By Sam Ord
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Rail workers could stage ‘biggest rail strike in modern British history’

The RMT union is balloting 40,000 of its members over job, real terms pay cuts and worsening working conditions
Issue 2802
Five RMT union members at Euston station in London, they hold yellow RMT union placards, during a previous rail strike

RMT union members at London Euston during a previous rail strike (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Bosses could face the “biggest rail strike in modern British history” in June across 15 train operating companies. The RMT union is balloting 40,000 rail workers. Network Rail wants to axe 2,500 jobs as part of a £2 billion package of cuts while workers at train operators have suffered pay freezes and changes to conditions.

Daniel Kennedy, an RMT workplace rep in Birmingham, told Socialist Worker, “In my workplace we are hoping for about an 80 percent yes vote. Very few of us have ever struck before, but there’s a strong mood. 

He has been a signaller for three years and has never been on strike before. “I hope that indicates the mood across other workplaces, but the ballot is something we have to push hard for,” said Daniel. 

The ballot opens on Tuesday and closes 24 May, which means strikes could start as early as June. It includes Network Rail, Chiltern Railways, Cross Country Trains, Greater Anglia, LNER, East Midlands Railway, c2c, Great Western Railway and Northern Trains. And workers at South Eastern Railway, South Western Railway, Island Line, GTR, Transpennine Express, Avanti West Coast and West Midlands Trains will also be balloted. 

Daniel outlined how workload, inflation and the chaos of Covid are piling pressure onto rail workers. “Workload is very mixed, on a full timetable it’s incredibly busy,” he said. “Covid dropped the numbers off but it’s picking up steadily. I’d say we’re almost back to pre-Covid levels.”

Daniel said that rail workers are essential and it only takes a small group of workers to shut down the entire network.

He hopes bosses will understand that the strike threat is severe and they will get back round the negotiating table with the government. But if the ballot passes “I don’t think the RMT should or would delay calling strike dates”.

“We should target the Queen’s Jubilee,” he said. “It would be politically embarrassing for the government as they don’t want any distractions. We can also target the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. The nearby Perry Barr station has been closed for development for about two years—it would be embarrassing for the government if there’s no trains flowing through after it opens.”

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said, “Removing 2,500 safety critical jobs from Network Rail will spell disaster for the public, make accidents more likely and will increase the possibility of trains flying off the tracks.”

RMT union members should vote yes for strikes—and every socialist, trade unionist and campaigner should support their fight. A huge rail strike could become a focal point for resistance to the Tories and bosses as the cost of living crisis deepens. 

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