Trade unionists gathered near Holloway bus garage in Islington, north London, on Thursday to demand protective clothing for all drivers.
It came a day after Transport for London (TfL) bosses confirmed that a total of 26 workers had died of the virus.
One of the first deaths was Emeka Nyack Ihenacho, who worked out of Holloway.
Richard, a driver at the garage told Socialist Worker that workers supported the action but felt they couldn’t be part of it.
“People wanted to be involved but management and the union are against something happening at the garage.”
“Workers are scared to talk, but drivers that were told about were pleased.”
“They wanted to go out there and talk but you’ve got one of the directors out there, and management too—they’re standing there watching.”
Bosses have denied bus drivers personal protective equipment (PPE). One by one around ten trade unionists laid a banner, signs and flowers in front of the garage while maintaining social distancing.They included a delegation of three RMT union members from the nearby Northern Line.
One RMT rep told Socialist Worker he had come down to “pay my respects” because “we’re facing the same issues
“There’s an argument over the use of PPE and the mayor has repeatedly said bus drivers don’t need it.
“The front rows of buses weren’t isolated until drivers started doing it.
The rep added, “It’s important that in this crisis we make demands upon our employers to keep us safe.”
And Richard said changes across the network are coming too slowly.
Although some buses are being cleaned more regularly, almost all services are still running with passengers coming in and out the front doors—a key demand to restrict contact between drivers and passengers.
“At this point, I don’t understand why Unite are so close to Transport for London. They need to be standing up more to management and demanding—not negotiating—more safety for the workers.”
One Unison union member from London City University came after hearing about it through the trades council and local coronavirus action committee. He told Socialist Worker, “What’s taking place is extraordinary and we’re relying on transport workers to get people to work and tackle the virus.
“Drivers have died and that’s unacceptable—workers have a right to be in safe workplaces and have the right protective equipment.”
The Unison member said there is “clearly a financial concern” behind bosses being slow to give workers PPE or adopt social distancing measures. “I think trade unionists have to make demands for safety,” he said
Drivers have died and that’s unacceptable—workers have a right to be in safe workplaces and have the right protective equipment.
“If you wait for your manager to do it, you’ll be waiting a very long time.”
The Unite unions London and Eastern region has called a minute’s silence for bus workers on Friday.
Richard said that the silence “should be longer”. “The buses are running empty, so why can’t we spare two or three minutes?”
And he said that Unite, which represents the majority of London’s bus drivers, could do more to fight for workers’ safety.
The drivers want their union “to stand with them more,”
“They don’t feel that they’re getting support from the union, which needs to get down onto garage level. Pass through our garages and ask if our guys are alright" he said.
Unions have been slow to make demands—they need to say loud and clear to bosses that workers won’t work without protective kit.