Why Bob Crow and the bus drivers are right to strike

Morning Star editor Richard Bagley explains why his friends at the RMT are justified in striking for a £500 Olympic bonus

I think it’s disgusting that bus drivers are given the right to strike.

Actually I don’t, but that’s precisely the loopy sentiment promoted by the London Evening Standard in its reports on the last walkout across the capital. (Incidentally, the newspaper’s owner, the oligarch Alexander Lebedev, has an estimated wealth of £2bn.)

As always the tired old rhetoric of ransom and greed was wheeled out to pan the 20,000 drivers who walked. Though that number doesn’t include those at three firms banned by a last-ditch injunction granted over a possible breach of anti-union laws - Britain’s most ridiculous undemocratic and convoluted red tape.

Greed? That’s Lebedev and his billions, it’s dodgy Bob Diamond and his estimated £95 million bank balance, or Mayor Boris de Pfeffel Johnson and his reported £5,000-a-week Daily Telegraph column, plus £2,700 a week for his day job.

What is not greedy is asking for a mere £17 extra a day to ferry around 800,000 confused visitors rammed into the capital’s buses in the summer heat.

Some of these Games tourists will end up supping on Olympic Park beer at £7.23 a pint. Now that’s really being held to ransom.

These dusty old clichés peddled by the London Evening Standard would be comical if they weren’t so offensive to their readers’ intelligence.

Media reports on trade unionists often read like a horror-comic strip aimed at money-obsessed types afraid they’ll have to hand over a few quid, and the self-absorbed middle classes, most of whom have probably never even met - heaven forbid - a real-life one.

If these Georginas and Tristans have particularly limited attention spans they may even think there’s a species of dinosaur called Trade Unionosaurus Rex.

This comic strip consists of sinister baddies ordering around armies of the unwashed to do their evil bidding. Such as getting a decent wage, sick pay or rights to toilet breaks.

Rail, Maritime and Transport Union general secretary Bob Crow is wheeled out as a bogeyman to scare the children.

He’s an easy target; a working-class accent, a Millwall fan with a shaved head, someone who shoots from the hip and isn’t afraid to voice his socialist politics.

But this comic book depiction is just that. “Poppycock!” as de Pfeffel might bluster between pay cheques.

“The seven top TfL managers got Olympic payouts totalling £560,000”

The reality of course is that union members from all walks of life elect their general secretaries, who act as a kind of CEO. A union has a network of officials who are there to voice their members’ concerns and anger when employers are too incompetent, stingy, greedy or plain aggressive to engage.

The pattern of London’s bus strike - by members of the Unite union not RMT - reflects precisely this.

That a dispute has broken out so close to the Olympics is a sign that somebody has got things very wrong at Transport for London and its subcontractors.

Could it be that in allocating all the hundreds of millions splashed on the Games no-one fought the corner of the people actually expected to keep London moving?

Or was it that the only individuals considered worthy of reward were the seven top TfL managers with Olympic payouts totalling £560,000?

Whatever the case, the transport firms which operate buses and trains around the capital for TfL racked up £2bn profit at the last count. The gap between employees and employer is a mere £6m.

So the call from bus drivers for a one-off few hundred quid to bring them in line with other transport workers, including “Boris Bikes” operators who won a £500 payout this week, is chicken feed.

It’s clear the cash is there. The worst it would do to bridge the gap is put these firms’ sums out a bit. The upside for them is that it may help dampen down industrial flames which will likely grow larger after the Olympic Torch has left East London.

The bottom line is: people don’t vote for strike action in percentages numbering the mid-90s unless there’s a lot of anger.

“Ah,” cry the Witchfinder Generals, “but what was the turnout?”

Thirty-eight per cent on a postal vote, precisely the turnout that decided the London mayoralty - and while we’re at it Johnson was some way off that big nine-o approval rating too.

In any case, it’s clear that most of London’s bus drivers voted with their feet, if not all of them via their ballot papers.

They’re likely to do it again, too, whether the legal screws are tightened or not. That’s the new mood in austerity-for-some-of-us Britain.

It’s also the price that shortsighted employers pay for only seeing their shareholders’ interests and mistaking whom it is who really brings home the bacon.

Richard Bagley is editor of the Morning Star newspaper, Britain’s foremost socialist newspaper

Readers' comments (4)

  • Anonymous

    Very poorly written and poorly argued article - The title was: Why Bob Crow and the bus drivers are right to strike? Your answer essentially comes down to because it’s only £17 extra a day and because of 800,000 visitors using the busses. Then you jump straight into the hypocritical "tired old rhetoric" that you denounce which is because Lebedev, Bob Diamond etc are very rich and that some people are paid more. Well the rest of us are not like these people.

    Yet you don’t put the case as to why essentially bus drivers should get an extra £17 a day for driving what is effectively 40 extra people i.e. 800,000 Visitors / 20,000 Drivers. Although not an exact science that works out at £0.425 extra per passenger. You don’t mention whether the 800,000 is per day or for the 2 weeks in which case assuming that the £17 is for 2 weeks it amounts to £238 in which case it amounts to £5.95 per passenger.

    Furthermore your article states "800,000 confused passengers rammed into the capital’s busses in summer heat.” First it’s a supposition that there will be 800,000 passengers and that they are confused and that all of them will use the bus – not to mention that there will be summer heat. I don’t know if you have been in England recently but we haven’t quite had the heat that you speak of with both May and June being the wettest on record.

    But essentially your article does not explore the fact that the money has to come from somewhere and it doesn’t wash with us the Tax payers that Bus Drivers should get paid extra for doing well their job. Perhaps you could cite some examples of bus drivers being paid less when fewer passengers are on a bus? Perhaps you can explain why potentially rest of us should have to suffer or possibly have to pay for 20,000 drivers £17.00 for 14 days or more at a cost of almost £5 million?

    I’m sure that the likes of ordinary people in London don’t get an Olympic bonus and yet you defend bus drivers, who undoubtedly useful, I don’t think are more deserving than anyone else. So perhaps you could explain to all Londoner why other than the fact that the “ Morning Star editor explains why his friends at the RMT are justified” then please justify the £17.00 demand.

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  • What a balanced view expressed here; a chip on each shoulder! By the way how much does Mr Bagley get for his Editorship per annum? more than than the poor downtrodden bus driver, I'll warrant! I am a Director (one of the self-absorbed middle class, apparently) and we have been struggling along for the last 5 years at the same salary, whilst working much harder for it! When the Olympics are on we will suffer the disruption to our business without any recompense, so my sympathy for the bus driver who is being asked to do the job that he is paid for is wearing a bit thin! . Please don't patronise us with your hypocritical sob stories.

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  • I dont work for a newspaper and I do indeed find it disgusting and greedy for a group of people to hold london to ransom for the sake of a extra £500 based on the logic "they get it so should we"
    I work in security and i leave the house at 5.20am and get home at 9pm and goto sleep at 10pm and i do this for 7days. Other security companys pay staff £3 more per hour to do the same I dont complain because thats what i signed up to do just like bus drivers. When they strike i have to walk the last part of my journey which adds a extra hour.
    What about the people that cant walk that are old or disabled what about them what do they do? All for a lousy £500 that they dont even deserve. very disgusted to say the least. If they are not happy in their jobs they could do us all a favour and leave and give the job to someone who will do it without greed. If it was a option sack all that strike. I would be fired if i decided not to turn up to work.

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  • I think it's a good thing that Bob Crow persuades the RMT to strike and promotes his cause widely. He reminds the public how selfish and destructive the hard left can be, and that such unions appointed Ed Milliband and are Labour's paymasters.

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