There were lively and confident scenes on bus garage picket lines across London on Friday as workers in the Unite union struck for 24 hours to demand an Olympic bonus payment.
The strike is the first London-wide action since 1982. The workers want an extra £500 to cover increased workloads during the Olympics. Most other London transport workers have received a similar bonus, but the bus companies are refusing to pay out.
The strikes involve 17 of London’s 20 privatised bus operators. Three companies—Arriva the Shires, London General and Metroline—obtained a court injunction last night to stop their workers from striking. Unite says it will appeal.
Some 150 pickets gathered this morning at First Capital’s Lea Interchange site within a few hundred metres of the Olympic stadiums.
“This area will be bedlam during the Olympics—and so will London as a whole,” said Iqbal, one of the pickets. “We deserve a bonus. In fact, we deserve better pay all round!”
Strikers are determined to see a clear victory—and are excited by Unite’s decision to increase its claim for every day’s pay the workers lose by striking. “It’s a good idea,” said Ahmed. “Let’s be bold—we can bring the capital to a halt, judges or no judges.”
In Camberwell in south London there are two garages in sight of each other. Workers from London Central and Abellio bus companies lined the road.
At 5am managers were failing to convince workers to go into work. An abandoned bus sat a short distance down the road, left by the driver at the end of the previous shift.
One London Central worker told Socialist Worker, “The company bosses are doing fine—but they ignore us. People know how hard bus drivers worker and will support us.”
Samuel, an Abellio driver, added, “Either they’ll have to give everyone in London a car, or they’ll have to give us £500. That’s the only way they won’t have gridlock during the Olympics.”
Another driver spoke about the conditions workers faced. He said, “We have no toilet breaks and no meal breaks. Basically we’ve been shat on for years—and enough is enough.”
He added, “London needs buses. If you need to get to a hospital at 2am how will you get there? By bus. We should be treated with more respect.”
More than 70 pickets gathered outside Leyton bus garage in east London this morning. Unite activists told Socialist Worker that nobody had crossed the picket line.
“Privatisation chops us all up,” said one driver. “Before we were privatised we were all on one pay scale, but London’s bus drivers are on about 20 different pay scales now. They say you’re all different—Stagecoach, Arriva, First or whatever. Really we’re all one.”
Many drivers were outraged at a letter Stagecoach managers had sent them claiming that their pay deal already included an Olympics payment.
“It’s just not true,” said one striking worker. “After two years with a pay freeze we negotiated an increase that relied on us working an extra half hour a week. No one mentioned the Olympics till this.”
Another driver explained what working on the buses was like. “If I wasn’t on strike today, I’d be working seven days straight, 6am to 4.20pm, with two and a half hours in breaks.
“We’re expected to do two journeys before we take a break. That’s not easy—you’ve got to concentrate all the time even in heavy traffic. I’d like to see any of the journalists who sneer about what an easy job we have driving round do a week behind the wheel.”
Around a hundred pickets shut down the Arriva bus garage in Tottenham this morning. The strike was solid, uniting workers across grades and from all corners of the globe.
Pickets were furious that a judge had granted injunctions to stop strikes at three companies. “Who is this judge who says we can’t fight for our rights?” one demanded.
There was a mood for more action. A Unite rep said, “We are going to need more of this to shift the companies. We’re going to need at least one or two strikes to force them to pay the bonus.”
This call was echoed by Michael at Bow garage in east London. “We need to strike not just for one day but for weeks,” he told Socialist Worker. “If we struck on the opening ceremony of the Olympics then they’d have to listen.”