After threatening to strike in order to defend themselves from ‘remote sign-on’, bus drivers working for Metroline in London have declared victory, with the employers backing down from their plans.
The company’s ‘remote sign-on’ proposals would have forced drivers to meet buses along their routes, rather than going to a depot to sign in, as is currently done.
According to Unite the Union, who organises the workers, such a change would have amounted to a 7% pay cut for drivers, as they are only paid for time spent actually driving their vehicles.
In addition, there would be no way to check if a driver was in a fit state to begin work, raising safety fears.
Strike and struggle
A strong, determined response from the workers soon stopped this scheme dead in its tracks. As we reported at the time, Unite members working for Metroline Travel returned a 97% ballot in favour of strike action, while workers at Metroline West returned a ballot of 96% in favour.
More than 4,000 London bus drivers are to begin a series of strikes, in response to Metroline’s attempts to introduce ‘remote sign-on’. The labour movement must offer its solidarity, and fight for public ownership and control of the network. #Unite https://t.co/oinOpZWyOg— Socialist Appeal (@socialist_app) May 24, 2021
Such determination amongst the rank and file is what caused the bosses to back down.
If the dispute had gone ahead, it could have developed along the lines of the struggle in Manchester, where battling bus drivers at Go North West fought off an attempt by the bosses to use ‘fire-and-rehire’ tactics to decimate their pay. This fight was won last month as a result of union members engaging in the country’s longest continuous bus strike to date.
Metroline will no doubt have been very keen to avoid such a struggle emerging in their own backyard.
War not over
The battle is won – but the war may yet resume. Metroline bosses have agreed to scrap attempts to implement remote sign-on until 31 December 2022. But there is no guarantee that they won’t try to find a way around this limit, or to circumvent the union’s demand that they be consulted if it ever reemerges.
The capitalists’ need to secure profit has not gone away. And the bosses will always try to renege on any agreement they’re forced to make.
Nevertheless, this is a victory for the drivers – one that has demonstrated the power workers hold when they stand together and make their demands heard collectively.
The next step for Unite and the rest of the labour movement should be to go on the offensive – organising unified militant action against bosses, as part of a programme of action, to ensure that workers’ struggles are not fought in isolation.
Ultimately, only by putting transport and the other key levers of the economy under public ownership and workers’ control can we end profiteering for good. Victories like the one at Metroline are an important step along the road to this goal.