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London United bus drivers speak out ahead of this week’s strike: ‘wage offer is a joke’

London United bus drivers are striking on Friday and Saturday to demand a real cost-of-living pay rise. The drivers last month rejected an offer to pay less than the company’s two-year inflation rate of just 7.8%. Inflation is expected to hit 17% RPI by October, according to the National Institute for Economic and Social Research think tank.

Over 1,600 drivers will roll out of Fulwell, Hounslow, Hounslow Heath, Park Royal, Shepherd’s Bush, Stamford Brook and Tolworth garages. Unite members have so far rejected two below-inflation wage offers from London United, a subsidiary of French transport giant RATP.

While the business cried poor, RATP recorded £174million in profits in 2021 and received tens of millions in grants throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Its revised offer to drivers who risked their lives to operate the service during the lockdown was 3.6% in 2022 and 4.2% next year.

At Shepherd’s Bush Garage on Saturday, drivers condemned London United’s 7.8% two-year wage offer as “an insult”.

Shepherd’s Bush Garage in London [Photo by David Hillas / CC BY-SA 4.0]

A driver told the World Socialist Website, “The salary offer is a joke.” He supported the strike but explained, “I’m not unionized. When you look at that, it’s more like they’re on the company’s side than ours. When they talk to the company, it is as if they are sitting in front of the teacher.

He continued, “The company doesn’t care about us. For them, it’s all about profit. The temperature in the cabins today is over 41 degrees and there is no air conditioning. »

On Saturday, temperatures reached 37 degrees in London. At least 95% of London buses lack adequate air conditioning and drivers have protested in recent weeks, refusing to drive the faulty vehicles which pose a serious health and safety risk.

Another driver explained: “Even brand new buses don’t have AC power. We only have an electric fan, circulating the hot air. At some garages, including Abellio’s Battersea Garage, drivers have left their overheated vehicles on the side of the road, claiming their rights to a safe workplace under Section 44 of the Human Rights Act matter of employment.

David O’Sullivan, a Metroline bus driver who was fired in February 2021 for warning colleagues of an outbreak of COVID-19 infections at Cricklewood Garage, spoke to drivers in Shepherd’s Bush on Saturday. He explained how he was sacked for gross misconduct after he invoked his rights under Article 44. Unite’s acting representative had submitted falsified evidence against him to management.

David O’Sullivan (right) talks to a driver at Shepherd’s Bush Garage on Saturday [Photo: WSWS]

O’Sullivan was met with the wrath of drivers, who were scathing about Unite’s record of collusion with bus companies over deteriorating conditions and wages. A driver commented ironically: “I heard that once a year the company takes the union to a golf course.

Sharon Graham, general secretary of Unite, says her union is leading a London-wide fight for an anti-inflation pay rise. In reality, Unite is continuing its efforts to come to terms with bus operators and Transport for London (TfL), dividing bus workers company by company. Unite supports a patchwork of separate wage negotiations aimed at suppressing united action against operators.

Unite is staging a series of local protests against TfL’s plans to cut 16 bus routes and cut 78 others across London, a move that will hit the poor, elderly and disabled the hardest. The Unite protests, dominated by union officials and branches of the Labor Party, are an exercise in political damage control. They promoted Labor Mayor Sadiq Khan’s bogus ‘consultation survey’ which is being used to decide which services should be cut. The protests amount to a political amnesty for Khan, while Unite is cracking down on industrial action against the cuts.

This week’s action at London United will coincide with Friday’s one-day strike on the London Underground and a national railway strike on Saturday by members of Network Rail’s Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union and 14 railway operating companies. .

London tube workers are fighting the destruction of jobs, conditions and wages as Khan enforces cuts worth £2billion from the Johnson government. National railway workers are fighting against the Johnson government’s implementation of Great British Railways, a reprivatisation of the rail operating companies (TOCs) based on the cut of thousands of jobs and the overhaul of employment contracts in Network Rail and the OCD.

As railway workers show their determination to fight, the RMT and the train drivers’ union ASLEF are working to thwart a developing wave of strikes, ensuring that industrial action is divided along sectoral lines and limited one or two day demonstrations to prevent a political challenge to the Johnson government.

In Shepherd’s Bush, an engineer who will join the strike this week explained: “The cost of living crisis has affected us everywhere. Every day is harder to make ends meet, every day something increases, so how can we live on this salary?

“I spend £40 a week on petrol just to get to work. That’s a huge amount of money coming out of my salary, and this so-called pay rise won’t even cover that. Even basics like milk and other commodities have increased. What is the result? When will it stop?

“It seems that subway and railway drivers are making a change. Railroad workers seem to get what they want when they act, and we need to do the same. If we fight together, we will have a big, big, big impact. And then the government will have to do something about it.

“It’s a very difficult situation. Nobody listens to us. Labor is no longer the Labor Party and the unions no longer speak to us but speak to the bosses. Even the drivers are divided. Some of them left the Unite union to join other unions. Some of them don’t have any unions. We are all divided. Look at the weather conditions! We are still working on the bus. You have fans but they blow hot air. How is that human?

“I agree with the creation of a committee of drivers from the base. But we have to work hard to make it work. We are going on strike next week because we simply cannot live with this money. We need a change, we really do.

“TFL is having a hard time with these new all-electric buses with an advanced driver assistance system, which is very sensitive. When drivers touch the accelerator pedal, it responds immediately, going from 20 to 40 very quickly. But it is very difficult to quickly stop 12 and a half tons of buses. So there have been a lot of accidents, of which TFL is very quiet.

“It doesn’t help me when drivers tell me the hours they drive, it’s way too much. The conditions we face are all the same, and it’s going in the wrong direction.

“Now that the unions have woken up, all they want to do is talk, talk, talk and nothing good will come of it. I’ve been following the Facebook groups [of bus workers] but they all seem to be defending Sharon Graham, which hasn’t changed anything as far as I know.

“I agree with you about having a grassroots committee. But it must come from us because the unions do not defend us. I will read with interest all the strikes that take place. You say a general election should be called to fight back? That’s right, but a lot of drivers and other workers would have to get involved to do this. I would support that.