Driving the strike forwards: bus strike picket line round-up

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Photo from Charlotte S

Lois JC writes: 

27,000 bus drivers in London are on a 24 hour strike today over pay differences across 18 companies. Operating under the slogan “One fare for passengers, one rate for
drivers!”. The last strike by drivers showed their power when in 2012 they won a bonus for driving during the Olympics, but this time there is a lot more at stake.

How did this action come about? 

Currently there are 18 bus companies running the services across London, this results in different pay scales and working conditions. Unite the union say this can mean a difference of £3 per hour for workers doing the same job. Furthermore,  Transport for London (TfL) puts the contracts out to tender every 5 years meaning companies compete to get the cheapest deal. This race to the bottom is not warranted, the latest accounts for all 18 companies show that they make combined profits of £171.7 million, with directors’ pay totalling at least £7.24 million a year. They want to squeeze all the profit out they can by attacking workers pay. This also makes it difficult to negotiate when unions have 18 companies to enter discussions with. The demands of today are for one pay deal and central negotiations for it.

Before Christmas, drivers were balloted on strike action and the vote in favour, averaging 85 per cent across the 18 companies. Today, as expected from the Tory government, Boris Johnson has attacked the right to strike. But contrary to this there was high levels of support from the public, in an independent survey showed that two thirds of passengers supported equal pay across bus companies.

Solidarity is massively important when workers are facing attacks on both sides from the government and from big business. When the bus companies are being run for profit the services suffer too, one fair pay deal for all workers will improve morale of those who spend their time driving us around the capital! They need our support, if you pass a bus garage today pop in and say hello, perhaps with solidarity Jaffa cakes. Below is a selection of reports from around London. If you have any pictures or reports you would like to go up here please email revolutionarysocialism21@gmail.com and don’t forget to tweet out support using the hashtags #BusStrikes and #DrivingUpPay

Read below for various reports from around London: 

James B reports from the Lea Interchange depot in Leyton:

About 30 drivers joined the picket line at Lea Interchange depot in Leyton. The depot is operated by Tower Transit. The mood was upbeat. Workers here struck on 29 December over a local pay dispute. Today they came well prepared, with flags, a marquee and a barbecue. Unite rep John related how the terms and conditions of bus drivers have been eroded over time and how pay differentials and a lack of consistent grades means that drivers often take a pay cut if they move between companies. Another driver explained that bus drivers are one of the most highly trained workforces in the capital. They are subject to both overt and covert inspections and attend multiple training courses every year in order to ensure they are equipped for the job.

Bus drivers sheltering from the rain in Leyton. (Photo from James B)

Bus drivers sheltering from the rain in Leyton. (Photo from James B)

Ray M went to the picket at Wood Green to see how the drivers were getting on as the strike kicked off this morning:

When we first got there one of the gates was closed and one was open to allow night buses to return from their shift. The strike was solid here with no buses leaving the garage. The company finally closed all the gates, front and back by 7:30am. One of.the reps.said the only time this happens is at Christmas! Up the road at Palmers Green, five buses are running. This is out of about 300. TFL are claiming that 2000 buses are running out of a total of 8000. No one on the picket line believes this. We saw one bus from the Palmers Green garage in 30 minutes at the busy wood green hub.

Bus drivers in front of the closed gates at Wood Green (Photo by Ray M)

Bus drivers in front of the closed gates at Wood Green (Photo from Ray M)

Adam L comments on the picket line at Palmers Green:

Around 40 pickets at Palmers Green. A few drivers there were scabbing, but the pickets were angry and jeering at them. Pickets seemed very up about the action, and everyone thought an escalation was necessary, although a few were saying things like “let’s see what management do next”. They have monthly union meetings at the garage. There was some wariness of the officials but not enough confidence to take matters into their own hands. I was told 40-something routes out of over 600 have buses running across London, which is impressively low.

Amy G went down to Stockwell bus garage, solidarity Jaffa cakes in hand, to see how they were getting on:

Pickets at Stockwell Garage in South London were in good spirits this morning. Around 40 bus workers, employed by Go-Ahead, were gathered outside the depot while the buses stayed inside. Although the strike wasn’t solid at this garage, people were encouraged by the news that no one at the Putney garage, also employed by Go-Ahead, had gone in. One of the strikers I spoke to felt that they needed at least three consecutive days of action – then the bosses would be ready to give in!

Smiley folks on the picket in Stockwell (Photo by Amy G)

Smiley folks on the picket in Stockwell (Photo from Amy G)

I popped down to Brixton bus station (on Streatham Hill) before work, also with Jaffa cakes. There were about 15 people at 7am, later reports suggest that it got bigger as the morning progressed. They were extremely friendly and it was a lively mood as there was a few workers on the picket line who previously had not been to a strike before. I noticed a couple of buses leaving the station but not that many at all, they said some routes like the 59 had completely stopped. The drivers I spoke to said that the union was not as big as it once was at this bus station, they said they had a lot of new workers there but that they were building up the union again and many were pleased with the results today.

One worker said ‘all we are asking for is to negotiate, to have a fair say in our own pay. This is about democracy at work too.’  another said ‘I am concerned this is too little, too late. However we are a powerful workforce as we are in a position to shut down London. I hope we will win and I would never cross a picket line’. London bus drivers hail from all over the world, its a hugely diverse workforce and that was definitely reflected on this picket line, I spoke to a group of workers for whom this was their first strike in London but had taken part in several in Poland and for them, although they were angry at the scab workforce sent by Arriva, they were pleased that it seemed most buses from their station had stopped.

Arjun M reports from Brixton bus station later on:

Striking workers seemed in good spirits at the Arriva bus garage on Streatham Hill this morning. The general feeling was positive, a strong and united workforce fighting for better pay and conditions with a picket of around 20 people at 8am. Most workers reckoned there would be a bigger picket this afternoon, but were happy with the turnout this morning nonetheless. Very few buses left the garage and the ones that did were driven by a scab workforce that Arriva had called in from elsewhere, not the garage itself. Despite a number of people waiting at bus stops, the response from the public had been quite good, with a few pedestrians stopping to chat with the workers, and car drivers honking their horns in solidarity as they drove by. My walk to Brixton tube saw only 2 buses go by in a half an hour period on a route usually covered by 8 buses.

Jaz BP went to Brixton garage too and reports:

Really great lively picket line at Brixton garage this morning! Less than 30% of buses running, loads of passing cars honking horns in support, tons of food handed out by supporters and a really exciting mood. The Unite rep was adamant they’ll need more strikes to win, said the next stage would be tough but they had to come out and win. I also spoke to another driver who said he was prepared to strike again, and that it was important to stand up and be heard. Most of these people have been out since 4am, so do stop by and say hello if you pass a garage today, they deserve all our support!!

Early morning picket line at Brixton (Photo from Lois JC)

Early morning picket line at Brixton (Photo from Lois JC)

Charlotte S who visited an enthusiastic group of strikers at Shepherds Bush took this lively photo:

(Photo from Charlotte S)

(Photo from Charlotte S)

Matt M went to Stamford Brook garage this morning, coincidentally also with Jaffa cakes. He said there was a really great mood and everyone was positive.

Stamford Brook bus garage (Photo from Matt M)

Stamford Brook bus garage (Photo from Matt M)

Regan visited the picket lines at Putney, in South London:

There were 30 bus drivers on the lively and friendly picket line at Putney Garage this morning. They told me that only 15 buses from a fleet of 120 were working. Every time a bus did attempt to leave the garage it was challenged and delayed by the pickets. They didn’t have the confidence to block the road but they did rattle management who called the police. But no cops showed before I left at 8am.

Some of the scabs were new to the garage and although one driver claimed they were East Europeans, there were East Europeans on the picket line too. I pointed out to him that blaming one group for the scabbing was similar to the way all Muslims were being blamed for the Charlie Hebdo killings. We then had a really good discussion about Paris. No question, the striking bus workers were utterly representative of multi-ethnic working class London.

One scab argued that Putney workers were paid above the average London rate. But Ali, one of the strikers pointed out that all bus workers in London whatever their pay and conditions have a vested interest in winning a London-wide deal. He said that under the current set-up if you change garages you go back to the bottom of the pay scale irrespective of how long you had been working the buses.

Other drivers said they hoped the strike would bring the employers the table. But they were clearly prepared to strike again if it didn’t. There was some criticism of the union for failing to provide enough information before the strike.

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