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London Bus drivers win Gold in Olympic bonus dispute

In a dramatic turn of events on the eve of the second London bus strike, the employers appear to have conceded.  Clearly the private bus operators and Tory Mayor Boris Johnson’s Transport for London feared yet another gridlock from yet another strike.

According to a report in the Evening Standard, Unite, the drivers’ union, has been offered either “£583 for every employee of every bus company” or “£700, on top of their existing salaries, if they worked shifts on 24 of the 29 days of the Olympic and Paralympic Games”.

But this second offer would only be awarded to those workers who were affected by the Games and worked, rather than all employees, which would obviously not include West London workers for instance and could be divisive.

As this report goes live, there remains confusion on the ground. Unite’s website has not been updated; reps have not been told any details; the third strike date, scheduled for 24 July, has not been cancelled. Dave, a bus driver from Camberwell garage, told Workers Power that he thought extra money from TfL might also be on offer.

 

Victory for militancy

What is clear though is that this amounts to a tremendous victory and a vindication of Unite drivers’ militant tactics.

Last month’s one day bus strike was a smash hit. Unite’s 17,000 drivers, controllers and staff brought London to a grinding halt. TV, radio and the press couldn’t fail to show the chaos that ensues when the workers who make the red double deckers run turn off their engines.

For once they couldn’t make up tales about drivers breaking picket lines or angry passengers cursing strikers. Why? Because those very few scabs who broke ranks could barely move due to overcrowding. And because Londoner after Londoner told reporters that they SUPPORTED the strikers!

And what picket lines they were: 50, 60, 70 drivers out with flags, loud hailers and placards from 3am till dusk. At Camberwell, drivers physically blocked scabs trying to bring out a few buses.

If this wasn’t enough to convince the miserly bus bosses, then they must have got the fright of their lives when Unite FLYING PICKETS visited the garages of the four companies that secured a court injunction against the strike and stopped the buses on 40 routes for several hours.

These tactics were entirely necessary because the officials were not keen to press home their advantage. Tomorrow’s strike was a full two weeks after the original walkout and was not to be repeated until the 24th – just three days before the games.

Why string out the strike dates like this? It allows the bosses time to run to the courts and obtain more injunctions – another seven companies were queuing up to get court orders this afternoon until they withdrew as part of the new offer.

Better to strike while the iron is hot – threatening them with an all out indefinite strike if they do not quickly concede. And Unite should simply defy the courts if some toff in a wig tries to order them back to work.

 

Forward to a united pay campaign

However, this is a time for celebration. A hard fought battle has proved swiftly won. But straight after the Olympics, a new campaign should be launched to equalise pay and conditions across the private sector up to the level of the best in the capital.

Drivers should demand that other grievances are satisfactorily dealt with now, while they have the upper hand. For example, they should demand that every terminal point has decent toilets for a start, so drivers don’t have to stop their buses to go in supermarkets!

The best way to get such a campaign going is for drivers in every garage to elect a strike committee to prepare for battle and for there to be an all-London strike committee with delegates from every garage to lead the campaign. This way we can make the £583 permanent!

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