Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/773/17088
The costs of privatisation - to the workforce
A London bus driver
Buses were deregulated and privatised in 1986 across the UK apart from London and Northern Ireland. Thatcher and her ministers were concerned about London for two reasons.
One was the potential strength and resistance of bus workers and their union - at that time known as the Transport and General Workers' Union.
The other was the potential chaos that such a move could cause to the capital's public transport.
When London buses were eventually privatised in 1994-5, a regulator, Transport for London, was brought in to oversee and control bus operations.
The private firms were untroubled by this supervision as it was accompanied by a colossal subsidy.
Meanwhile the 'problem' of the strong union had been resolved, in some of the darkest days in union history.
Many London bus workers resisted privatisation heroically. But they were gradually undermined by some union leaders who personally benefitted from management favours and inducements to slacken their resistance. One full time union official ended up as a senior manager!
Before privatisation our pay was better than tube drivers. In the run up to privatisation pay rates were reduced by about a third in return for one-off payments. This made private ownership a much more attractive option.
Pay never recovered
Pay since privatisation varies across firms but it has never recovered. A few years ago the annual pay rounds clawed back a bit of what we'd lost but like most workers in recent times we've seen pay stagnate.
A Unite press release at the time of the strike last year said: "The average salary of a London Bus driver is £28,600. A tube driver's average salary is £42,424."
Immediately after privatisation we faced further losses. Hardly anyone who started since then will have a final salary pension.
London Transport had a whole network of sports clubs and societies to join. On the fringes of the capital were big recreational venues with acres of space such as Langley Park in Beckenham and Osterley.
You could use the football or cricket pitches, play a round of golf or just go for a quiet drink. All that disappeared overnight.
The whole atmosphere has changed. Nowadays some garages don't even have a canteen. Where there are canteen staff, they work for a low-wage, outsourced cowboy company with no decent pension - not even a staff travel pass.
You will hardly find anyone in a bus depot - including managers and supervisors - who agrees that public services should be in the hands of profit-making private companies.
This is the weak point of Unite. It still gives money to Labour whose ultra capitalist policies only benefit the very rich. Let's dump Labour and help build a new mass workers' party that really represents us.
In The Socialist 10 July 2013:
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Socialist Party workplace news
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