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From The Socialist newspaper, 11 July 2012

London bus workers discuss new offer: "militant strike action pays"

A London bus worker

London bus workers have been fighting for payment for extra work during the Olympics with joint strike action, the first for many decades.

For too long London bus workers have been seen as a soft touch by the bosses. Our militant traditions became ancient history.

In 1994 privatisation meant the then Tory government let firms buy up a public service cheaply. Since then 100 millions have gone to these profiteers in public subsidy annually. They thought effective trade unionism was dead. In fact it's just reawakening.

In some ways the mood of bus workers never changed. We've always thought public services shouldn't be run for private profit. The supervisors and even most garage managers saw privatisation as a bad move.

Yet the sell-off happened - with no opposition from many garage union reps and company convenors. And a full time T&G (the union before merger in Unite) bus official was rewarded with a senior managerial position in one of these companies.

Despite the remaining high level of unionisation, reps were elected who failed to pursue the best interests of members. Many new reps became isolated and frustrated.

Members work long hours in unsocial shifts so they find it extremely difficult to get active. For years there has been seething anger in the garages both with bullying management and the apparent impotence of the union leaders. A minority left the union in frustration.

There are particular difficulties in organising across 20 separate bus firms in London. But the recent tremendous 94% vote for strike action over pay during the Olympics gave a big impetus. Unite's organising department have helped build confidence on the picket lines.

These developments have quickly unleashed the fighting spirit of bus workers. This mood will influence other sectors of Unite and other workers in the capital and beyond.

The important thing now is to build strong active union branches in all the garages. We need branches that meet regularly and keep members informed.

As we go to press, Unite has had a firm offer from the bus companies. Garage meetings are being held, followed by a consultative ballot in all the workplaces on 17 July.

The detailed implications of the offer are still being discussed by the workers. But a short time ago the employers were refusing even to speak to our union.

Clearly militant strike action does have an important impact because the bosses have been forced to blink first and make some concessions.

However bus workers will have to be vigilant against the dangers of any strings being attached.

Mass meetings should be organised to test whether the mood is there to fight for further concessions.

Whatever the outcome, this dispute has opened a new chapter in the history of bus workers' trade unionism and paved the way for rebuilding our industrial strength.

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