Strike over safety is put on hold
By Hassan Mahamdallie
SIGNAL WORKERS across Britain have narrowly voted for strikes. Union leaders have responded by putting on hold any action. The 4,000 signal staff are employed by the privatised Railtrack company. Workers voted 1,595 in favour of strikes, with 1,352 voting against. The turnout was very high at nearly 75 percent. The narrowness of the margin for strikes reflects the lack of campaigning on the ground by the signal workers' RMT union leadership.
Although general secretary Jimmy Knapp called for a yes vote, that was virtually the limit of the campaign. Many signal workers are isolated, and are prey to Railtrack and newspapers' propaganda.
"We should still strike," said one signal worker after hearing that Knapp had called for "a joint working party" with Railtrack. At the heart of the dispute between Railtrack and the signal workers' RMT union are the issues of pay, conditions and- crucially-safety. Signal workers have seen their pay and conditions fall behind other rail workers in the past few years.
Nor does their pay take into account the critical safety aspect of their job. They get paid much less than air traffic controllers. Since rail privatisation Railtrack has squeezed more and more productivity out of signal workers, but has not upped their pay to go with that. The RMT also wants to see improvements in the "areas of night working, bank holiday working and annual leave".
Railtrack has brushed aside such demands, despite racking up profits of around �350 million for this year. Railtrack is offering just 3 percent on basic rates, plus a further 2 percent. The extra 4 percent Railtrack is talking about is for past productivity.
The Sun recently attacked the RMT in the run-up to the ballot, saying that "signal workers and supervisors earn between �22,000 and �33,000 a year". In fact, only top managers could earn anything like �33,000. Signal workers start on a basic �11,261.
Compare this to policemen in London who will now start on over �22,000. Railtrack chief executive Gerald Corbett is on a "basic" of �7,600 A WEEK. Signal workers' pay is so low that they are forced to do lots of overtime to make ends meet. This is particularly true of workers with families or those living in London.
The strength of feeling is so great that signal workers recently voted by a three to one majority to reject Railtrack's latest offer. But the real sticking point is over the question of hours and safety. Many other rail workers have already achieved a 35 hour week. But Railtrack is only offering signal workers the mere promise of a 36 hour week.
Quite rightly union negotiators are saying they want a written guarantee that Railtrack will implement a 35 hour week now. This issue of safety is of crucial importance to rail workers and passengers alike.
Socialist Worker has seen a signal worker's roster that shows him working ELEVEN days in a row. The 11 are made up of four day shifts, followed without a break by seven consecutive night shifts.
RAILTRACK workers are up in arms after finding that their bosses are sitting on a �175,000 disaster fund set up in response to the Pad dington disaster. The money was donated by the workforce and matched pound for pound by the company, and was supposed to be for the hospitals that treated victims of the crash.
Yet not a penny has been allocated, and the company is hoarding the interest. Paddington survivor Pam Warren told the Mirror, "This is typical of Railtrack. All they do is look after number one. "They never accepted responsibility for what happened and their whole attitude is to try and bury their heads in the sand and hope it goes away. I appreciate the sympathies of the staff, but I'm certainly not surprised that Railtrack hasn't handed it over."
Why I'm going to Marxism
'I stood as a London Socialist Alliance candidate for the Greater London Assembly elections. Whenever I met with people in the SWP they were always so excited about the Marxism event.
When I saw the brochure myself I was excited that there were lots of juicy meetings that I'd like to go to-especially on the Russian Revolution. I'm also looking forward to meeting other socialists there.'
- JEAN KYSOW