by Amy Jackson
Today, tubes and trains across London are cramming in yet more passengers, cycle lanes are cluttered and pavements are crowded with more pedestrians than usual, as bus users are forced to find alternative ways to get to work. Only 3 bus companies are operational, as London bus workers in seventeen bus companies go out on strike.
The industrial action has gone ahead despite attempts to block it by a high court injunction, which the drivers’ union, Unite, branded an ‘affront to democracy.’
As some who lives in London, I am all too aware of the chaos that transport strikes bring. They make travelling in London even more stressful than usual, and in turn, Londoners even more grumpy than they normally are. But, for all the inconvenience, the strike is worth it. Here’s why:
- It is estimated that six million people will be visiting London for the Games. This will put huge pressure on the transport system and it is perfectly reasonable that transport workers are rewarded for fairly for their efforts.
- Tube and train drivers have already been promised at least a £500 bonus for the Olympics, why should bus drivers be left out?
- This strike is a last resort. TfL and the bus companies refused to even meet with bus drivers until the 11th hour, despite repeated requests for meetings from Unite and the workforce.
- Billions of pounds have been spent on the Olympics and personal fortunes have been made out of lucrative contracts. It is unfair that bus drivers, crucial to the success of the Games, are denied a mere £17.24 extra a day.
- The top 7 executives at TfL will be awarded an £80,000 bonus each after the Olympic Games, and yet they have condemned bus drivers for asking for £500 – less than one per cent of their huge bonuses.
- Bus drivers are not expecting the bonus for ‘free’. A visit to any tube station will show you that Londoners are being encouraged to walk and cycle to work as the strain on the transport system will be so great. London already copes with a huge number of visitors each day, but the numbers flocking to the city for the Games are unprecedented. TfL are expecting at least 800,000 extra people to be using buses.
- Of the 21,000 drivers balloted , 97% of them backed industrial action. This is workers demonstrating their right to withdraw labour, and despite the transport problems caused, the right to strike is fundamental to democracy and should be respected.
- The bus operators have collectively made over £2 billion in profits according to their latest annual accounts. Unite’s regional secretary for London, Peter Kavanagh said, ”Despite the huge profits bus operators have given their workers three years of below inflation pay increases or pay freezes. If the operators shirk their responsibilities now they will sow the seeds of massive anger and frustration across the bus network inevitably leading to strife and industrial action during and way beyond the Olympic Games.”
Of course, people travelling daily in London tend not to have the collective patience of a saint, and this dispute needs to be resolved. The strike should act as a wake up call to the bus companies and TfL to get round the table and negotiate meaningfully about rewarding bus workers for their indispensable role in the Olympics. After all, it’s only fair.