Strikes were set to halt rail services across Britain this week as workers in the RMT and Aslef unions planned walkouts. Aslef members were set to hit train operating companies on Wednesday and Saturday. And workers in the RMT were planning to strike on Friday.
The rail workers’ fight over pay, jobs and conditions began nearly a year ago. But bosses are still not offering any substantial improvements.
Aslef member and train driver Chris told Socialist Worker, “It feels like we are very far from reaching a deal.” But, he added, the bosses’ and Tory intransigence had “really rallied people around the strike that happened on 12 May—and for the next two strike days.
“That’s a good response. Until the bosses start engaging with us, we will continue strikes. It’s also good that the RMT members will strike,” he said. “Hopefully we won’t cross each other’s picket lines. That would show the companies, the media and the government that we are very serious.”
But Chris adds, “Others in the Aslef union and in Network Rail—who were striking with us last year—have got deals, so there is a sense that we have been left behind.”
The crisis gripping the rail industry also inspires workers to resist, says Chris. “TransPennine Express (TPE) has now been taken into public ownership and other train companies are struggling to run a reduced service.”
TPE cancelled one in seven trains in the first four weeks of April, with many more being delayed and disrupted. That forced the government to end the private contract and nationalise the service.
Chris says private firms are an important part of the problem. “Tickets are basically unaffordable.”
He said rail workers want “Funding, and work on retaining and training drivers”. But added, “We understand that until public transport is run for the public interest, not a private one, there will be more things like TPE.” These are the issues people are discussing on the picket lines, he says.
Train drivers have not had a pay rise since 2019. Lower paid workers, such as those who work on the ticket gates, or in catering, are struggling with rising costs. Aslef says that transport secretary, Mark Harper wants “rail workers to pay the price for his incompetence.”
Chris has seen staff rostering change since the beginning of the dispute with an increased reliance on overtime to operate the scheduled services. “If we stopped working overtime or on rest days, it would have a massive impact,” he said.
The unions’ current strategy is a long way from delivering on pay and conditions. Their pattern of low level of action is not hitting the train operating companies hard enough. That’s why the government appears able to ignore the dispute.
Following the scheduled three days of strikes all rail unions should announce a series of strikes to push this dispute to victory.
Chris is a pseudonym
Over 600 workers in the Unite union voted 95 percent for strikes on an 84 percent turnout. This follows a 5 percent pay offer from Metrolink—as inflation stands at 11.4 percent.
The broken, privatised rail system is behind new strikes. Catering workers employed by contractor DHL have voted to strike on Avanti West Coast trains. They have not been offered a pay rise despite sky-high inflation.
This is despite Avanti West Coast handing a whopping £13.5 million to shareholders during the last financial year, and DHL raking in a revenue of £94.4 billion in 2022.
The RMT union is yet to announce strike dates.
Eurostar depot engineers at Temple Mills, east London, are also fighting back after the sacking of one of their colleagues. They plan to strike from Monday to Wednesday next week and from 15 to 17 June.
And London Underground staff have voted by 96 percent to extend their strike mandate for a further six months. The result shows a rise of four percentage point in the yes vote compared to the ballot six months ago.
But just like train operating company workers, Tube workers are being restrained by the union leaders. The last time Tube workers walked out was on 15 March. But that was only the seventh day of strikes despite voting for action in January, 2022.
The RMT leaders are playing a dangerous game by not announcing any substantial strikes. Some 600 jobs are on the line for Underground staff and conditions could be ruined in order to save money.
The union’s strategy isn’t working. It should announce more strikes without long periods of calm. The re-ballots show that workers do not want to sit back idly as their jobs become ever more insecure. They want to fight to protect to themselves.
Tube bosses have been burying their heads in the sand during this dispute. Workers must tackle the RMT leadership’s lack of fight and demand longer, more militant strikes to create a crisis management cannot ignore.
Only that will force them to concede to the workers’ demands.
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