By Sam Ord
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2810

Rail strike shows how we can all fight over cost of living

Pickets from the rail strike speak out about their battle—and say their fight is our fight too
Issue 2810
RMT union members at Waterloo station stand with banners and flags during the rail strike

The rail strike marks the return of open class struggle (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Over 50,000 rail workers have begun the fightback over the cost of living crisis.  The workers kicked off three days of walkouts on Tuesday of this week, bringing Britain’s rail network to a standstill and inflicting fear to Tory party.

The workers employed by Network Rail and 13 train operating companies are fighting for a proper pay rise and to stop job cuts. Across Britain big picket lines showed strikers’ determination and confidence. There were 40 on the line in Bournemouth and a similar number in Manchester.

In Swansea, Unison union members joined the rail strike picket. Hackney health workers brought their Unison banner and a message of support to pickets at Liverpool Street in London.

Climate activists were on the picket line at Bristol Templemeads. Coventry bin strikers went to the rail workers’ picket line. At many places NEU union members came to show support.

There’s a real chance to build on the solidarity for the rail strike with demonstrations for strikers and supporters in Bristol, Manchester and Liverpool planned on Saturday. Others should follow this initiative.

Network Rail worker Dan in Coventry hoped the action would be “the start of more action across more industries”. That’s why the rail strike has shaken the Tories. Not only does it show the power that workers have to shut down business and profit—it could encourage the start of a much bigger fightback.

As Dan said, “Low pay affects everyone, we haven’t had a pay increase in over two years. If they attack one group of workers they will attack more.”

There is money to give a pay rise to the workers and save jobs, on average the rail companies are making £500 million a year in profits. This should be reinvested into the rail network to protect jobs and services.

Marvin who works for the Greater Anglia train company, told Socialist Worker, “The rising cost of living is making it harder for everyone. We budget but with electric, petrol and kids it’s hard. It affects us mentally and our work-life balance puts extra work on us—it’s stressful.”

Dan added, “The media make out we’re striking for nothing. It’s not true that we’re all high paid but also, why shouldn’t workers have good wages for valuable work?”

Transport minister Grant Shapps is hell bent on attacking workers. “By carrying out this action the RMT is punishing millions of innocent people,” he said.

But Daniel Kennedy, a Network Rail worker in Birmingham, said, “It’s easy for Grant Shapps and the bosses to say that—they get paid thousands upon thousands annually.”

The Tories are organising to break the rail strike with Shapps wanting to allow agency workers to cover striking staff temporarily. That’s an attack on workers’ right to strike and must be opposed by more action.

Scot from Manchester Network Rail said, “We’re positive that with the public support and more strikes we are confident we will win.” The strike looks set to spread as rail managers in the TSSA union and drivers in the Aslef union are balloting to strike.

Daniel said, “My wider hope is to bring down the Tories. We won’t compromise on our demands, the Tories are to blame for the rail strike. If we are successful it will be an example to other workers that success is achieved through strikes.”

RMT union members in Manchester stand with banners and flags during the rail strike

A rail strike picket line in Manchester (Picture: Geoff Brown)

‘No trains, no scabs’—reports from picket lines all over Britain show rail strike was solid

These are just some of the reports Socialist Worker received from the rail strike on Tuesday.

Plymouth—around 12 strikers and a few extra supporters on the picket line. There was a general feeling that the 20 percent service being reported by the news sounds “impossible”. Four on the rail strike picket at Truro, nobody crossing so far.

York—around 20 pickets, mainly from Network Rail, at 7am. One RMT member said, “This is about  jobs and safety just as much as it is about pay.” Pickets at the Holgate Road depot got solidarity from two contractors, both ex miners, who refused to cross the picket line.

Leicester—Rob, an NHS worker and Unison union rep, joined rail strike pickets and said, “During the pandemic it was the railway that got me to work. I’m here to show solidarity to the RMT.”

Manchester—40 pickets with support from the People’s Assembly, Unison, PCS and UCU unions. A lot of pickets say the bottom line is to stop job cuts to protect services. But when asked about an above inflation deal people wanted it and were keen to achieve it.

Hastings—no trains, no scabs.

Wigan—pickets turned around staff who turned up for work. Several strikers mentioned how they felt supported by the solidarity on the TUC march.

More, sustained action is the way to win

A win for the rail workers would put the Tories in turmoil. It would show that workers’ resistance can win. And it will give confidence to other workers also wanting to fight. But the RMT had not announced more strike days as Socialist Worker went to press.

The government and multi‑million pound companies that run the rail industry will not be taken down easily with a few days of strikes. And neither can the strikes be used as simply a bargaining chip in negotiations—or held off for talks.

That risks giving bosses the space to recover, and get back on the front foot. The power of the action was that it shut down vast swathes of the rail network across Britain. Longer, sustained and determined action can force the bosses to concede.

And the aim needs to be for a pay increase at least in line with the RPI rate of inflation, currently 11 percent. RMT leader Mick Lynch seems to be prepared to settle for 7 percent. That means a big pay cut.

And avoiding compulsory redundancies is not enough. Bosses will still take out thousands of jobs.

Network rail worker Daniel told Socialist Worker, “I think we need to target the Commonwealth Games. ScotRail workers struck throughout the Cop26 climate talks last year and won some gains.”

And another worker, Scot, added, “I don’t want to stop strikes any time soon.” Solidarity with other workers also fighting over pay is important.

Action by RMT members could link with those in the Aslef union, working in control and signalling for train operators and Network Rail.

Striker Dan wants to link the rail battle with Royal Mail and BT workers who are also heading for pay strikes. “Demonstrations are very good but we need more strikes to fight for our interests,” he said.

Labour Party won’t back workers who fight

The Labour Party banned its shadow ministers—and their assistant MPs—from showing solidarity with the rail strike by joining picket lines. The party is more bothered about showing it can get strikes called off than it is about supporting workers.

A message to shadow ministers from Labour leader Keir Starmer’s office said, “We do not want to see these strikes to go ahead with the resulting disruption to the public. The government have failed to engage in any negotiations.

“However, we also must show leadership and to that end, please be reminded that frontbenchers including parliamentary private secretaries should not be on picket lines. Please speak to all the members of your team to remind them of this and confirm with me that you have done so.”

It comes after Starmer forced right wing MP Wes Streeting to apologise to the shadow cabinet for suggesting that, if he were a rail worker, he would strike too.

RMT members stand with flags and banners on a south London picket line

London Underground workers are fighting too (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Tube workers coordinate action in fight over jobs

Workers on the London Underground network walked out for 24 hours on Tuesday. They are being threatened with 600 job cuts and changes to pensions and working conditions.

If bosses get their way they would destroy workers’ work-life balance. Members of the RMT union, and Unite union members in mostly operations, management control and engineering roles, all walked out.

RMT East London Rail Branch Secretary, Wale Agunbiade told Socialist Worker, “With the amount of profit they’re making our demands are not a big ask. Workers make the trains run, we’re just asking for a fair deal but they put money first, workers second.”

Peter, a Tube striker and RMT member in east London, says it’s “bullshit” that bosses have to make cuts. “The money is there,” he told Socialist Worker. “It’s about whose pocket they want it going to. Wealthy people have had tax cuts for the last 10 years.

“But the cost of living crisis is affecting us all, the pandemic affected us working class people, we’re all treated the same way by the bosses and the government.”

Wale added, “The support for us has been coming in from across the country. Everyone has it hard—someone has to fight back.” The RMT and Unite must call more strikes immediately to keep the pressure on the bosses.

Tube striker Sadie said, “The picket line at Brixton has been busy and upbeat. Lots of people have stopped to wish us good luck and say they back us. One guy jogged past and shouted, ‘Up the RMT.’

“We’ve had NEU, GMB, Unison, UCU, local TUC and Young Labour visit us, plus a local Labour councillor—despite the appalling position of the party leadership. A British Airways worker stopped to chat and say they needed to strike over attacks too.

“We’ve also had toots from passing vehicles to show support. People have dropped off biscuits, offered to buy us tea and coffee, etc.

“Hardly anyone has gone into Brixton station and it remains closed. The picture looks the same across London. Now we need more strikes, coordinated with other workers, to keep the pressure on the Tories and the bosses.”

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