The Tories are threatening yet more anti-strike laws that will hit railway workers. It comes just as the RMT union could launch what it calls “the biggest rail strike in modern history”. The union was set to announce the result of a vote among 40,000 rail workers over pay, compulsory redundancies and changes to working practices this week.
It could see strikes across Britain at Network Rail and 15 English train operating companies. The possible strikes are worrying the bosses. Network Rail has briefed train and freight operators that in a worst-case scenario, the railway would be forced to go down to running a 12-hour-a-day service. Ministers and rail industry executives believe that a strike by guards or station staff would be manageable.
But it is the possibility of a national strike at Network Rail, and signallers in particular, which could be too effective for the government to ignore. Services would be “drastically” smaller than normal—around 20 per cent of the current timetable — one rail executive told the Financial Times newspaper. The freight industry runs a 24-hour service, leaving it even more vulnerable to disruption.
Royal Mail letters and parcels, aviation fuel for Heathrow and fuel for power stations are some of the goods which could be affected by a strike. The RMT must immediately turn any yes votes into hard-hitting action. In response transport secretary Grant Shapps said he is drawing up plans for “minimum service agreements”. These would set out services to be provided during any railway walkouts. Any strike will be unlawful unless a minimum service agreement is in place.
And if it is not honoured, a strike would be illegal, and companies could seek injunctions or damages against unions. RMT general secretary, Mick Lynch, said the union would build “fierce resistance” if Shapps pushes ahead. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said, “Ministers have spectacularly failed to deal with the cost of living crisis. Now they are trying to distract from their failure by picking a fight with unions.”
They have to turn those words into reality, and other unions must back them. There must not be another defeat as at P&O. Separately, Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, plans to weaken unions in schools. He wants to encourage teachers not to join by changing the law so they can be accompanied to grievance and disciplinary meetings by an external lawyer or representative of a body other than a union.
Currently, the law only requires employers to allow staff to be joined by a trade union representative or colleague. The Tories talk tough. But strikes can force them back and give an example to many other workers in how to fight over pay and to stop attacks on jobs and conditions.
ScotRail workers are fighting over pay amid chaos for passengers caused by the Scottish government’s refusal to offer anything a rise anywhere near the current inflation rate. More than a third of daily rail services were halted from Monday.
The frequency of many services will also be reduced with, for example, only one direct service a day running from Mallaig, Lochaber, to Glasgow at 6:03am. This compares with three under the old timetable. The last train from Edinburgh to Glasgow will be at 10.15pm instead of 11.45pm.
The last service from Glasgow to Stirling is currently 11.51pm, but will now leave at 7.49pm, and the final Glasgow to Aberdeen service will leave at 6.41pm instead of 9.40pm. All of this hits shift workers and those in the NHS, as well as people trying to ditch the car or hoping to have a night out.
Aslef union members are refusing to work overtime and on rest days as part of a pay battle. Aslef has rejected a 2.2 percent offer, rightly calling it “derisory”. Aslef’s Scottish Organiser Kevin Lindsay said that, although rail workers might be better paid than some others, “This isn’t a race to the bottom.”
ScotRail was rightly nationalised last month amid promises of a transformation of the service. Public ownership should mean a more efficient and sustainable service. But under the Scottish National Party-Green government it means high fares, more cancellations, and scapegoating of unions for problems driven from the top.
RMT leaders must call more action
A possible warning of more repression to come
They’re game, and set to match bosses with escalation