Striking during the Olympics?

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Bus workers in London met today to discuss their campaign to win a bonus payment for the additional workload they will face during the Olympic games, when London has to deal with several million more toursists even than the summer norm. As busworkers are only too well aware, London Underground staff have been offered £850 for increased shift during the Games; and Network Rail staff £500, while Docklands Light Railway employees will receive up to £2,500 each.

Busworkers are seeking the relatively modest sum of just £500. A recent indicative ballot saw 90 percent of those polled supporting action. Their union Unite union now plans to move to a formal ballot. London’s dozen or so private bus companies have made no-counter; indeed they have gone so far as to refuse even to negotiate over the issue.

The industrial context is that in 2007-2008 the bus workers balloted for strike and voted by large majorities to strike, but the employers were obtained in the High Court injunctions to prevent strikes happening; afterwards, a number of union reps were dismissed and the employers no doubt congratulated themselves on having permanently defeated the bus drivers. But if they did think that was the end of the protests, the employers were wrong. Busworkers have a very long history of union organisation, which secured for them in the past above average wages (their semi-official history is titled, revealingly, ‘Radical Aristocrats’). Thirty years without strikes has seen a sharp decline in their pay levels compared to comparable workers, such as tube drivers. It is apparent to any bus worker with a sense of the history of their profession that strikes have improved their pay and conditions,while  an unwillingness to strike  has seen their conditions worsen.

The meeting heard solidarity greetings from Egyptian busworkers, who have struck repeatedly since the revolution of  2011, and recently won a strike resulting in improved lump sum payments on retirement. The message itself can be accessed here (click “cc” for the subtitles, translating Ahmad Mahmoud Ahmad’s words into English).

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