Signallers in Scotland and maintenance workers in Cumbria were set to strike on Friday this week. The Scottish signallers had been denied a bonus for striking to defend an agreement over working hours that the company had reneged on.
Maintenance workers in Cumbria had been scapegoated over the Grayrigg crash – the fatal accident last February when a Virgin train was derailed by broken points, killing one person and injuring more than 20.
The RMT union is also balloting all its 15,000 Network Rail members after the company initially said the issues at the heart of the disputes were not negotiable.
Talks over all these questions were continuing as Socialist Worker went to press.
These strikes were part of the discussion at the RMT conference held in Edinburgh last week, which raised many important questions.
It was agreed that any action to be taken on a national basis at Network Rail should be coordinated with the CWU and PCS unions.
A particularly emotive debate at the conference took place around the Tebay incident in 2004 where four RMT members were killed by a runaway trolley. To this day investigations remain incomplete and delegates heard of similar near-miss incidents.
Conference also discussed an emergency resolution from the London Underground engineering branch about the imposition of new rule books on London Underground, as reported in Socialist Worker recently.
A vote to restart the dispute was lost by a single vote. The dispute was derailed by the union when management threatened the RMT with legal action for a leaflet that it believed induced members to take unofficial industrial action.
This was untrue. The debate highlighted that while we are proud to be in the forefront in fighting for extending rights through the Trade Union Freedom Bill, at some point the law will have to be tested.
International guest speaker Jack Heyman from the ILWU union in the US spoke of the role of workers in the fight against the “war on terror”.
He showed a clip of workers meeting an anti-war picket line at the docks in San Fransico where military shipments were to be sent to Iraq in 2003.
A union official used safety procedures to advise members not to cross the picket line.
Workers interviewed on film showed their solidarity by getting in their cars and driving home.