It’s taken 33 London bus drivers killed by COVID-19 for the government to recognise how vulnerable public services workers are.

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Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps told the nation it is our ‘Civic duty’ to avoid public transport

This comes far to late for the 33 London bus drivers killed by COVID-19. These public facing workers all died during the lockdown period while public transport was less frequently used.

Across TfL, a further 10 underground and railway staff have died. A veteran train driver said he feared infections will soar following Sunday night’s “phased exit” announced by the Johnson government, “Once the increase in passengers takes place, social distancing rules are impossible to maintain. The station and platform staff are already totally exposed. They will be mixing within inches of hundreds of people.”

In a perfunctory statement issued by Transport for London (TfL), Transport Commissioner Mike Brown described the deaths as “an absolute tragedy,” claiming that TfL was doing “everything we can to provide support.” But the actions of TfL, the Conservative government of Boris Johnson, Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan, and the private bus and rail operators are deliberately sacrificing the lives of transport workers. The same profit-driven policies are being enforced by governments and transport corporations across the globe.

More than nine weeks after the World Health Organisation declared a global pandemic, London bus drivers say they are being treated as an “expendable commodity.”

Already, London bus drivers are reporting increased passenger numbers. At Cricklewood and elsewhere, patience is running out, “We should stop all buses and get all cabs isolated. What’s the point of all the cleaning and taping off if the driver you’re taking over from is infected? They should test all drivers. I like my job, but why should my life be at risk to do it? We, the carbon-based life forms behind the steering wheel, are not mere diesel which you burn and get more.”

“We need to make sure we defend the lives of the ones at the wheel, now and tomorrow,” his colleague agreed. “This means organising ourselves in each garage, and across garages and companies, to safeguard our very lives.”

The fight for rank-and-file committees must begin at every garage. These must link up with rail and underground workers across the UK, seeking out the active support and cooperation of transport workers in Europe and internationally.

Drivers’ lives must not be sacrificed to defend the profits of the major transport corporations or the homicidal back-to-work policies of the Johnson government! Every driver’s life is precious! Not a single bus should depart without comprehensive safety measures in place. The Socialist Equality Party advances the following demands:

  • Full PPE for every driver, including masks, gloves, sanitiser, and disinfectant wipes, provided on a daily basis in line with drivers’ needs.
  • The full sealing of the drivers’ cabins and installation of air filtration systems in all buses.
  • Full nightly deep cleaning of buses and effective anti-viral cleaning after every “rounder”.
  • All drivers to be informed as soon as any new case of COVID-19 is confirmed at their garage.
  • Full contact tracing at all garages, along with regular testing for all drivers and garage staff.
  • Immediate self-isolation on full pay for all drivers experiencing illness or symptoms of COVID-19. Self-isolation on full pay for all at-risk drivers with underlying medical conditions.
  • Strict social distancing to be introduced on all buses with immediate effect, including a 15-passenger limit on double-deckers and 7 passengers for a single deck bus.
  • The introduction of shorter shifts on full pay to protect drivers’ health and decrease exposure to the virus. The practice of long shifts that damage drivers’ health must be immediately ended.

These measures cannot be realised through the trade unions—whether UNITE, RMT or ASLEF—or through appeals to the Tories, Labour, Greens, or Liberal Democrats which are all paid defenders of the financial oligarchy. The working class can only defend its most basic rights through the methods of class struggle and the fight for socialism. The public transport corporations must be placed under public ownership and their wealth seized as part of the fight for a workers’ government. This means the construction of a new revolutionary leadership in the working class.

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