Railway workers have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strikes across Network Rail and the train operating companies. This could become a major focus in the battle to defend working class people in the middle of a social emergency. It comes as prices are soaring and the value of pay, pensions and benefits is collapsing.
The RMT union balloted 40,000 workers and overall they voted 89 percent in favour of strikes on a 71 percent turnout. It’s the biggest backing for industrial action by railway workers since privatisation in the 1990s.
RMT workers at Network Rail, which covers the whole of Britain, and 13 train companies voted for strikes. These were Chiltern Railways, Cross Country Trains, Greater Anglia, LNER, East Midlands Railway, c2c and Great Western Railway. And Northern Trains, South Eastern Railway, South Western Railway, TransPennine Express, Avanti West Coast and West Midlands Trains.
At GTR—including Gatwick Express—and Island line on the Isle of Wight workers backed action but did not achieve one of the thresholds under the anti-union laws.
Workers are fighting over pay, no compulsory redundancies, and a guarantee there will be no detrimental changes to working practices.
Daniel Kennedy, an RMT workplace rep in Birmingham, told Socialist Worker, “This result is a testament to the strength of feeling among railway staff. We were hailed during the dark days of the pandemic for continuing to keep the country going. But we are now demonised by the right wing press and politicians for daring to challenge the notion that workers ought to pay for the challenges it brought.
“Huge credit is due to the union, its officers and activists for galvanising the vote, despite overwhelmingly unfavourable anti-union laws.
“Network Rail and train companies have already been training managers to try to break potential strikes. But, as I’ve said to colleagues, I will do everything in my power to prevent any train from running on the network on any day of strikes.”
Right wing newspapers reacted with a mix of rage and fear to the strike vote. The Telegraph warned its readers, “The decision of train signallers to strike was critical. There are about 5,000 train signallers employed by Network Rail and they play a key role in allowing trains to depart from and arrive into stations.
“It takes between six and eight months to train up a signaller and the contingency workforce only runs into the high hundreds.”
The Daily Mail feared “power blackouts, petrol shortages and empty shelves”. The Tories, who have been blustering about new anti-strike laws, suddenly don’t look so strong. The RMT says it hopes for a deal, but will schedule strikes from mid-June. These should be hard-hitting from the start and escalating, not token action.
This strike could link up with action on London Underground. Around 4,000 tube station workers are set to strike on Monday 6 June. And they will ban overtime from 3 June to 10 July, which will significantly reduce services.
The strike could force the closure of almost all stations in zone one, on what will be the first day back to work after the four-day Platinum Jubilee days off.
Rail strikes can be a focus for everyone who is desperate for a fightback against the Tories and the bosses. If workers use their power, they can humble the bosses and show that working class people don’t have to pay for the crisis.
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