by Joe Thorne
More than 40 pickets were stood at the gates of the Hackney Community Transport (HCT) bus depot this morning. Playing football, waving flags and milling about on Ash Grove, off Mare St, the strikers are amongst the worst treated workers on London buses.
Contrary to what some may assume, not all London bus drivers are on the same terms and conditions. HCT drivers are on £11.52 an hour, lower than most bus drivers. And they get no extra pay for overtime or unsociable hours. The company is offering a derisory 2.25%, while union members want to see wages and conditions brought more into line with those of other bus drivers in the capital.
Roger Dillon, a Unite official, spoke to the workers. He told them that striking meant they had a right to respect from themselves, from the company – and from bus drivers across London. He said that many had seen what was going on, and had phoned into the Unite offices asking to be balloted for action themselves. He talked about how some members had defied intimidation from the company to go on strike. Dillon also talked revealing about how frequently bus drivers get abuse from a minority of members of the public: it clearly made drivers uncertain of public solidarity. We need to show bus drivers that they do have solidarity!
Pickets were very aware of the need to build coordinated action across London, to equalise terms and conditions. This strike narrowly avoided coordinating with action at First Centre West and First Capital East, who were on strike last weekend. Laws around ballot timings and notice periods had apparently made coordination difficult. But this only strengthens the need for workers to push for a common approach; a single agreement covering all London bus companies – of the sort that was achieved to a limited extent in the union’s Justice for Cleaners campaign. While workers are on different conditions they will always remain divided.
The tube workers are another group with whom action should be coordinated: a united bus and tube strike would clearly be incredibly powerful. An example of the sort of solidarity we need was given as a CWU member from the local Emma St delivery office refused to cross the picket line and deliver mail. Stewards and other workers in transport should meet to discuss building joint action. As for HCT workers, if the company does not provide a better offer, new dates for action will be set.