ARRIVA TRAINS Northern workers reached a decisive stage in their long-running pay fight last weekend. They struck for the 18th time on Saturday. The action by 650 guards was again solid, and Arriva management again arrogantly dismissed it.
Station staff, including members of the 'moderate' TSSA union, also struck. 'We have been in a war of attrition since January,' said one RMT union rep at a strike rally in Sheffield. 'The government is clearly helping Arriva. 'We are now looking at how to decisively up the pressure on the company.' The call by Arriva union reps for escalating action deserves support from the whole of the RMT and other workers.
Pat Sikorski, assistant general secretary of the RMT, told strikers, 'The union nationally is not going to walk away from this dispute just because it has gone on for a long time.
'Your case is just. Other train operating companies are looking at what happens on Arriva, and will use the same divide and rule tactics if they can.' He said the union aims to make the strike a rallying point across the labour movement. Arriva workers are to collect at the TUC conference and speak at a fringe meeting.
They are also going to take their case to Labour Party conference delegates. Ragged Arriva has banned rest day working for guards, forcing train cancellations on non-strike days. The government-appointed Strategic Rail Authority has waived fines on the company.
The company is losing money, and the strikes have run managers ragged. But it wants to face down the union. As a publicity stunt Arriva came up with an offer before last week's strikes. It was worse than the one that triggered the dispute - just £210 a year extra in return for accepting 15 productivity items. The company has threatened reps with the sack if they talk to the press. It is also trying to discipline a rep in Leeds.
'It's now a battle of wills,' one Arriva union rep told Socialist Worker. 'We've got to up the pressure on the company, whose franchise is up for renewal at the start of next year.' Union reps are discussing how to combine extended strike action by guards and station staff to have the maximum effect. Strikers have lost over £2,000 during the dispute.
Guaranteeing minimum strike pay is vital to stepping up the action. They have asked the RMT's executive to release funds. They are also appealing to rail workers and others across Britain for financial support. The Rail Passenger Council is not a pro-union body, but it has slated Arriva management.
The support is there among other workers to ensure that Arriva workers have the financial backing to win.
Rail workers and rail unions should organise regular collections for the Arriva strike fund.
Other trade unionists, particularly in the north of England, should flood the strikers with solidarity. That means collections and inviting Arriva strikers to put their case at union, workplace and public meetings.
First North Western
DRIVERS ON First North Western struck for 48 hours again on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. Their action came after management refused to come up with a reasonable offer in talks.
An overwhelming vote for strikes by drivers in the RMT union means that they could strike officially this week alongside members of the Aslef union. First North Western management provoked the dispute by reneging on an earlier deal. Aslef leaders have called off strikes on Arriva Trains Merseyside (ATM) after the company was forced to come up with an improved pay offer. About 160 drivers will now vote on a deal which the union says is worth a 16 percent pay rise to £28,000 within 18 months.
The retreat by ATM management shows the train operating companies can be beaten. But the viciousness of Arriva Trains Northern bosses also shows the companies are determined to limit pay rises only to drivers, where there is a skilled labour shortage. 'It's divide and rule,' one First North Western driver told Socialist Worker. 'The answer from the rail unions and rail workers of all grades should be to stand together.'
A fight for national pay bargaining by the rail unions would be a focus for that unity.