Standing up to media and management: London bus strike reports

Pickets at Shepherd's Bush. Photo: Steve Eason
Pickets at Shepherd’s Bush. Photo: Steve Eason

27,000 bus drivers across London took another day of strike action today in their campaign for a single pay rate across the 18 different companies that operate London’s buses. There were reports of widespread disruption, and traffic analysis from TomTom Traffic said there were 1,511 miles of tailbacks across Greater London this morning, compared to the average total of 440 miles for a Thursday morning.

Different pay scales across companies can mean a difference of £3 per hour for workers doing the same job. Transport for London (TfL) also puts the contracts out to tender every 5 years meaning companies compete to get the cheapest deal.  This also makes it difficult to negotiate when unions have 18 companies to enter discussions with. The demands of today are for one pay deal and central negotiations for it.

Unite have produced a response to an open letter to passengers from the managing director of TfL, in which he argued that higher wages would mean higher fares. The reality, they point out, is that “Bus fares have risen by two thirds since 2008 while bus driver wages have fallen in real terms.” And the money is there: “The combined profits of London’s bus operators topped £171.7 million according to latest figures.”

  • The next day of strike action will be 13th February. You can send a message of solidarity to London’s bus workers using this link, but support in person on the next round of pickets will also be extremely valuable.
Pickets braving the snow in Westbourne Park. Photo: Steve Eason.
Pickets braving the snow in Westbourne Park. Photo: Steve Eason.

Picket Line Reports:

Raymond reports from Wood Green:

Bus drivers have been faced with a barrage of attacks and propaganda from management and the media following last week’s successful strike. Preston, the Unite convenor for Arriva buses in North London said that he was quietly confident that the strike would be better supported this week. There were at least 20 pickets at Wood Green garage in North London early this morning. Nothing was moving out of the garage.

Pete Kavanagh, London and Eastern Unite Regional Secretary addressed the picket line. He said that TfL are lying outright, claiming that there are different rates of pay because drivers drive different types of buses. “To anyone who does the job, this is clearly nonsense. Drivers have the same qualifications, do the same training and do the same job, so pay should reflect this. TfL are engaged in a race to the bottom and we need to stop them. My advice to drivers and there’s only a few drivers here scabbing, is that we need to speak to them and win them round. We have done this successfully during previous strikes. Unite will throw everything at this strike. Our general secretary, Len McCluskey is visiting picket lines this morning. Thanks for the magnificent support here this morning.”

Adam reports from Hackney:

Pakoras on the picket line! There was a real party atmosphere at the Clapton Bus depot in Hackney today. Not only were the braziers burning brightly, but so were the barbecues, with the “best Kebabs in Hackney,” as one Unite member called them as he cooked up a meaty treat in traditional Kurdish/Turkish ocakbasi style. There were also Pakoras and Bhajis cooking in deep-fat gee and a brilliant turnout – not to mention the fabulous aromas.

The barbecue at Clapton. Photo: Adam DC.
The barbecue at Clapton. Photo: Adam DC.

It was great to see all the buses lined up in the garage forecourt like big red sausages ready for the fire! And outside blocking the entrance to the station was a solid showing of around 50 staff enjoying the food, chatting together and receiving solidarity and cheers from passers by. Cyclists who rang bells in support were given a great cheer from the striking bus workers.

Estelle reports from Brixton:

There were freezing cold picket lines at Brixton bus garage this morning. Strikers were worried, but solid and determined when it comes to the next strike days.

Regan reports from Putney:

A unite rep warmly thanked me for the messages of support that had been emailed to him on the last strike day. He was confident that todays strike was as successful as the first strike. Other drivers said that the management tactic of keeping buses away from the garage, where the scabs would have to pass the pickets, had little effect. One of the drivers that worked during the last strike had been persuaded to strike this time.

Police had been present at the picket for the whole day after management had been unprepared for pickets delaying buses leaving the garage on the morning of the first strike day. Confidence among the drivers is high as we discussed the impact of the strike across the busiest routes across London. Some drivers with over 30 years experience spoke of how pay and conditions had deteriorated over the years and how an equal pay rate across London was a principle worth fighting for. Losing pay because of the strike was the right sacrifice to make because they would all gain in the long term.

A discussion about financial hardship for drivers possibly effecting the willingness to strike with 2 more strike days scheduled wasn’t seen as problem. Pickets felt that the union would support members with genuine hardship. My suggestion that collecting money from other workers might help wouldn’t make a difference. The drivers that had worked would probably work anyway. Speaking about how to try and get those drivers to join the strike led to more discussion. There was a feeling that the drivers that hadn’t joined the strike were only seeing things in the short term, some of them are Polish. A driver pointed to another picket, who was there with us, who is also Polish. We discussed whether the striking Polish drivers could help to win around the others. It seemed like a good way to help strengthen the strike further.
Another driver had been scanning his smart phone to see news reports about the strike. He told me how TfL claims about the strike were being repeated by the media. But he had a good experience of changing a passengers hostility to the strike when he got a chance to explain the bus drivers case to them.

To keep a bit warmer a well prepared driver shared out some hot, homemade Carribean style soup. It was a great symbol of how ethnic and cultural difference mix on London’s buses. No wonder UKIP do so badly here!

Pickets in Brixton. Photo: Estelle Cooch
Pickets in Brixton. Photo: Estelle Cooch


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