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Support the rail workers’ strikes—they can win for us all

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Strikes by rail workers can scare the Tories and prove to other workers that it is possible to fight back and win
Issue 2809
strikes RMT worker workers

Rail workers strikes can terrify the bosses and the Tories (pic: Guy Smallman)

Strikes on the railways are a chance for workers to fight back—and win. Workers across Britain were set to strike for three days, and the Tories are terrified.  Faced with the cost of living crisis, rail workers in the RMT union, employed by Network Rail and 13 train operating companies plan to strike for an inflation-busting pay rise. Their action could shut down rail ­networkers across the country. 

They will walk out on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday of next week. On the first day the 40,000 rail workers were set to be joined by 11,000 London Underground workers in the RMT and Unite, who are battling against 600 job cuts. If they go ahead, the strikes will show workers don’t have to simply accept pay and job cuts.

The Tories and bosses want to break the strike. Panicked transport minister Grant Shapps pushed the government to consider policy changes that would allow agency workers to cover striking staff temporarily.

Network Rail worker Dan told Socialist Worker that this is “a direct attack on all workers.” Dan said Shapps “underestimates the skills” transport workers possess and questioned, “Who will replace the signallers?”

Shapps told the right wing Telegraph newspaper that his legal intervention would not affect “this particular set of strikes”. If any further strikes happen, then “further measures certainly would come in during this particular dispute”.

Dan added, “Agency workers are not the solution” to solve disruption to freight and passenger ­transport. He argued that “higher wages and better conditions” are the only option. A leaked video showed Network Rail management teams discussing paying double to workers who cross the picket line.

Specific workers who choose to go into work will receive “double pay plus a day lieu”, said one manager. “It’s not set in stone until it’s announced,” said Dan.  What they propose “is an act of desperation and would be a disaster. Managers covering shifts can only do so much”.

Dan added, “The offer is not worth it. It’s not worth selling out for a few quid when inflation is so high. We need our wages to match or beat it. No one I know is really tempted by the offer, but with the cost of living so high you do have to have an argument with people about it.”

But workers say they will stand firm against the Tories and the bosses who are plotting to break the strikes.  The RMT must not delay and release a schedule of strike dates. There must not be a repeat of P&O where the failure of the same union leaders allowed the bosses to get away with sacking some 800 workers. 

A win for rail workers is within reach. A victory will not only ­benefit them but show workers in every industry that when they fight and strike together, it is possible to win desperately needed gains.

A warning from ScotRail 

ScotRail workers want an above inflation pay rise.  After workers took action last May ScotRail temporarily cut more than 700 services across Scotland.  Members of the RMT rejected a five percent pay deal, partly funded by the government, and will now vote to strike.  

But Aslef, the train drivers union agreed to the same deal after rejecting a 4.2 percent offer. Any pay offer below the 11.1 percent RPI rate of inflation is a pay cut.

The dispute on ScotRail is a warning to the rail and London Underground workers. Only hard-hitting strikes can force the bosses’ to bend to workers’ demands. Five percent is higher than some other transport workers have been offered, indicating that workers’ action strike has immense power. 

But the offer is still a real terms pay cut and the RMT was right to reject it. No workers should settle for watered down deals.

Labour’s rotten stance

The Labour Party refused to stand squarely in support of the strike. A Labour Party spokesman said, “We have been clear in the position that strikes shouldn’t go ahead.” Tame party leader Keir Starmer remained silent on the issue and refused to back workers. Deputy leader Angela Rayner told BBC Newscast that strike action was a “lose-lose for both sides”. 

Workers are angry at the Labour Party’s stance. Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves was confronted at the GMB union national conference as one delegate said the Labour Party front bench’s silence was “utterly appalling”. 

Adam, a London North Eastern Rail worker, told Socialist Worker he was “massively disappointed”. “Labour has gone to the centre. They’ve forgotten their roots. They shouldn’t be demonising industrial action when 50,000 people have all agreed to walk out.”

The Labour Party’s awful stance has confirmed its shift to the right under Starmer. A party that doesn’t support workers’ action shows it has no ambition to fight the Tories or bosses. Labour is no home for socialists.  Adam said Labour not supporting strikes is surprising as it, “will put pressure on the Tory party as they run the Department for Transport, it would expose their failings”.

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