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London bus workers strike
Leyton: Interview with striking bus driver
Socialist Party members from Walthamstow and Leytonstone visited striking bus drivers at Leyton bus garage.
Up to 80 or 90 drivers must have been there showing their determination to fight, not just for the very modest Olympic bonus they demand but also to start to halt the effects of privatisation on their working conditions and pay.
The picket was very good humoured and friendly and discussions ranged from what driving a London bus was like before privatisation (better), to whether Labour could be trusted to stand up for workers (unlikely), to how we can stop the racist EDL, and of course the dispute itself.
Everyone took Socialist Party leaflets and a number also bought copies of the Socialist paper.
Steve Powell, chair of the Unite branch there, spoke to the Socialist.
"We've got 100% union membership at the moment at Leyton Bus Garage and the boys are all up for it. There are some companies working but they're the ones that had the court injunctions taken out gainst them.
We seem to be getting quite a bit of support from passing motorists and from the few buses that are passing the garage. Hopefully we'll get sorted out today.
"The way the companies are at the moment - they're just putting the drivers down all the time. We've had our wages cut, we've had our hours brought up, all our Ts and Cs are being eroded and this is not only about the £500 that we're claiming for working over the Olympics. It's got far wider reaching consequences from the changes to our conditions.
"We haven't been offered a pay rise this year. We came to a deal last year that was for two years and we had our hours increased from 38 to 40 and our enhancements taken away so we are now salaried.
"Now we get £3 an hour extra for overtime instead of say time and a half. It's all been going downhill since privatisation.
"This is the first time since about 1984 when we had the 'Fares Fair' and then Bromley council took the GLC to court.
"It's good. It's nice to see that the members of the union on all the buses have had enough now. This bonus is the straw that broke the camel's back.
"Hopefully in the future we'll get more positive action and more respect from the companies instead of being trodden on.
"The union hopefully will be calling future dates. We did have it penned in for the day the Olympics opens but before then hopefully we should have another one or two days to keep the pressure on.
"To Boris Johnson £8.3 million is nothing. A couple of top executives are getting £80,000 bonuses. They're on ten times the salary of the average bus driver in London.
"So they're getting 160 times what drivers are getting but don't have to face the public, or deal with the foreign tourists who won't know where they're going and the traffic changes are ridiculous.
"Around Leyton they're putting in parking restrictions. How are drivers going to get in to work if they can't park their cars?
"Drivers are coming in from as far away as Southend, Braintree, Harlow and so on. It's going to be very difficult for drivers in London, especially in east London, during the Olympics.
"With price rises we've all had to cut back. Ive had to cut back a lot. I used to run two cars but I've had to get rid of one.
"My wife doesn't work anymore due to health issues and it's struggling all round. When you see that the average wage for a bus driver is £28,600 a year which is disgraceful.
"When you see that over half of drivers' wages is going on accommodation costs that doesn't really leave a lot.
"That's why some drivers are working 13 days in a row because we can do a 13-day fortnight - they've got to have at least one day off in a fortnight.
Working 13 days, getting tired and sick
"So they're working 13 days, getting tired, sick - sickness levels in our garage are extremely high. But workers are doing 10-12 hours a day even though they only get paid for eight.
That's because of spread over times. That's why the majority of bus drivers driving around now look miserable. It's elongated hours - especially those who travel from further away.
"Accidents have gone up as well and there's general stress. There's intimidation too. A lot of our drivers have been brought in and had disciplinaries against them because they've been off sick and they've been put on verbal warnings.
But you can't help it if you're sick. They tell you not to come to work when you're sick and then when you do take time off when you come back they give you a verbal warning. If you're already on a verbal warning you come up to a written warning."
Anger and determination among Hackney's bus drivers
Pat Atkinson, Unite LE1111
I visited Clapton and Ash Grove, two of Hackney's three bus garages.
I showed my union card, explaining I was from the voluntary sector of Unite, the same union the drivers belong to, and the Socialist Party. I wished them well and said we would give them any support they needed.
Even with money from the Mayor Arriva management had made no offer to the union's negotiation team. But when I spoke to a rep at Clapton-Narrow Way, he remarked that the Olympic bonus was only a small part of why they were on strike, as there were other grievances that had built up over years.
No buses went out at Clapton and there was a good atmosphere among members. When I arrived on the picket line they had turned away a tourist type coach.
They had set up a table for teas and coffees at the side. There was some 253's parked up in Stamford Hill garage though they could not get them out due to bad parking.
At Ash Grove Bus Garage over 25 drivers of all nationalities were on the picket line waving red 'Unite' flags.
I spoke to a young driver who said new drivers had taken out buses as they were on probation while those buses that went by with passengers got displays of dissatisfaction from those on strike.
We discussed bullying by the bosses in the workplace. Unite members in the homeless projects also face bullying by management.
They were getting support from local van drivers going by as it's on the main road from Hackney Central to Bethnal Green.
Battersea bus garage
(Last updated Sat 11:49am)
Interview with Mustafa, Unite rep at Battersea bus garage
"The strike here has been a success. It's been brilliant. 15 police officers were sent to the garage but the pickets still managed to delay the buses going out by 3 and a half hours and even then management only managed to get 40 buses out of 200 out on their route. 34 workers have joined the union today and 70 since the strike was announced.
The injunction has only made the members even more determined to take further strike action to win their demands.
The union will reballot the members in those companies affected and those workers will be out with us next time.
How many thousands of pounds have the company lawyers spent on this court action which will only end up with the strike being delayed? The sooner we have a general strike of all workers the better. We need to work as one to defeat this government"
About 200 workers were on the picket line at its height this morning
A London bus worker writes:
Management are using this garage as a test case. They have been using agency staff and controllers to drive buses, using intimidation to get them to drive the buses.
Even so, some of the agency workers have joined the union. By 6am the numbers on the picket line had swelled to 60-70 and were able to block management's initial attempts to bring out the buses.
But then three van loads of police were brought in and the buses were brought out following a police van.
Even then only a third of the buses have gone out from the garage and the bulk of these only went out after the morning rush hour.
But this is the only garage in this group that has managed to get out buses. The other garages are completely shut.
Socialist Party members at Battersea bus garage got an excellent response from striking drivers. Reflecting this they sold 15 copies of the Socialist.
Steve Nally from Lambeth and Southwark Socialist Party reports:
"Among the drivers there was a real hard, fighting mood. We had some good in-depth discussions about how to take strike forward.
"It's a brand new garage but there is no canteen or place to eat food, just a microwave and vending machines.
"Drivers said that the strike was not just about the Olympic £500 bonus but also about constant management bullying, working conditions, pay and customer abuse.
"Over 200 had sat down to block buses from leaving. Managers were using agency workers and specially recruited Polish workers to get some buses out. But strikers were not angry at those workers but at the bosses for exploiting them.
"Unite full-time officials came in for some stick for leading in a behind-the-scenes/top-down manner.
"There was not much faith in Labour among the drivers but a very determined mood all round. And we got a good hearing."
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 front line 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."
Bus drivers are kicking now but management are making threats of disciplinaries and sackings that affected some drivers. But very few buses left the garage, mostly to angry hoots of derision.
Roger Shrives and Susanna Farley
Longbridge Road, Barking
At 6 am an impressive 100 of the 400 workers at Longbridge Road bus garage in Barking were out on the picket line. 'It'll get bigger later' one worker commented, 'we are all coming down at our normal start time to join in.'
The picket included workers from all over the world, with lively discussion on Romania, the Lebanon, Libya and Egypt as well as the Olympic bonus! The mood of unity and solidarity was palpable. Every worker expressed their determination to win.
All explained their difficult working conditions. 'We don't just drive the buses', said one, 'in the course of a day we have to act as crowd controllers, social workers, and doctors according to our passengers' needs'.
Another explained, 'The buses are always crowded, but with a million more passengers they are going to be jammed to the rafters'.
Family and friends, pickets said, were supporting them down the line. 'My mum never swears', said one picket, 'but she is so furious about the way we are being treated that she was screaming blue murder last night'.
Others commented on how supportive the public were. One driver told the story of a passenger who started to complain loudly about how the strike would stop him getting to his workplace in Barkingside.
The driver said nothing but all the other passengers started to argue with him. As a result he got off at the next stop, miles before his workplace in Barkingside!
Lea Interchange, Leyton
100 strikers picketed the Lea Interchange bus depot, right next door to the Olympic site in east London.
Of the 800 workers at the site, 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.
They promised to send 'bus loads' of Unite members to the protest against the far right racist English Defence League in Waltham Forest in August.
Three copies of the Socialist were sold and 2 workers gave their details to find out more about the Socialist Party.
Sarah Wrack, Leytonstone Socialist Party
Bow, Tower Hamlets
We've been waiting for this strike for ages, said pickets at Bow bus garage, there are so many issues people are angry about. 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 £3400 a year.
Naomi Byron, Tower Hamlets Socialist Party
The picket line was one of the best organised I've seen, with over 70-80 pickets as well as an outdoor canteen and even a table for people to sign their names for strike pay.
Everyone was confident not a single bus would leave the garage today. When I asked if any buses had gone out today one of the pickets pointed to the closed garage door and said the only other time that door's been shut has been on Christmas Day.The only person "working" was the garage manager, who couldn't do much except complain about strikers parking their cars on bus garage property, and there being more than six pickets.
One of the bus drivers explained the problems that the Olympics organisers and bus companies are already having.
He had completed a test run for the Olympics on his route and it had taken an hour longer than it normally should and this is before all the extra traffic that is expected once the Olympics start..
This underlines the extra work and pressure that bus workers will face once the Olympics start.
Some drivers thought that the massive effect of today's action would make the employers think twice, but all were ready to come out for another day or more if needed. There was general public support with car drivers tooting their horns in support.
South Croydon bus garage
Over 50 Unite members mobilised on the picket line at South London bus garage. There was overwhelming support for the action and a worker driving a bus through the picket line was met with hoots of derision.
The information screens at Croydon bus stops indicated no bus arrivals and illustrated that the strike has been a resounding success in this part of South London.
Bus drivers eagerly took copies of our leaflet. They pointed out that they particularly deserve a bonus as they have face-to-face contact with members of the public.
They spoke of a culture of bullying by management with drivers often facing harsh disciplinary action and even dismissal for the most minor infractions.
They are also worried about further fragmentation of their service with rumours of a management buyout of their bus company.
South East London
The vast majority of buses in South East London are not moving!
At Catford bus garage fifty workers formed an angry picket line. Hardly any buses went out, and those that did, the strikers thought, were driven by 'The Workers of England Union', which far from being a trade union seems to be a scab outfit linked to the English Democrats.
The passing public gave loads of support, endless horns beeping from drivers 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 at on the same day".
The picket at Hackney central at lunchtime was really good - no buses on the road and a great atmosphere.
Strikers talked about the anti-trade union laws and class solidarity. They said the injuction was misreported, they think deliberately, as a sly move to trick drivers into coming in.
At least 80 to 100 on picket line at Streatham garage this morning in defiance of injunction.