Solidarity with the Arriva bus drivers!
Arriva bus drivers organised in Unite the Union held a 48-hour strike from Monday 28 March at the garages in Croydon, Thornton Heath, and Norwood in south London. Socialist Appeal supporters from Croydon visited the picket line at the Norwood garage to find out more about their struggle.
The picket line had a strong turnout of over 50 drivers on both days, closing down the services from those garages almost entirely. This is a good demonstration of the drivers’ level of organisation, determination, and strength.
The bosses had initially presented the workers with a miserly 1.5% pay increase, which once inflation is taken into account means at least a 5% pay cut. But after years of below inflation pay rises, and inflation set to smash living standards further, this was the final straw for these workers.
One worker told us that when this offer was presented to them, they heard that one of the other garages was thinking of accepting the offer. So, this worker took an initiative.
They baked some cakes and took them to their colleagues at that other garage. They explained that their garage would be rejecting the offer, that they were confident about successful strike action. They therefore asked their colleagues to consider following suit.
A WhatsApp group was organised across the union in the various garages. Despite this worker being escorted off site by the Arriva management, in the end all the garages acted in a united manner to reject the 1.5% offer and to vote for the strike action. The exception was Brixton Bus garage, which was denied the right to come out on strike by a legal technicality.
This is an inspiring example of the role that leadership can play in uniting the struggle when a few rank-and-file workers take the initiative!
The workers who we spoke to were also talking about other strikes going on, showing a general interest in the wider struggle, and the wider political problems, such as privatisation, corruption and the profit motive.
Some of the drivers have been doing the job long enough to remember when all London transport workers were paid according to standardised rates.
One driver made the point that privatisation under Thatcher and Blair was more than just a way of syphoning public money into the profits of corrupt businessmen and politicians. It was also a way of dividing up or ‘deregulating’ the pay grades of the workers across London’s transport services. By doing so, it became easier to divide the struggle:
“If we could all ballot for strikes and negotiate our pay along with the underground workers, we would be too strong, and we could demand what we like. Instead, when they [tube drivers] go on strike, we pick up the slack”.
We interviewed one driver, who wished to remain anonymous, who gave a great insight into the class consciousness that exists on the picket lines, the appetite that exists for real change, and the desire for their unions to push for broader, united, and coordinated strike action:
Socialist Appeal: So, why are you here today?
Arriva Bus Driver: I’m here to try and achieve a better standard of living.
SA: What’s the current demand that you are asking of Arriva?
ABD: To increase their offer from 1.5% and to link it in line with the inflation rates.
SA: So is it 5% that you are asking for?
ABD: Well, thereabouts. But this is still based on last year’s demands, which has escalated into the situation we are in here today. Because after 12 months they still haven’t increased it.
SA: This is your last day of scheduled strike action. If they don’t meet your demands today, would you be in favour of more strike action?
ABD: Yes, we will have to continue. We can’t give up the fight. We have to survive. What’s the sense in not achieving what the whole agenda is, and ending up back in the same situation where we can’t survive?
SA: OK, so what can people do to support your struggle, and what do you think that you, as the workers, and the union need to do, to change your conditions in the long term?
ABD: Well, basically people have to understand that we’re all in the same boat regardless. Whether we’re bus drivers, or retail workers, or whatever industry we’re in, we have to survive. And there’s a struggle. And if we don’t unite, in a sense, then we’ll all perish somewhere along the line. We’ll feel the pinch, so to speak.
The unions themselves… basically have to live up to their names and be united. We can’t just have one section on strike and the rest of the country just carrying on with their business. No. We’re all in the same boat as I said, so we’ve got to get together.
Unions have to live up to their unity. Unite everybody, to achieve change.
SA: So united strike action, for the full strength of the working class?
ABD: Of course! The working class are the ones that make the wheels go round, in everything that we do. And so, without a working class there can be no society.
SA: Thanks a lot… powerful message… good luck and solidarity!
After all their work and sacrifice during the pandemic, these key workers are refusing to be taken for granted anymore! They have our full support.
The Arriva drivers’ struggle is an inspiration to workers everywhere. With energy bills about to skyrocket, and food prices going through the roof, the only way to combat the cost of living catastrophe is through militant strike action that hits the bosses where it hurts – their profits.
The trade unions have a vital role to play in leading this struggle. The time has come to coordinate the many isolated disputes taking place into a powerful united movement – against the bosses, against the Tory government who represent them, and against capitalism itself.
Solidarity with striking workers everywhere, who are leading the fight against this rotten system.