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Build on rail strikes’ success with plan for sustained action

There was unity on the picket lines during last week’s rail strikes. But the workers need a plan to win
Issue 2816
Pickets stand with RMT and TSSA placards and banners during a rail strike

TSSA and RMT union members stood together during last week’s rail strikes (picture: Guy Smallman)

Last week’s rail strikes were another success that hit every rail boss hard and inspired many more workers and trade unionists. Rail workers need more of them to win.

RMT and TSSA union members were set for two more days of strikes later this month and Aslef members have one more day of action planned. The biggest danger is that the disputes fall into a pattern of one or two days of strikes, followed by weeks of talks between bosses and union leaders that produce little.

That risks stalling momentum and demobilising workers for weeks at a time while giving bosses space to recover and prepare. Longer, more sustained, action has the potential to bring rail bosses to their knees very quickly.

And the strikes would be even more effective if they were coordinated between all the rail unions. Strikes should involve not just picket lines—but rallies, marches and mass meetings aimed at involving as many workers as possible.

Winning would mean making bosses cough up a pay increase that is—at the very least—in line with inflation, currently at 11.8 percent. Anything less is a pay cut.

But with rail strikes already causing bosses—and the Tories who stand behind them—big problems, rail workers can win a proper pay rise. And with workers in other unions and industries looking on, they can encourage even more resistance—and show how to win.

Overtime row shows chaos of privatisation 

Train bosses and Tory transport minister Grant Shapps were outraged on Sunday when workers on Avanti West Coast didn’t sign up for overtime. Shapps even branded the refusal “unofficial strikes,” complaining on Twitter, “Archaic rules from 1919 mean working on rest days is voluntary.”

The action highlighted the fragility of the network and just how much it relies on workers’ overtime. Avanti West Coast said that overtime work on weekends previously covered 250 services. But, “overnight the number for this week has dropped to fewer than ten”.

Due to privatisation, bidding companies promise a service level that they struggle to maintain in order to win highly profitable contracts. Operating companies are understaffed and rely on agency staff, long shifts and overtime work to run these services.

Aslef union general secretary Mick Whelan said, “The truth is that the company does not employ enough drivers to deliver the services it promises passengers it will run.”

Check the timetable—who’s striking next? 
  • Around 6,000 train drivers in Aslef are set to strike at nine train operating companies on 13 August—Saturday of next week.
  • Members of the RMT and TSSA unions are also set to strike on Thursday 18 and Saturday 20 August. The strike will see walkouts across Network Rail and several train operating companies.
  • London Underground workers are set to strike for 24 hours on Friday 19 August. They are striking over pensions, redundancies and pay
  • London Overground workers have voted overwhelmingly for strikes after rejecting a 5 percent pay offer from bosses at Arriva Rail, which runs the network. RMT leaders had not called action as Socialist Worker went to press.
  • A ballot of Aslef union members at Chiltern Railways, Northern Trains and TransPennine Express is set to close on 25 August. And a ballot at East Midlands Railway will close on 19 September.

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