Metroline London bus workers win huge victory

London bus, photo Graham Richardson (Creative Commons)

London bus, photo Graham Richardson (Creative Commons)   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Socialist Party members in Unite

Bus workers employed by Metroline in London have won a tremendous victory in the battle against the imposition of ‘remote sign-on’ (RSO).

The company had intended to introduce trials of the measure, which the union warned had huge pay and safety implications, as well as representing the beginning of the ‘Uberisation’ of the job.

The campaign had already secured a six-month moratorium on the introduction of RSO while a review took place. However, the Unite union warned that the remit of the review appeared to be more about how it should be introduced than whether it should be introduced at all.

The union issued notice for strike action, leading to further talks, following which a proposal was hammered out. This proposal was then discussed by shop stewards who agreed to put the proposal to the members. The proposal means no introduction of RSO, either on current or future contracts or routes. This will remain in place until 31 December 2022, following which, if the employer wishes to revisit the issue, it must consult with Unite.

Garage-by-garage consultation was undertaken, with the result that over 70% of members voted to accept. This is a huge victory. Before the campaign instigated by Unite, the employer was preparing to roll out trials of RSO. Now the campaign has highlighted the dangers of the measure, the union will work to build campaigns against RSO in bus companies across the London and the Eastern Region.

The campaign, like the Go North West bus campaign victory in Manchester, successfully combined an industrial action campaign with an organising and leverage campaign, with organisers from executive officer Sharon Graham’s department working with the regional officer, local reps and activists.

This victory, along with the recent RATP bus workers’ campaign, shows what can be done when Unite stands in a militant campaign with bus workers.

There are, of course, those who will have wanted to take strike action in order to give this employer a bloody nose regardless. This is understandable.

Employers can make such promises whenever they wish – only to recant later. It is not the law that holds employers to account – it is collective, industrial strength. This is what has taken the matter off the agenda for the immediate future, and what will stop it after 2022 as well. The employer knows that Unite is ready and prepared to take action if RSO is ever back on the agenda.

The campaign will also inspire workers at other companies across the region. This is a campaign that was democratically discussed and decided on from the start – often with sharp exchanges about tactics. This was no sell-out. Decisions were not made by full-time union officials. They were made by democratically elected lay reps and the final decision was made via a democratic workplace ballot.

There can be no question. This is a huge victory for bus workers. This is a huge step toward a wider industry-wide campaign against RSO. This is yet another Unite victory on the buses which must be used to inspire and organise bus workers.