NATIONALISE THE BUSES! – demand London bus strikers

Confident Shepherd’s Bush pickets at Goldhawk Road tube station
Confident Shepherd’s Bush pickets at Goldhawk Road tube station

‘THE BUSES should be renationalised. They should put the companies under one name then everybody will have the same rights,’ Unite member Michael Wood said during Thursday’s 24-hour bus strike.

The strike is the second in a series of four strikes in the escalating struggle for equal pay for all drivers. Wood was speaking to News Line on the picket at the Metroline Holloway Bus Garage in North London.

There were pickets at 70 bus garages across London and with 20,000 drivers out. The strike was solid!

Wood continued: ‘We’re here to support our rights and support our union calling a strike. In the long run it will benefit us. The strike is about all drivers having the same pay.

‘The buses should be renationalised. They should put the companies under one name then everybody will have the same rights.

‘The way things are going there will be more people coming out on strike. The government should do things a bit more reasonably and think about how all the people are surviving.

‘Some of the top men only care about themselves and not about the people at the bottom.’

Unite schedule officer at the garage Patrick Holden told News Line: ‘Today seems to be stronger. All of Arriva are out and we’ve only had ten cross the picket line.

‘People feel very strongly about the unfair wages and conditions. The bus industry is going downhill. Drivers are getting lower and lower wages and new starters’ rates are as low as £9 an hour, which is not a liveable wage in London.

‘This is due to the cost of rent, mortgages, food, gas and electricity and travelling costs. We need a London-wide wage negotiation. There need to be serious talks with the union by the 18 private companies.’

On the picket line at Greenford Bus Garage in West London, Unite Branch Chairman John Cole told News Line: ‘It’s been a good turnout, a great turnout; we’re out solid.

‘All London bus drivers must be on one rate of pay. Boris Johnson and TfL just want to wash their hands of it and say we should talk to the individual companies, but the individual companies are just cowboys.

‘Unite is the biggest union in the country and must step up the campaign. We are on strike again on the 13th and 16th and we are prepared to escalate. We have to win this fight.’

Unite member Najam Syed said: ‘We have to be united for our cause, for our drivers.

‘It’s not just the different companies pay different rates, the same company pays different rates as well. They are recruiting new drivers on lower rates and putting a cap on it, so you can’t even achieve the higher rate after three or five years.

‘And the guys on the higher rates are being targeted for any disciplinary matter and dismissed. It all comes from TfL. It’s them that are tendering the contracts. It all comes from TfL and the Mayor of London.

‘Before, it was one transport company for the whole of London, one job and one pay rate and that’s what it has to be again.’

Pickets were out in force at Wood Green bus garage.

News Line spoke to Bob and Alice about the need for equal pay across the board. Alice said: ‘Passengers don’t say, he’s a new driver, they get on whatever bus comes along.’

Bob said: ‘Most companies you work for, after three months you’re fully qualified. With this job, it’s seven or eight years; all we’re asking for is fair pay for the job.’

Alice added: ‘They are trying to get rid of established drivers so they can get a cheaper workforce. It’s all about profit, profit, profit. I’ve got to work rest days and holidays just to survive.’

Alice expressed her anger at the trade union leaders calling off the NHS strike action last week.

She said: ‘I don’t know how they get away with calling off all these strikes. Is it legal if the majority have voted for it?’

Shepherds Bush Garage attracted support from commuters outside the Goldhawk Road tube station.

Leno, Unite rep at the garage told News Line: ‘The strike is very well supported as our members will only take so much.

‘Our main concern is the fact that new drivers are starting at £3 less an hour and will have to wait two and a half years before they get the higher rates.

‘Privatisation has only made profit for the bus companies. It would be much better renationalised. It may be a long struggle, but we are prepared to stay out until we win.’

There was a big picket line at North Harrow Bus Garage, which began at three in the morning and lasted all day on Pinner Road.

Unite rep Steve Barlow said: ‘Not a single bus has come out of this garage and RMT are fully behind us. None of the RMT bus workers have come into work. We are fighting for equal pay across all London buses.

‘If we move to another bus garage, say Metroline round the corner, we have to start right from the beginning on pay scales.

‘I work for RMPT and my pay scale is £13.25 an hour after seven years of driving experience. Metroline would start me at £11 an hour not taking into account my previous experience.

‘We want one rate of pay. Once you have been working for one year you know your job.

‘It is a two-tier workforce. If someone is ill and they go back to work they get put back on a lower rate of pay.

‘Sick pay is a third of what it should be. We need a workers party that will stick up for us.

‘Labour leader Miliband is useless.’

A brazier was lit to keep the Clapton bus garage strikers warm, who had been on their picket line since two in the morning while snow fell.

Unite branch chair for Clapton Bus Garage Ozy Korknaz told News Line: ‘Clapton is always 100%. We always get the backing of our members.

‘We have got a good turnout on the picket despite the snow. We call for £32,000 a year plus for every driver. They give you a ten-year contract that is £6,000 a year less than the highest paid driver band, DR4.

‘That ten years has now been reduced to eight, but that is £48,000 that you have missed out on.

‘All drivers must have the same rate of pay. That is what we are striking for.

‘We have more strike dates ahead including Friday 13 and we are going to be out until we win. Never back down! That is what we say at this garage.

‘Today, the bus drivers are out on strike, but we should be joined by NHS workers, teachers – everyone should come out together at the same time.

‘We need to get rid of this government because if we could form our own government out of working people that would be fantastic.’

There was a lively picket at Catford Bus Garage in South East London. Jade Bloomfield, Unite branch chair at the garage, told News Line: ‘There is almost six pounds an hour difference in rates of pay at this garage, which amounts to about £240 a week.

‘This is due to tendering and driving wages down. New starters get low wages. There used to be three rates of pay at this garage; now there are 18, despite the fact that we all do the same job.

‘Nothing has changed since the last strike. All we want is talks to start. The management of the 18 companies won’t talk to us.

‘We are getting fed up about the way that the companies are treating us. There is no need for us to come out on strike apart from the fact that they won’t talk to us.’

Bus driver Dave said: ‘We are not here for ourselves but for the new comers who are stuck on the lowest rates for five years. We want a living wage for all drivers.’

Pickets were out at Stockwell bus garage in South West London.

Jonathan Faull, bus driver and Unite member, said: ‘I am on the top rate so I do not stand to gain much from this action, but it is not fair that people who started a week after me are getting paid £3 an hour less.

‘The whole privatisation system is set up to have the drivers competing against each other. There is an inbuilt bias to keep wages down and this suits the employers. Even if an experienced driver leaves one company for another they start at the bottom of the scale regardless of experience.’

There are further strikes planned for Friday 13 February and Monday 16 February.

• See more pictures on photo gallery