RAIL WORKERS on two major companies are stepping up strike action over pay and looking to coordinate their disputes. Drivers in the Aslef and RMT unions on First North Western (FNW) are to strike for 48 hours every weekend from now until the end of November. Guards and station staff in the RMT on Arriva Trains Northern struck for the 19th time on Saturday. Action by both groups of workers will hit services across the whole of the north of England.
One RMT retail staff rep on Arriva told a strike rally in Newcastle on Saturday, 'We are going to have to up the ante. Some of the members I represent are on £9,000 a year. The government says the average house price in Newcastle is £100,000. We are asking for fairness. It is clear Arriva management are out to smash the union. They have banned union reps from using facilities.'
Arriva have already suspended and downgraded an RMT rep at Leeds station. He was accused of 'intimidation' on a picket line. The person who made a complaint had walked into work through the picket line 30 minutes before the alleged incident is supposed to have taken place.
'The union will not settle this dispute until everyone who has been victimised by this company is reinstated to their original job without loss of pay,' RMT assistant general secretary Pat Sikorski told the strike rally. He went on to outline moves to up the Arriva dispute. These included the possibility of calling strikes alongside FNW.
The RMT is also proceeding towards a national dispute with two dozen train operating companies over the safety role of guards. There is now a growing feeling among union activists that with management at Arriva and FNW taking a hard line it is time for national strike action.
Arriva workers have already called a strike for Saturday 2 November to tie up with a rally of public sector workers in Newcastle called by the Public Sector Alliance. Trade unionists from public sector unions, such as firefighters, lecturers and council workers, came to last Saturday's Arriva strike rally.
Kenny Bell, branch secretary of Newcastle City Unison union branch, told Socialist Worker, 'If you look at the next few weeks you can see how battles by different groups of workers can come together. It's important to be building solidarity now and creating connections between the battles.'
A driver on FNW says, 'This is now a serious fight. 'The company is deadly serious about taking us on and imposing unacceptable working conditions. We are escalating our action. We also need united action between the Aslef and RMT unions not only here but across the network.'
Solidarity is vital. It is a step to building up union organisation across the rail industry. The train operating companies are not acting alone. They have the blessing of the government's Strategic Rail Authority. And government ministers have made no secret of the fact that they would like to severely weaken the RMT union.
RMT general secretary Bob Crow is a key figure among the new generation of left union leaders who are challenging New Labour.