Drivers at privatised London bus company Metroline are campaigning against new exploitative measures that look to impose worse conditions on workers. The labour movement must support the bus drivers in their struggle.

Drivers at privatised London bus company Metroline are campaigning against new exploitative measures that look to impose worse conditions on workers. The labour movement must support the bus drivers in their struggle.

Unite has recently started a campaign opposing an attack on bus drivers by Metroline bosses.

Metroline, a greater London bus company, is threatening to introduce ‘remote sign on’ – a cost cutting technique that forces bus drivers to begin and end their shifts at a random location, instead of a bus depot.

This means no safety checks to ensure that the driver is fit to drive; no toilet, rest or canteen facilities; no shelter from harsh weather; less protection against COVID-19 when travelling to a random location; and longer driving and travel periods, leading to increased fatigue and associated health problems.

No worker should put up with these miserable and avoidable conditions. Placing this extra strain on bus drivers – who have put their own lives on the line in order to keep services running during the pandemic – also puts passengers at risk.

Bus drivers and other essential workers have rightly been applauded and celebrated as heroes by our communities. But the bosses would happily put them out in the cold.

Cynical profiteering

Coronavirus VaccineWhy is Metroline considering this move now?

As ever, this is a reflection of the capitalists’ insatiable appetite for profits. The capitalist system forces competing bosses to try to squeeze as much profit out of their workforce as possible. And privatised bus companies are no exception to this.

At the same time, the Tory government’s mismanagement of the crisis is leading to mass redundancies. Many workers therefore feel unable to fight back against further exploitation, for fear of being fired and replaced. And the bosses have no qualms about taking advantage of such fears and insecurities.

But if the bus drivers are united and have confidence, they can win. In reality, it is the working class who keep society running. If all of us stopped working, society would grind to a halt. If organised, therefore, workers have immense power. 

Unite members of Metroline West and Metroline Travel have voted by 99 and 98 percent respectively to oppose remote sign on; and workers are being urged not to volunteer for this new measure.

The bus drivers can see clearly that this is a cynical attempt to increase the company’s profits at the expense of their own health and wellbeing.

Militant action

Nationalisation privatisation railwaysThese same union members are now being balloted for industrial action. Supporting such action – not just through words, but on picket lines – will be crucial, to give striking workers confidence and resolve in their struggle against ruthless bosses.

Labour movement activists must join forces to show solidarity with the bus drivers. We call on the Labour Party and the rest of the labour movement to unambiguously side with the striking bus drivers against Metroline, and against other such attacks in the future.

As part of this, Labour and the unions must demand that all privatised transport companies be brought under public ownership and workers’ control. This should be linked to a socialist programme involving nationalisation of the big banks and major monopolies, in order to invest in new infrastructure and fund free transport for all.

This latest battle shows that, as long as the profit system persists, the same battles for fair pay and decent working conditions will have to be fought again and again by workers. Only by fighting for a society based on needs, not profits, can we put an end to exploitation once and for all.