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London Bus strike shakes bosses and Boris

Today’s strike saw hundreds of bus drivers from 17 companies putting on some of the biggest and most militant pickets seen in recent years.

Up to 25,000 drivers are on strike, demanding an equal share of the £500 Olympic bonus given to transport workers to compensate for the extra workload expected during the games.

Despite the courts caving in once again to the bosses and banning strikes at three companies, many garages were completely shut – with flying pickets actively blockading the handful of scab buses which dared to break the strike.

We handed out leaflets to the public explaining the reasons for the strike and insisting that bus drivers should be treated equally. We spoke to many union members who said the strike was about ‘fairness’ – but also that it would teach the bosses a lesson and give drivers a stronger position in upcoming pay negotiations.

A garage in Peckham was shut with all drivers out and 15 drivers joining the union by 7am.

In Camberwell, dozens of young drivers were in no mood to take any more abuse from passengers, scabs or police.

We spoke to Unite member, Jerome, who said “Finally we’ll get some respect – this’ll show ‘em we won’t take anymore shit for doing our jobs” His colleague chipped in demanding to know “What are the police doing here helping keep buses moving, it ain’t right.”

Our conversation ended as two dozen drivers dashed across the junction to block three scab buses, dangerously overloaded with passengers. Standing in front of the buses, opening the engine compartments and putting their point across to passengers’ who abused them, the drivers were in a defiant mood – refusing to move for police who declared their picket ‘illegal’.

The one sour note was the struck by the news that a ‘union’ called ‘Workers of England’ set up by far right English Democrats  had driven 15 buses out of Bexleyheath depot. This is a threat which should be taken seriously.

The repeated failures of Unite leaders to defend their members’ against worsening conditions and victimisation of militants plays into the hands of the far right and anti-union elements.

The main message that the drivers were determined to put across was that the strike was about ‘fairness, equality and respect”.

With the night shift due to take over pickets later this afternoon, many strikers said they thought that this was only a skirmish in a wider struggle against attacks on pay, pensions and regimented working conditions.

As Tony from one south London depot said “when I started in the ‘80s the buses used to be a good job, but privatisation has just made things get worse and worse. I used to have a final salary pension, now my pension’s not worth the paper it’s written on.”

And on the so-called ‘Workers of England’ scabs, Tony said the far right have an opening because of the failure of the moderate Unite leaders to fight. But he pointed to the picket line and said: “look at this, black, white, African, Eastern European, straight, gay – it’s a Nazi’s nightmare”.

So there’s plenty to fight for, and with a show of strength like we’ve seen today, we can be confident that bus drivers are capable of going on the offensive and fighting to win.

Building networks among the rank-and-file, co-ordinating with the engineers and auxiliary staff and electing workplace reps, London’s 28,000 bus drivers can start to campaign for a fighting union, under democratic control which fights in the best interests of its members and can build a fightback against Boris and the bosses.
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