Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/412/4691
London bus workers reject pay offer
SEVENTY PERCENT of TGWU drivers at London General buses voted for industrial action in a ballot on 14 October. Overall, workers at the five garages at the south-west London firm voted by 618 to 270 for action.
A London bus driver
This result follows two previous ballots where the garage reps recommended acceptance of a two-year pay deal. The first time members rejected it by 96 votes. Then members were re-balloted because it was felt they had not understood the offer. The second rejection was by 429 votes!
London General is owned by public transport conglomerate Go-Ahead, which also owns London Central buses. Pay for all London bus workers was slashed before privatisation in the mid-1990s. But London General workers fell further behind their colleagues after a management buyout and before Go-Ahead took over.
Now London General drivers are around £35 a week worse off than their brothers and sisters at London Central - who in turn are about £50 behind Stagecoach.
This explains the growing mood of anger, especially at the bigger garages, Merton and Stockwell. The two-year offer represented a rise of about £24 a week the first year and less the second.
Whilst these figures won't seem bad to some workers, London bus workers have seen significant increases in recent years, although they're still well below the standards of the 1970-1980s. Bus firms have anticipated the growing revolt and have passed on a fraction of their huge state subsidy to stave off the inevitable.
After the second rejection of the two-year offer, management effectively imposed a slightly worse one-year arrangement. This has undermined the cosy relationship between the company and union, which has existed for years. The union has been forced to stand up to this aggression, which is only a continuation of the bullying management style bus workers face every day.
A huge contradiction exists in the London bus industry. On the one hand TGWU membership stands at around 90%. On the other is the lack of active participation in the union, coupled with constant grumbling about the job in garage canteens. After a long period of peaceful co-existence between bosses and workers (apparent, not real) things could be starting to change.
Meanwhile at London Central this week, drivers are re-balloting on their deal after turning it down by a single vote recently. Central and General between them run around one in six of the capital's red buses. This work is concentrated south of the Thames.
Our problem is with management, not with our passengers. Although most of our passengers may never seem to notice us, south Londoners certainly will notice if we're not there.
Stoke bus drivers' strike
FOUR HUNDRED First Bus drivers, members of the TGWU, staged their second 24-hour strike across North Staffordshire and South Cheshire on 14 October. Again it was solid and not one bus moved.
The strike took place after the company's latest "substantially improved offer" was rejected. Drivers were offered the £8 an hour that they are demanding but not until November 2006. They would also lose £400 back pay and face a £35 a week pay cut through changes in rosters!
This "offer" has incensed drivers on the picket line and has only strengthened their determination to increase the pressure on First Bus bosses. Further strikes will go ahead on 22 and 24 October and the following Saturday and Monday.
First Bus say that they cannot afford to pay £8 an hour but they are losing around £100,000 every strike day. Workers on the picket line are rightly demanding to know why they should be paid less than drivers in other parts of the country. £1.5 billion of public money is being used to subsidise private bus companies every year.
If First Bus are so certain they can't afford to pay up, they should open their books to show workers where all the profits are going.
Privatisation has resulted only in enriching the new bus company owners and their shareholders, whilst the service has deteriorated.
Before privatisation, bus drivers earned 7% above the average male earnings, now they are 13 % below it. As a result of low wages, anti-social shift patterns and worsening conditions, there is a huge shortage of drivers.
In The Socialist 20 October 2005: