The 12 December issue of Busworkers Punch headlined the wage settlement at Metroline which drivers accepted on 13 December as ‘union sell-out on Metroline’. I beg to disagree. The hourly rate at Metroline going into the dispute was £10.33 an hour; the union asked for £11.00, 6.5%, and achieved 5.75%, £10.93, just 7p short of their claim. That can only be seen as a victory, and it is rightly seen as this in the London bus unions and the wider Labour movement.
The strike was called off on Monday 20 November was because there was a real possibility that Metroline would be successful in getting a court injunction which would have forced a reballot (as East London have just done) and this could have postponed the process until February and could have derailed the struggle. The deal arising from the emergency negotiations following the rejection of the previous offer on Friday 17th was strongly influenced by this but it was a bad offer that conceded the £11.00 and £14.23 at weekends but cut all overtime rates to the basic. Remember that although the negotiations are conducted by the RIO and Convenor the shop stewards decide on recommending or rejecting the package and, of course, the membership have the final say.
The stewards agreed to put the offer to the membership without recommendation after eleven exhausting hours of negotiating. This was a mistake and most of them will have learned from it. The fightback of the membership will have proved to them that they must learn to read that mood a bit better. However the outcome was that the militancy of the drivers removed the doubts, the majority of the stewards regained faith in the membership, this rejection strengthened their hand in the next negotiations and forced a very good deal after that offer was so overwhelmingly rejected. Because they relied on the membership and not on doing the company’s bidding, unlike the previous regime which Harry Foley dominated, the mistake was easily recovered.
We could charge that the pay claim was too low, but that too was democratically arrived at. We could claim that issues around the sick pay and pensions schemes were not included but we can tackle those in this year’s pay claim. Metroline are proposing to wind-up their final salary pension scheme in February, it was closed to new entrants several years ago. The revamped money purchase scheme is almost a year in the gestation, with the result that new entrants have been refused in that period and garages like Thorpes and Armchair have not had a pension scheme at all in that period. An offer to backdate company contributions to match drivers contributions is unfair because many drivers will not be able to affords a full years contributions in March when the scheme is now due to operate.
Metroline had not been on strike for fourteen years, the strike seven years ago was in Centrewest where the issue was bewildering number of rates paid to drivers, eighteen in all in the biggest garage, Westbourne Park. Much had been lost in those fourteen years in terms of work conditions and the respect with which driver are treated by management. It was that frustration that produced the militancy on the picket lines, not just the pay issue. They wanted to kick them hard, now that the boot was on the other foot, in order to restore some of that lost respect. Issues that lead to frustration are the very inadequate sick pay scheme, the way drivers who fall ill are treated, the way those who are assaulted are treated and the general attitude of supervisors and managers to those who encounter domestic difficulty. Naked profit motives fuels an intrusive and often callous attitude. For instance when a driver is sick for more than two weeks he is called in or visited and immediately told that ‘long term sickness can put your job at risk’. This happens even of the drivers have been assaulted on duty through no fault of their own.
The 5.75%, over double the rate of inflation, comes on top of a very good deal last year, 10.9% on the basic. Although this incorporate the QIC and TfL bonuses this was good because the QIC bonus was a performance bonus which accrued only to some routes and was therefore divisive. It is true that London busworkers will not regain the standards they had back in 1992 until they organise to wield the strength of the London fleet and overcome the divisions imposed by competitive tendering and privatisation but we have begun well.
Comradely Tony Fox