters in Weymouth held a mass picket last Friday.

It was a “show of strength”, as one striker put it, in their long-running dispute against First Group’s poverty pay.

The Unite union members are paid £8.80 an hour—70p less than First employees in Yeovil and nearly £2 less than drivers at rival firms in Bournemouth.

Delegations from Labour left group Momentum and the Unite community branch joined the picket. Weymouth motorists, many sounding their horns in solidarity, were treated to a rousing rendition of “There is power in the union”—led by musician Billy Bragg.

The union and bosses were looking to go into talks at government conciliation service.

But First bosses last week demanded calling off stikes as a precondition for talks. Unite rightly refused to be held to ransom.

Workers were set to strike again on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday of this week.

Tim Nicholls


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