Socialist Worker

Two different signals ahead

Issue No. 1793

Rail Workers are taking strides forward in the battle for decent pay. But some companies are trying to tough out union action. Rail workers on Arriva were set to strike at the end of this week, and to be joined by strikers on the Tyne and Wear Metro next week.

Members of the Aslef and RMT unions on the Metro have called six strikes over the next six weeks, including on 7 May when the queen is due to open an extension on the line between Newcastle and Sunderland.

Activists in the RMT on Arriva are also considering striking on that day. Their management is upping the dispute through trying to intimidate guards and retail staff into ending the ongoing strikes over pay. At the same time National Express, which owns ScotRail, was in talks at the beginning of this week with unions over drivers' pay.

Strikes by drivers on ScotRail have hit the company hard. National Express has lost £1 million. The Aslef and RMT unions suspended strikes on ScotRail set for this week in return for the talks. The RMT also suspended strikes planned on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) in London after management came up with an improved offer that workers will now vote on.

But some train operating companies, with the backing of New Labour, are trying to tough out workers' calls for decent pay increases. 'Arriva management are trying similar tactics to South West Trains,' says Craig Johnson, chair of the RMT reps committee on Arriva.

'Managers are approaching individuals to try and get them to scab. They have banned rest day working, even though that means trains are cancelled on non-strike days. 'And they have removed facility time for union reps.'

That provocation has angered members of the RMT and TSSA union, who are also taking action. It needs to be met with a show of solidarity, to boost Arriva workers' confidence to take the kind of action that can break management.

'Everyone on Arriva needs to feel the support we've got,' one RMT member told Socialist Worker. 'Collections and backing from other trade unionists will have a real impact.'

Arriva management's actions are also a challenge to the RMT as a whole. There is a danger that if Arriva is not faced down then the growing mood for action by rail workers could be stalled. Avoiding that means strengthening the action on Arriva itself, and also linking up the disputes over pay on various parts of the network.

'If that means moving to more frequent strikes and arguing for solidarity from the drivers, then so be it,' says one retail worker on Arriva.

RAIL UNIONS were to discuss this week how to respond to moves by London Underground to weaken the agreement they won to protect jobs and safety if New Labour's PPP scheme goes ahead. The handover to private companies is due to happen in 11 weeks. Any action against London Underground would provide a focus for stopping the privatisation.

Send donations to Arriva strikers c/o RMT, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London NW1 1JB.

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Article information

Wed 27 Mar 2002, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1793
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