Labour’s Khan forced back on London bus cuts

Now fight to stop all cuts and give drivers a decent pay rise

by Andy Beadle, South East London Socialist Party, retired London bus driver

Widespread anger at proposed cuts to London bus services has forced a partial retreat by the Labour Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and Transport for London (TfL).

The General Secretary of Unite the Union, Sharon Graham, explained the partial U-turn was forced by campaigns led by bus workers and local communities. But, she said: “This is ultimately a disappointing decision. The fact that TfL is going ahead with 22% of cuts [indicated in June] still means a reduction in jobs and will mean that passengers will have to contend with services that are less frequent, slower and more expensive.”

London bus protest at Finsbury Park.
Photo: Amnon Cohen

The climbdown will be funded by taking an extra £25 million every year from “unallocated reserves”. So why not use the reserves to stop all the bus cuts?

Ominously, Khan echoed Tory ministers saying the choice will mean “tough decisions” in the future, and suggested the reserves might otherwise have been earmarked for projects like youth services. But “tough decisions” must not mean redirecting cuts at other Londoners.

As Onay Kasab, Unite’s national lead bus officer, said at the August rally in defence of London’s public transport: “The problem is, there is lots of money, the wrong people have it, and they’ve got too much of it.”

He outlined Unite’s policy: “No-cuts budgets, plug immediate gaps with borrowing while the Labour-led GLA [Greater London Authority] joins with the trade unions and the communities to fight for the necessary funding.”

The Tory government first announced withdrawal of all subsidy to TfL seven years ago, making it the only capital city transport system in the world without state aid. Outgoing London mayor Boris Johnson was happy to pass on this inheritance to his successor.

The Covid-19 pandemic saw a drastic decline in passenger numbers and diminishing TfL revenues. The government was obliged to step in to relieve many public services. But the then prime minister Boris Johnson used the bailout to demand further cuts to TfL, which Khan meekly accepted.

Khan should have publicly fought this Tory negligence from the outset and helped organise a mass campaign to return the looted subsidy. Rather than build a campaign alongside the trade unions to fight for the necessary funding, he has chosen to take the axe to TfL jobs, pay, terms and conditions, and now faces strikes on the buses, Underground, Overground and Woolwich Ferry.

Like Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, Khan is not on the side of workers and the trade unions, the only difference being that Khan is currently in office. The actions of the Labour-run GLA give a flavour of what to expect from a possible future Labour government — more austerity. Workers need politicians prepared to fight alongside the trade unions for the funding our services need. That’s why Socialist Party members stood in the last GLA elections as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, alongside trade union activists in Unite, RMT and others, making a stand in preparation for the development of a new mass working-class party to fight in our interests.

See also: London bus drivers strike for pay rises