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Growing industrial battle on London transport

This article is over 13 years, 5 months old
Matthew Cookson and Sadie Robinson report on a series of disputes on the buses and the underground that show a determined mood to fight back
Issue 2114
Workers employed by CBS to put up posters on the London Underground struck last week (Pic: Des Anglin)
Workers employed by CBS to put up posters on the London Underground struck last week (Pic: Des Anglin)

While Tory mayor Boris Johnson celebrated his 100th day in charge in London last weekend, transport workers who keep the capital running are gearing up to fight for better pay and conditions.

Privatisation, poverty pay and bullying management – which Johnson and the Labour government back up – have provoked a number of disputes on the London Underground and the buses.

There are no fewer than seven separate disputes taking place on the tube, involving over 2,000 workers in the RMT union. This could see two key groups of workers striking together next week.

At the same time, there is a growing ferment on the London buses – as workers in the Unite union at two companies have voted overwhelmingly to take action over pay in the last week.


These disputes by vital groups of workers have the potential to bring London to a juddering halt.

There were two strikes on the London Underground last week. RMT members at the Rickmansworth Group on the Metropolitan Line struck on Thursday of last week over workers being made “surplus to requirements”.

Workers who put up posters on the tube, employed by CBS Outdoor, also struck, taking four days of action over pay.

Brendan Judge, an RMT day rep at CBS, told Socialist Worker, “The strike was very successful. We shut down the operation for four days and we were on a work to rule from Monday to Wednesday this week. Everyone stood together on both shifts, despite attempts by the company to give us different deals.”

The RMT is bringing its struggles together with a rally in central London next week.

Maintenance workers on Tube Lines, the private consortium responsible for the Jubilee, Piccadilly and Northern Lines, were set to announce the result of a strike ballot over pay on Wednesday of this week.

The workers face much worse conditions than those on the failed Metronet consortium, which was taken into administration last year.

Meanwhile, workers at most of the major London bus companies have resoundingly rejected recent pay offers and many have already indicated that they are willing to strike.

Bus workers at the East London Bus Group voted by 95 percent to throw out a pay offer and to strike in an indicative ballot last week.

The offer met the workers’ demands over cutting the working week and the time they have to work without a break. But it would freeze pay until 2010 and instead give workers a lump sum of £903 over two years.

Management also wants to impose a new pay structure from October that would abolish two rates of pay and put all new workers onto one pay rate with no ability to progress beyond it.

Companies in London currently compete to win contracts to run bus routes in the city. Bosses at the East London Bus Group have said that all new route contracts would put workers on the new terms.

Because route contracts last for a maximum of five years, this means that within five years, every bus worker working for the company would be on the new pay scheme.

Brian Walker, the branch secretary for the Unite union at Upton Park bus garage, told Socialist Worker, “This isn’t an offer – it’s a piss take. Who in their right mind is going to accept what is an effective pay freeze?”

Bus workers at Selkent, which is owned by the East London Bus Group, also voted to strike last week.


Workers at three garages in South London voted by 96.2 percent to reject a pay offer and 89.7 percent backed strikes.

Bus engineers at Metroline have also voted by almost 95 percent for strikes over pay in an indicative ballot.

The engineers have had no pay offer this year, but are demanding a high and equal wage for all engineers across different companies on the buses.

The ballot follows a 98 percent vote in favour of strikes by drivers at the company.

One Metroline engineer told Socialist Worker, “This sends a strong message that we are serious about this year’s pay talks and the wider bus campaign.”

Bus workers at First Centre West are also balloting over action. The ballots are part of Unite’s campaign for bus workers at different companies to be paid the same higher wage.

Every recent ballot on the buses has shown the growing mood for action.

The same determination exists among tube cleaners who are battling for a London living wage and decent treatment at work. The dispute has highlighted how appallingly migrant workers are treated in Britain.

The workers have already struck for 72 hours.

They have now called another 48-hour strike from 5.30am on Thursday of next week.

The contractors that they work for have suspended a number of workers over allegations that their national insurance numbers are wrong.

Clara Osagiede is the secretary of the RMT cleaners’ grade. She told Socialist Worker, “We are going to recruit to the union and campaign for the strike.

“Management is continuing its onslaught over the national insurance numbers, with people continuing to receive letters suspending them from work.

“We are asking cleaners in the Unite union, who have also been balloted, to strike with us.

“With all the disputes, including Tube Lines, coming together, we can make an impact.”

There are three other disputes on the tube.

Around 100 staff at Elephant & Castle, Charing Cross and Lambeth North recently struck for 24 hours over the sacking of Jerome Bowes.

Jerome was sacked for defending himself against an assault from a member of the public on New Year’s Eve.

Around 100 RMT members at the East Ham group are balloting for action over the sacking of Sarah Hutchins and against local breaches of agreement by management.

Some 85 staff at Waterloo and Westminster stations are being balloted over the sacking of Mo Makboul. A disciplinary panel concluded that because Mo had asked a passenger why she had sworn at him, he had sought a confrontation with her.

RMT strike rally, 6.30pm, Tuesday 19 August, Friends House, Euston Road. Speakers include Bob Crow, RMT general secretary, and workers involved in the disputes

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