“This strike will spur a movement”—that was the feeling from RMT union member Darren and other rail strikers at Kings Cross in central London on Thursday. He is one of 40,000 rail workers at Network Rail and 13 train operating companies, who have walked out for a second time this week.
The workers—who will walk out again on Saturday—striking over the threat of compulsory redundancy to 2,900 people and over pay, safety and working conditions.
Darren told Socialist Worker, “We’re standing up for the whole movement. Everyones in the same boat, we’re all feeling the pinch. We’re all having to pay high prices for petrol and food. I hope this is a worthwhile movement for others to look at and say, ‘If the RMT can do it, so can I.’”
Darren hopes the strike will spread to “teachers, NHS and postal workers”, adding, “Barristers have already voted to strike for pay.” “The government is going to release the cap on bankers’ bonuses, so it’s one rule for the rich and another for us,” he added.
Adam is a catering worker for train operating company LNER in Northumbria. He told Socialist Worker, “The mood on the picket line is very positive, with loads of public support. People feel emboldened and empowered. It makes us feel like we can win this, there’s a lot of power in unity.
“Walking out on strike isn’t pointless, it can be very effective because unions are our strength.”
At the Network Rail rail operations centre in Romford, east London, cars and lorries tooted their horns in support of the strikers. One Network Rail worker said pickets were buoyed by a “fair amount of public support” during their walkouts. He hopes other groups will “see us and think we can go out and fight it”, saying, “I’ve seen that postal workers, teachers, junior doctors and others are talking about striking.”
A top boss has threatened to cut out the trade unions and gamble on making a desperate pitch to rail workers. Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines told the Financial Times newspaper there was a “really credible way to get out of this”. He wants workers to accept mass job cuts and speed-up.
He added, “If the RMT will not talk to us about maintenance productivity they should allow us to go straight to their members and cut them out. We don’t want to do it because it would be further escalation. But if we cannot stop this dragging on and on, something will have to give.”
This is to add union-busting to the other assaults. On the morning of the strike, the Tories announced plans to make it easier for bosses to break strikes by using agency workers as scab labour.
But the Tories’ and bosses’ lies and smears about the rail strikers don’t wash. One poll showed on Tuesday that 58 percent of people in Britain think the rail strike is “justified”. The social emergency of rising prices and falling wages is turning the strike into a focal point of anger against the government.
“Everything is going up,” the Network Rail worker told Socialist Worker, “My direct debit on energy has doubled and shopping is definitely going up—and it’s only me, my partner and my 16-month old.”
There’s plenty of money to pay the workers more. Bosses are telling workers to tighten their belts while the 73 highest earners at Network Rail trouser a huge £15 million a year. And during the Covid pandemic, when many workers got sick or died, train operating companies made £300 million. They were not alone. Companies that own the trains grabbed £949 million and maintenance companies got £235 million.
In York up to 30 people employed by LNER and Transpennine Express joined the picket line outside the station. One worker said, “We love our work and we want to continue doing so. It’s great to be all out together.”
The picket line at York depot also had up to 30 pickets—larger than Tuesday’s turnout. One worker explained that he faced a £10,000 annual pay cut under management’s proposed reorganisation.
Around 30 people joined the picket lines and Manchester Piccadilly and Victoria stations and received support from the Unison and PCS union and the Acorn renters’ union. A number of activists from Campaign Against Climate Change and Extinction Rebellion also joined.
In Bristol lots more joined the picket line compared to Tuesday, it was led by women workers and was much more noticeable, gaining lots of support from passing traffic. Amanda, the RMT Bristol branch secretary, told Socialist Worker, “I think after the response we had on Tuesday, it rallied more support today and we’re expecting a lot more people as the day goes on.”
Amanda added that the rail strike is “about raising the level of pay for everybody”. “We’ve had phenomenal support from trades councils, all different unions and organisations you can think of,” she said. “We’ve had people bringing us food and water to keep us going through the day.”
Socialist Worker heard that no one in the RMT crossed the picket line, which was supported by the NEU and Unite members. Activists in Bristol are excited for Saturday’s picket line where a protest has been organised by the trades council, People’s Assembly and climate campaigns. Protests are also planned in Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham, Norwich, Ispwich, Hastings and Liverpool.
Dave, a Watford based rail worker in the TSSA union, is currently balloting to join the action. He told Socialist Worker the mood on the picket line is “great” with lots of support from the public. “TSSA were invited to talks on Friday,” he explained. “We declined a 2 percent pay rise.
“TSSA members want to join the strike. I’m confident we’ll get a ‘yes’ vote and the government and bosses are doing everything to boost the ballot turnout.”
Negotiations on Wednesday failed to get the bosses to withdraw their letter threatening redundancies. There are warning signs from MerseyRail, where the TSSA union accepted a 7.1 percent pay deal. Workers shouldn’t settle for less than the rate of inflation at 11.7 percent—anything below it is still a pay cut.
With the stakes so high during the cost of living crisis the RMT must escalate action to drive home a victory. Adam said, “We have a really strong chance at winning, but we’re just the tip of the iceberg. It’s important that our strike sends a message to the Tories and also other workers. Other industries should stand up and demand better. Workers should stand together.”
All eyes are on the rail workers—and the bosses, bankers and Tories fear it could spread. Other unions must follow the RMT’s lead and organise a battle against the cost of living crisis. And every socialist, trade unionist and campaigner has to seize on the opportunity the rail strikes have opened up, build solidarity and fight to spread the strikes. A win for the rail workers would decisively turn the tables on Boris Johnson, the Tories and the bosses.
Birmingham: 10am New Street station
Brighton: 3pm railway station
Bristol: 12 noon, outside Knights Templar pub near Temple Meads station
Cardiff: 12 noon Central station
Coventry: 11.30am Coventry station
Glasgow: 10am Buchanan Steps
Hastings: 12 noon, Hastings station
Huddersfield: 9am Huddersfield station
Ipswich: 10am at the station
Liverpool: 12 noon, Lime Street station main steps
London: King’s Cross station 2pm
Manchester: 2.30pm, Cathedral Gardens
Nottingham: 12 noon, Station St
Norwich: 10am, at the station
Portsmouth: 10am Portsmouth Harbour station
Sheffield: 11am, railway station
These are just some of the reports we received from around Britain.
Liverpool: RMT picket lines in Liverpool were strong again on Thursday. Three picket lines stood around Lime Street station alone, with 70 taking part. Other pickets happened around the city. Strikers were very confident of the union’s stand. Everyone is looking forward to the solidarity rally on Saturday.
Bristol Temple Meads: There were noticeably more RMT members on the picket line than Tuesday and also noticeably more support from passers-by—and there was plenty before. A TSSA union member came with a message of support.
Manchester: Big pickets, and support from XR climate activists who say, “We need to build a mass movement, the system doesn’t serve any of us.” Day two of the RMT strikes at Manchester Piccadilly showed a determined workforce that had almost entirely shut the system down.
The destinations listed on the station board in the picture were run by four trains—one of which was driven by a “determined and longstanding scab” according to an RMT member.
There were lots of discussions about strategy, tactics and united action. The RMT members clearly all felt that they were leading other unions— in a “come on in the water’s lovely” way. Two people said they thought the other unions should ballot and all come out on the same day for a “general strike”.
A group of PCS union members came to show their support, as well as Manchester trades council and someone from the People’s Assembly.
Hull: Brilliant mood, defiant, rally planned for Saturday. Ten pickets from guards, four from signals and maintenance. There were delegations from health workers, Hull trades council, Unite union local government, Unite Community and Labour councillors. Mike Keal, branch chair of Hull RMT, said, “We’re all up for this fight and we’re going to keep going for as long as it takes to get what’s right”.
Upminster: Around 12 pickets at Upminster in east London—mainly signallers. David is one of the local reps and the Anglia area rep. He said they had “100 percent support from their colleagues” and added that they’re fighting over pay “but also their colleagues’ job security”.
Darren Trigg is the shift signal management rep and branch chair of North Thames and the LT&S branch. He agreed they are fighting over pay, but also conditions and the job security of the 2,900 people bosses want to make redundant. Darren said this would impact on the railway and its maintenance.
Darren said he was proud of the support and the successful pickets, and welcomed the wider solidarity on the picket line. The pickets had stood firm after Network Rail security had called the police on Tuesday. He thought the dispute was “unlikely to be resolved quickly and more action would be needed”.
Glasgow: Banners and flags from Unite, Unison, PCS. Strikers chanted, “The workers united will never be defeated,” and ,“Boris is a liar.”
Carlisle: Support from the Unite and FBU unions, the trades council and local people. A solidarity picket is planned on Saturday.
York: RMT members employed mainly by LNER and Transpennine staged an absolutely solid picket outside York railway station. One said, “We love our work and want to continue doing so. It is great to be all out together.”
Norwich: RMT and Aslef train drivers’ union members stood together on the picket line.
Colchester: Another good turnout. RMT and Aslef members together.
Around 10,000 Tube workers have returned a huge vote in favour of further strikes over jobs, pensions and conditions. RMT union across the London Underground (LU) network voted by 92 percent for strikes on a 53 percent turnout. They have already struck for four days.
LU bosses plan to cut 600 station staff jobs. These will mostly be the lowest paid, part time workers who ensure safety and accessibility across the network.
Kings Cross station in central London is expected to lose 26 jobs. Heathrow station in west London will lose 22. The RMT members have also been refusing to work overtime, which has shown how fragile the network currently is. On Tuesday of last week at least 11 stations including Angel, Caledonian Road, Hyde Park Corner and Chalk Farm temporarily closed due to a lack of staff.
More job cuts would see more disruptions and delays to passengers’ travel. The RMT were right to continue strikes as they re-balloted—and it was brilliant that they joined the 40,000 rail workers on strike on Tuesday. Now the union should call escalating strikes involving all grades.
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