24-hour London-wide bus strike solid!

Westbourne Park pickets enthusiastic and confident of winning their struggle
Westbourne Park pickets enthusiastic and confident of winning their struggle

BUS workers called for the entire bus service to be taken back into public hands and renationalised, during Tuesday’s 24-hour London wide strike over pay.

Mass pickets were out at bus garages across London, bringing the capital to a grinding halt.

Unite pickets were out from 3.45am at Metroline’s Holloway bus garage in north London.

Unite rep Anthony Koumourou told News Line: ‘There’s a good turnout, only a few crossed the picket line but we are the largest garage in London with about 650 drivers and 150 customer assistants. Our members are all up for further action.

‘It’s unfair that a new driver will never ever reach a senior driver’s pay rate. At the moment we have a three-tier workforce and there’s every possibility when there’s a new tender that they can introduce a new pay rate.

‘And in the long term we are securing jobs. The companies will use overtime rates to push wages down. We want one rate across London – you’re all driving the same buses on the same roads.

‘Workers should answer any strike ban with a general strike. I totally agree with renationalising the bus industry, even though Metroline is one of the best companies, privatisation doesn’t work.’

Holloway Unite branch committee member and schedule officer, Patrick Holden, said: ‘The strike has been very strong here.

‘We’ve been here since 3.45am, a lot of us, and it will be going on until 4am tomorrow morning. We want to get a London-wide negotiations wages strategy. We want the same rates for drivers across London.

‘At the moment, you could have 9 buses in a row with all 9 drivers each on a different rate of pay. Bringing buses back into public ownership would be a good thing, like the Underground.

‘More action is possible. Cameron’s wanting to ban strikes in the public sector is out of order. If he applied the 40% threshold to the Westminster election, only 6 out of 656 MPs would qualify.’

Unite member Abbdirazak Abdi added: ‘The problem is inflation, especially food and rent expenses, is higher than our wages.

‘The yearly pay increase is not balanced for the inflation of the year. The rich don’t pay as much tax as we do and we pay a high council tax. Living in London is more expensive than elsewhere.

‘We are striking today about the rights of the drivers. Some drivers get low money, others get higher money. We want to see the same wage for all drivers because we all do the same job.

‘We also want pensions and holiday pay to be the same across all London’s garages. I want to get back under Transport for London. All this privatisation is no good. The struggle is starting, maybe people will come together.’

Asked about the Tory strike ban plan, he said: ‘I don’t trust any of the parties. I voted for the Liberals last time because of student fees but when they got in they changed. Labour is a bit better. The workers should use their power in a general strike.’

There were over a hundred bus workers at Peckham bus garage.

On the picket line Ahmed Mansour, Unite rep told News Line: ‘We are out today for better conditions, for existing drivers and new drivers.

‘We want a decent pay rise and job security. The company Go Ahead with their many subsidiaries ignored our request and are not even negotiating with us. We work for London Central and our last pay rise was for July 2014.

‘We have received nothing since then. Before taking strike action, we contacted our directors to negotiate new conditions and they refused to speak to us.

‘We work in a front line service, speaking to people everyday, working unsociable hours, responding to emergencies and this deserves proper pay and proper conditions.

‘Instead the company has refused to speak to us. Everyone knows that the cost of living is rising. How are we supposed to live on these wages?

‘We have received so much support from people passing by in the community and the public because they know that this is a fight that concerns everyone.’

Unite member Marsha Brady said: ‘There needs to be changes for the new drivers and the existing. We can not have the companies trying to divide us over pay.

‘We are here today to make a stand because we know it is going to get worse if we don’t. This stand is for everyone because everyone is struggling to live.

‘Having a pay rise and secure working conditions makes that possible. Our contract can go at anytime. What are we supposed to do afterwards? We have to stand and fight.’

There was a big crowd of at least 60 at Stockwell bus garage in south west London and the mood was buoyant.

David Grant, a driver in the Unite union said: ‘I hope the strike gets results and we don’t have to keep on striking just to prove a point.

‘Equal pay affects everyone, not just drivers but their families and everyone around them. It is about time that the bus industry starts to turn the corner.’

Alana, another driver, added: ‘I think that this is a very good turn out. It has been a long time coming.

‘It is about time that we all stood together. It is an official strike and it is good to see people come out for equal pay across the board.’

Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite addressed a 200 strong mass picket of striking bus workers at Camberwell Bus Garage, one of the many mass pickets at bus garages across London.

McCluskey said: ‘Good morning, sisters and brothers. How proud I am to stand here today shoulder to shoulder with you fighting for fairness and justice and I bring with me messages of support from the executive of Unite.

‘We are rock solid! Your executive is one hundred per cent behind your just cause. And we have a message for your employers here in London.

‘If they believe for one minute that we are going to allow the unfairness to continue in this City then they best think again.

‘The reports around the city are saying that ninety odd per cent of buses are not running and that is an indication of the solidarity that you have built up and you should be very, very proud of that.

‘Because here is a fact: when injustice exists, the only people that can put that right are ordinary working people.

‘Rank and file people at the bottom of our organisation fighting for their rights, and you have demonstrated that you are going to stand up for your rights and stand shoulder to shoulder.

‘London is the greatest capital city in the world. You are the blood that flows through the veins of the heart of this city.

‘Without you, this great city would not operate and it is absolutely essential that Transport for London – we are looking into the legalities of their position at the moment – they have a right and a public duty to make certain that decency and fair play is instituted in these contracts.

‘And they advocate that right. We have a Mayor who talks about the London Living Wage. Well we have got bus drivers who are doing an essential job in the city who are below that living wage.

‘We have people running the same routes on different rates of pay. A race to the bottom is what the employers and what Transport for London are supporting and we are not prepared to allow that to happen any further.

‘I am confident that with your solidarity and your continued support for your shop stewards who do a fantastic and sometimes thankless job, if you continue to support your shop stewards then that solidarity will be stronger than ever.’

He said to cheers: ‘Interestingly enough I received a letter only yesterday from Jimmy Hoffa leader of the Teamsters Union in America offering support for the work that you are doing.

‘The letter says that on behalf of the one and a half million members of the international brotherhood of Teamsters we fully support Unite members in their drive for fairness on the London buses … United we will never be defeated.’

Steve Turner, Assistant General Secretary of Unite told News Line: ‘Our members are out and London is coming to a standstill today because thirty years of privatisation of London bus routes has led to a race to the bottom of pay and conditions of our members.

‘The obscenity now is of new starters being employed at £8 an hour to do a job that warrants £14 an hour in anybody’s money delivering safe and secure public transport to eight million Londoners.

‘It is quite clear that Transport for London should be back in house. This should be a public service, delivered by public workers, with public money.

‘There is one rate that passengers pay and therefore there is one rate that drivers should earn. We are relying on working people standing up and fighting back. The only history of social progress of working people is about struggle and what our members are doing today is struggling, they are struggling for justice.

‘Just as Ford sewing machinists, thirty years ago when they fought as women for equal pay and equal pay for work of equal value.

‘That is now the theme of a West End show and exactly the same issue is at play today for London bus workers. They are driving the same routes on the same streets for different companies, earning different t rates of pay for the same job and that is obscene and we are going to do something about it and 37,000 London bus workers are joining us in that struggle.

‘We won’t be calling for a general strike, but if workers call for a general strike we will be supporting them.’

Antonio, a driver from Camberwell Bus Garage said: ‘If there is a flat rate for passengers, the same thing should be for drivers.’

The Hackney picket began at 3am and the bus workers had sparked up a brazier. Unite branch chair Sadeeq Mulla told News Line: ‘We are out today because we deserve better! We want the company to stop this lower grade and higher grade business.

‘We should all be on the same pay. We all do the same job, we all work the same routes. All the companies in London are making a lot of money but they don’t want to pay the drivers.

‘They just don’t want to know. We have been out since 3am in the cold and rain, but we are doing what we have to do because we have to fight for our rights. We have to be on the same pay as London Underground drivers.

‘When the underground is closed we accept passengers from the underground on to our buses so of course we should be paid the same. This is a constant battle. It is just the beginning and it will happen.’

Hackney Bus Garage shop steward Ozzie said: ‘The NHS, teachers, everybody has to walk out together against this government.

‘I don’t believe that there should be one day of strike action. We have to come out every week, every month until this is sorted out.

‘I think that the TUC should call everyone out in a general strike. We need a set wage on the buses full stop.’

There were fifty pickets at Wood Green Bus Garage waving their Unite flags. News Line spoke to driver Bob Karimpour who said: ‘Basically across London there are about 30 different rates of pay for bus drivers doing the same job.

‘The highest rate of pay, DR4, for the older drivers they are trying to get rid of. They are trying to give cheaper pay to younger workers and drive pay down. You have no family life, it is seven days a week, why is there such a big difference over pay like this?’

At Palmers Green, there were thirty pickets and they were setting up their brazier to keep warm.

Julia Roberts, a bus driver in the Unite union said: ‘We just need proper pay for a professional job.

‘Drivers are too unevenly paid.

‘However, the union won’t say what they want in the end about the level of the single wage. We should be recognised as key workers in the community, but we are not.

‘If pay was based on the service, we would all get decent pay. We are all doing the same job, we should get the same money. The bus services should be nationalised, it is all about the big cats and their profits. I agree with a general strike.’

Over 50 busworkers were on the picket line at Shepherds Bush bus garage.

Unite member George told News Line: ‘The six-month probationary period has now been increased to three years, before those drivers will get the higher rate. This is our heritage; we commute people to and from work.

‘We have a lot of new drivers who are now expected to do the same work as more experienced drivers but are on a lower rate of pay.

‘There have been a lot of accidents with the new Boris buses because they are not what they are cracked up to be. They are supposed to be an electric bus with the diesel engine charging the battery. But the battery doesn’t hold the charge.

‘So when you put your foot down on the accelerator it doesn’t respond immediately but suddenly surges forward. We want a decent rate of pay so bus drivers are not having to work six days a week.’

At Westbourne Park bus garage Unite rep Abdul said ‘We are asking for equal pay for all the garages because at the moment it varies between £9 and £15 an hour, we should be on £31,000 across the board for all drivers.’