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27 June 2012

London bus workers show their strength

A London bus worker

The sleeping giant has woken up - on 22 June 20,000 London bus workers came out on strike over payments for extra pressure during the Olympics. The big turnout on the picket lines reflected the enthusiasm for this display of strength. In 1982 London bus workers struck in support of the nurses but the last strike you can compare was probably 1958.

Transport for London said 85% of drivers were on strike but claimed a third of routes were operating. But most Londoners didn't bother waiting for the few overcrowded buses driven by supervisors, agency staff and a minority of new drivers on probation who had been personally warned by management. These buses were mainly for show.

Unite the Union wrote to London Mayor Boris Johnson last September and tried to talk to the bus companies. But the bosses would not talk. Just before the strike Boris found 8.3 million towards a settlement and called on the private operating companies to make up the difference (another 5.7 million according to Unite.) Three firms obtained court injunctions to temporarily stop the action.

Other passenger transport workers are getting a bonus for the Olympics. We are determined to get ours. But it's not just about the 500. It's about standing up at last against a bullying management and privatisation.

Supervisors, controllers and office staff have been overwhelmingly sympathetic to the bus drivers. That is despite - partly because of - the fact some were forced to drive buses on strike day. Nearly all of them were drivers in the past and are relieved to be out of it. They see management's bullying methods much more than drivers do. They see decent, hardworking drivers, some with a lifetime's service, treated poorly.

The strike has been a big push. But the 500 bonus is still to be won. More importantly an active branch urgently needs to be built in every garage.

Bus workers - especially young bus workers - must consciously reclaim the leadership of our union. The regional officials have helped initiate this campaign but only bus workers can win it.

Picket line reports

London Socialist Party members

100 strikers picketed the Lea Interchange bus depot, next door to the Olympic site in east London. Construction workers at the Olympic site beeped support as they passed. Of the 800 workers based at the depot, only four had gone in. The workers were determined to win this struggle but also wanted to talk about the Tories, the cuts, trade unions and the Labour Party.

The picket at Hackney central at lunchtime was really good - no buses on the road and a great atmosphere. "We've been waiting for this strike for ages" said pickets at Bow bus garage. "It's not just the Olympic bonus but last year they slashed our pay, we don't get overtime we won't be paid for breaks now. Some people have lost 3,400 a year."

One of the bus drivers explained how he had completed a test run for the Olympics on his route and it had taken an hour longer than it should. This is before all the extra traffic that is expected!

In south London 50 workers formed an angry picket line at Catford bus garage. Hardly any buses went out. The passing public gave loads of support, endless beeping horns were greeted by cheers from the pickets.

In the solid strike in Bromley, pickets jeered at the very few scab buses. Committee member Steve said: "What we need is all the unions out on the same day".

You could hear the main picket line at New Cross bus garage - they were singing local football team Millwall's old chant "No one likes us, we don't care". There were about 80 on the picket lines, of all ages, sexes and countries of origin. They got great public backing. Lorry, van and car drivers tooted support, largely disproving the words the pickets were singing!

One picket told us: "The basic salary of bus drivers is 24,000 which is nothing for London prices. Yet we're frontline workers when the Olympics comes. Tube workers get more than us because they fight for it and because the tube has been publicly owned while our money goes to shareholders."

Another picket explained that private bus companies like Go Ahead are still making big profits. "But," said another driver, "what about us donkeys that work hard to make their money? We get a small carrot on a long stick and we have to kick hard to get any of it."

The information screens at Croydon bus stops indicated no bus arrivals and illustrated that the strike has been a resounding success.

Full reports at