Almost 11 months since they began their pay fight, rail workers in the RMT union struck on Saturday across large parts of England and some areas of Scotland.
Workers were out at 14 train operating companies, hitting services hard. Pickets generally seemed positive and determined to keep up the action.
In London, an RMT member told Socialist Worker, “It’s hard because we’re fighting the government as well as the companies. The Tories seem to think we must be the example that strikes don’t work.
“But we are not giving up because this is a fight for basic justice. The government bails out the companies but insists we have to take the pain of rising prices.”
Workers have shown their willingness to keep striking, renewing their strike mandate with big majorities in recent ballots.
But it has to be said that the strikes have a certain routine feel now. The RMT calls a one-day strike, most of the media and the Tories try to whip up a union-hating atmosphere but have very little success, and everything goes quiet for several weeks.
Rishi Sunak and rail bosses aren’t going to back off with this level of action.
RMT leaders are under some pressure to deliver a better strategy to win. Striking on Saturdays was one of the demands that came from union members at the RMT’s train crew conference in April—although many would have expected more than just one Saturday.
Jon reports from the Fratton picket line in Portsmouth, “There was a debate with pickets about escalation. There’s very little expectation that sporadic one-day strikes will win, but there’s wariness about all-out because of the cost.
“One guard suggested coordinating action with Aslef to shut down the network with workers in each union taking one or two day strike each week. Another wanted the union to talk more about station staffing and working conditions as well as pay.”
It’s completely understandable that workers worry about money to sustain them during strikes.
It’s the sort of issue that could have been addressed by the Enough is Enough campaign. RMT leader Mick Lynch and CWU union leader Dave Ward launched this with great fanfare in front of an enthusiastic audience of 1,500 last August.
Under the slogan “It’s time to turn anger into action”, Lynch called for “a wave of solidarity and industrial action across Britain”.
Enough is Enough rallies followed in several cities and close to a million people signed up for its mailing list. And then—nothing.
Enough is Enough could have done serious fundraising, encouraged mass pickets, and been a forum for discussions about unification and escalation. Instead, its main function seems to have been to head off other solidarity groups.
The rail battle is far from over because the companies have offered a rotten deal.
It would mean a 5 percent uplift to cover 2022-23. That’s well below inflation. Then, the union would also have to accept company-by-company talks to ram through a major restructuring of job roles and conditions.
The companies would run talks on different timetables so as to break up any national response and they would want changes such as a single super-flexible station grade, close ticket offices, and tear up present policies on shift patterns and sick pay.
Some union leaders might think the 5 percent would be acceptable if it weren’t for the link to an assault on conditions. But the 5 percent itself is rubbish and ought to be rejected.
Saturday’s action followed a strike the day before by train drivers in the Aslef union. They have rightly rejected a pay rise of 4 percent for 2022 and a 4 percent increase this year.
Both unions need to escalate quickly, and indefinite strikes would force the issue to a head.
Privatisation doesn’t work, as even the Tories have effectively had to admit. TransPennine Express, which runs trains in northern England and parts of Scotland, this week became the fourth railway service to be nationalised by the government in just five years.
Ministers stepped in to seize control of the struggling operator, owned by FirstGroup, after months of cancelled trains and poor performance.
The Department for Transport said TransPennine’s contract would not be renewed on 28 May and instead it would be run by the “operator of last resort” owned by the state.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said that it was absolutely right not to renew or extend the contract which was something the union has long campaigned for. “First should now also lose its failed Avanti West Coast contract as part of a return of all our railways to public ownership,” he said.
“With other parts of our railway already nationalised this decision should now mark the beginning of the end for rail privatisation which has brought nothing but chaos for passengers. However, it is disappointing to hear Transport Secretary Mark Harper saying that he intends to return TransPennine to the private sector despite the shambles the service has become,” he added.
Renationalise the lot under democratic control.
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