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All aboard for London Bus strike

Photo: Paul Mattsson

BUS DRIVERS in the capital are to ballot for strike action in pursuit of a £500 Olympic bonus to compensate for the 800,000 extra passengers expected during the summer Games.

The mental stress and physical strain (the extra work of the engine in a jam-packed bus jars the drivers’ back) of working extra hours in this period needs to be rewarded financially. This is a totally just claim.

Tube workers have already been promised £500-£1,200 in bonuses in recognition of their efforts to make the Games run smoothly. Yet Mayor Boris Johnson has accused the drivers of “using their positions to lever more money out of London’s transport budget”.

What a hypocrite! Johnson spent £11.37 million on just eight Routemaster buses as a pre-election gimmick this year, yet he denies bonuses to 28,000 drivers, which would cost £14 million.

Behind the jokes and the soundbites, Johnson is just another anti-working class Tory.

In truth, the drivers are the only group of transport workers not being offered any bonus for the Olympics.

The drivers’ union, Unite, has already conducted an indicative ballot, in which 90 per cent supported strike action on a 50 per cent turnout – a tremendous mandate for action.


Action and demands

But as yet, the union has failed to announce an official ballot. Why? Even if officials are using the threat of strike action to sharpen their negotiating tools, they need to take the next step and organise a real ballot – otherwise the bosses will simply drag their feet and continue to refuse to negotiate.

Since the last cross-London bus strike in 2008, pay and conditions have deteriorated badly. Pay has fallen behind inflation every year, while there is an alarming new trend to pay new drivers just £9.50 an hour – far below the going rate of £12 or more.

The danger is now that, after the Olympics, when there will be a “surplus” of drivers, the bosses will keep on the new and cheaper ones, and find excuses to sack the more experienced workers. Victimisation, like the sacking of Unite convenor Abdul Omer at Sovereign, is rife across the sector.

So bus drivers need to get organised and make sure that they take charge of their dispute and do not allow Unite officials to delay, limit or call off the action, like they did in 2008.

Strike committees should be elected in each garage and delegates from each come together in a single, all-London strike leadership. They alone should decide when to strike and for how long – all-out and stay out if necessary.


Equal pay for equal work

Bus drivers should also ask themselves why they are only demanding £500 when they could win so much more.

Instead of the current “race to the bottom” they should reinstate their old claim from 2008: £30,000 for a 38-hour week across all companies.

The Olympics provides an excellent opportunity to fight back against some of the most vicious employers in London.

But the drivers themselves need to take it with both hands if they are to steer the dispute to victory.

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