Up to 1,000 people marched on Downing Street on Thursday against government plans for mass rail ticket office closures.
Called by the RMT union, the protest saw trade unionists, campaigners, disabled people’s organisations and others united. The closure plan, which rail bosses and the government demand as the price of any pay settlement, would see 1,000 ticket offices shut and 2,300 jobs destroyed.
Sarah Leadbetter, campaigns officer for the National Federation of the Blind of the UK, told Socialist Worker, “Without staffed stations and ticket office workers I can’t travel. I will be isolated and have to stay at home. It’s denying our rights.”
The mood was determined and angry against the Tories and Labour leader Keir Starmer who refuses to call for rail renationalisation.
But there was a remarkable silence at the march rally. Many speakers totally ignored the continuing strikes by rail workers. Labour shadow rail minister Tan Dhesi criticised the Tories but did not mention renationalisation or the strikes. Left Labour MP Zarah Sultana gave an angrier anti-Tory speech, but again did not focus on the strikes.
Even Mick Whelan, leader of the Aslef union whose members were striking the next day, referred in only the most tangential way to such action.
It took Paula Peters from Disabled People Against Cuts to put strike solidarity at the centre of the campaign. Fran Heathcote from the PCS called on unions to “strike together where we can”. Unfortunately, she has argued for her own union to pause its strikes.
Independent MP Jeremy Corbyn began his speech with thanks to rail workers for their industrial action and called for solidarity with it. He did not attack Starmer. Mick Lynch, RMT general secretary, said to politicians, “If you want working class people to vote for you then put forward ending anti-union laws, rights for workers from day one at work, proper pay and conditions for all”. That’s a challenge to Starmer.
It was good he called for “non-cooperation and non-compliance” with the new minimum services anti-union laws. And he pledged that the RMT’s strikes would continue until a decent settlement is achieved.
But that won’t happen without escalation.
It’s good to see a broad campaign against the ticket office closures. But it can’t be separated from the strike and the battles over pay and conditions.
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