Socialist Worker

Bosses had to start at 4am

by Kevin Ovenden
Issue No. 1917

Different grades and nationalities joined the RMT picket line at Waterloo

Different grades and nationalities joined the RMT picket line at Waterloo

THE RMT rail union is escalating action on Eurostar following a successful one-day strike by customer service staff at the company.

Eurostar bosses were clearly riled by the strike on bank holiday Saturday.

Managers, who had planned a nice weekend away, had to come in as early as 4am in an effort to break the strike.

“It’s really nice to see them having to do what we have to day in day out,” said one picket at the Waterloo terminal.

She did not want to be named for fear of reprisals from the company—and no wonder. All morning pickets and their supporters faced a barrage of intimidation from the management.

Managers followed pickets around and tried to stop them going into Waterloo station, which is not Eurostar property, to get tea and coffee or to go to the toilet.

The company called British Transport Police, who informed a group of pickets there had been reports of “intimidation” of people going to work.

When pressed, no details were forthcoming.

“I don’t care what the company claims,” said one striker, “The fact they are behaving like this shows we’ve got under their skin.”

Another striker added, “This is the first strike by customer service staff at Eurostar.

“We have put up with an awful lot over the years. And now it finally feels good to be standing up for ourselves.

“The issue is pay. But it’s also about not being treated fairly or with respect.”

Eurostar workers also feel strongly about the unfairness which means the wages for two people doing the same job can be as much as £4,000 different.

“There are also differences over travel concessions,” says one striker.

“I’ve been in the industry since before privatisation, so I get the old-style discounts on the tube and rail network.

“Newer people don’t get that. The differences in pay and concessions have been used to keep us separate.

“The great thing about this strike—the first I’ve ever been involved in—is that it has brought people together.

“Because you are required to have a second language to work here, there are many workers, a majority in fact, who are not British. It’s really good we’ve united.”

“We’ve got the old and the new here,” said one striker. “Many of us have only recently joined the RMT.

“We’ve done so because it is a union that is sticking up for its members.

“It’s not true that younger workers aren’t interested in unions. We are interested in a union whose reps are interested in us.”

That was visible on the picket line on Saturday.

Young workers who had taken part in the French school students’ strike a few years ago mingled easily with established RMT union activists from Eurostar’s depot and other sections.

The union is now to ballot other sections over the issue of discriminatory travel concessions and over office workers’ hours.

“This has been a really successful strike by a section of workers the company thought was weak,” says Simon Litchfield, a senior RMT union rep at Eurostar.

“The company has refused to negotiate with us, so we are looking to step up the dispute.

“People have had enough of having to give up more and more.”

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Article information

Sat 4 Sep 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1917
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