Bus drivers in London are back on strike after failed talks, Unjum Mirza and Yonas Makoni report from the picket lines
Hounslow garage – Unjum Mirza
Unite the union bus drivers at RATP subsidiary, London United resumed strike action today downing tools for 48 hours. Last week’s strike was suspended in goodwill for ‘peace talks’ in an endeavour to secure a settlement in the dispute.
The dispute centres on the increasingly familiar pattern of an employer using Covid as cover to attack conditions and pay.
Following four days of talks, RATP failed to make a serious offer on pay – outstanding since 2019 – and sought to introduce new contract clauses.
RATP have an annual turnover in excess of 5 billion euros and its London-based chief executive, Christine Chardon, saw her pay dramatically increased from £196,000 to £363,000.
Unite Rep at Hounslow, Ian May explained:
“The pay offer is a derisory 0.5% from 2019 and 1.2% for 2020. No bonus, even though we’ve worked throughout the pandemic. The company is pushing new contracts on new employees. They’re trying to get us to agree to terms and conditions that we’ve never been consulted on in the first place. So it’s almost like a fire and re-hire situation in that it’s gonna leave us £2,500 a year worse off and the Company is using Covid as an excuse”
Fulwell garage – Yonas Makoni
RATP bus drivers were back out on strike at Fulwell Garage on Wednesday after talks broke down between the company and Unite. Last week, RATP agreed to engage in meaningful talks about their initial pay offer on the condition that the strikes were called off. According to one striking driver, RATP’s refusal to commit to any changes to the pay offer in writing led to Unite resuming the strikes again this week.
The workers are being offered a 1.5% pay rise, i.e. a real-terms pay cut, and are facing attacks on terms and conditions that could see them lose much more than this. While the workers were confident in their cause and knew that they had the support of the community, there was an air of demoralisation about the protracted struggle. “At the moment, the morale is pretty low”, said one worker, adding, “I hate coming into work now, it’s like living under a cloud. We just want this to end.”
“But if we give in to any of their demands, we’ll be opening the floodgates. Everything we have now has been the result of 20 years of struggle. If we give up now, it’ll be like rolling the clock back to 1990”.
“We’re feeling more determined than ever.”
Turn sympathy into solidarity
The strike continues tomorrow on 1st April on the very day British Gas CEO Chris O’Shea threatens to sack striking British Gas engineers for refusing to sign up to new contracts and a 15% pay cut in a bitter dispute over fire and re-hire.
An immediate lesson to draw for every trade unionist is that we must not allow any workers in struggle be isolated. Solidarity is the bedrock of trade unionism. We have a duty to demonstrate that solidarity on the picket lines and through financial donations collected at our branches and in our workplaces.
On 1 April at 9am, the strikers will meet at Fulwell Garage and travel around the different picket lines in a ‘battle bus’. After this, they will strike again on the 7th and 15th. We need to support them as much as possible.
Please pass this model motion at your local trade union branch/CLP/trades council.
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