The RMT union has suspended strikes that were planned on South West Trains (SWT) for this week. The decision was taken on Friday of last week to allow RMT acting general secretary Vernon Hince to approach SWT management for talks over pay. A further meeting of the union's national executive was to take place this Wednesday. It was to consider reinstating action if the company had not made any serious moves to end the dispute.
The battle on SWT is at a crucial stage. There is still deep anger over pay among the 2,500 non-drivers in the RMT. At the same time SWT and its owner, Brian Souter, have upped the stakes with their strikebreaking threats and claims that they are prepared to sack strikers. That has increased bitterness among RMT members and also left them crying out for a clear lead from the union.
RMT reps called for the suspension of strikes and for talks partly to expose management's claims that they were 'being unreasonable'. It might do that. But SWT has already shown its arrogance in imposing a paltry pay offer. The danger is that suspending the action will be taken by management as a sign of weakness.
In fact the union is in a strong position to win a clear-cut victory over pay and the victimisation of union activists. SWT lost £1.5 million a day during the previous six days of strike action. The New Labour government and other train operating companies are standing behind Souter. But they also fear a growing revolt across the rail network. None of the train operating companies are in a position to withstand a serious continuous strike-including SWT, whose managers have been run ragged on strike days.
The government would face a political crisis if confronted with national action. There are already strike ballots, or moves to ballot, on Silverlink, Tyne and Wear Metro and Connex South East, and pressure for action on other lines. The two 48-hour strikes on Arriva Northern have thrown the company onto the defensive. It is retreating over disciplinaries against drivers in the Aslef union under the threat of a strike ballot.
Drivers on ScotRail are voting to strike over pay. London Underground has upped its pay offer to drivers to 5.7 percent to try to head off a strike.
SWT is relying on scare tactics, backed by the media, to intimidate its workers. Arriva management tried the same thing. It backfired when union activists systematically organised in every depot to counter management's lies.
Technical staff, members of the TSSA rail union, working for the GTRM rail company have been voting over whether to take action.
This indicative vote will show if there is support for a ballot for industrial action over the company's restructuring package.