By Sam Ord
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Union leaders must change track—or rail strikes will hit the buffers

The union leaders’ strategy of one or two days, with long pauses, has failed to derail the bosses
Issue 2857
Rail workers on strike pose on the picket line with 5 red Aslef union flags waving in the wind

Train drivers stage a solid picket line outside Paddington station in London (Picture: Alan Kenny)

Thousands of train drivers kicked off three days of rail strikes on Wednesday, as part of the long-running battles over pay and conditions. Only a fraction of services were running as Aslef union members at 15 train operating companies mounted picket lines outside stations. 

Around 20,000 RMT union members at 14 companies plan to walk out on Friday—followed by train drivers for a second day on Saturday.

In London many RMT members joined picket lines. In Hastings about a dozen pickets discussed escalating action. And in Leicester workers talked about linking up with other groups of workers and sent a solidarity message to local teachers on strike. The strike was so solid in Derby that no trains were running from the city. 

Aslef members rejected a bad offer of 4 percent over two years and the RMT threw it out. The deal offered to both Aslef and the RMT would be conditional on workers accepting attacks on their working conditions. 

Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan says the union has made “zero progress” in negotiations with the bosses’ Rail Delivery Group.

To win, “we need to do more”, one Greater Anglia worker from east London told Socialist Worker.“Since last year lots of committed trade unionists called for an overtime ban, we will start that tomorrow,” he said. “This will have a huge effect.

“A lot of the time the trains are cancelled or delayed because the companies promise the government a certain level of service, but they don’t have the staff to do it. Without us working overtime, they won’t be able to run a lot of trains.” 

The worker added, “This is why our strikes have such an effect, it’s why the news channels come to film our picket lines. When you think about what they’re saying, even if it’s a nasty reporter, they are saying we are too important not to work. Well if we’re so important why doesn’t my pay packet reflect that?”

The workers said they were “open” to escalation. “I didn’t expect the strike to last this long,” they said. “I actually thought it would be over in a few weeks—maybe even just days—but we won’t give up until we win.”

The Rail Delivery Group, backed by Tory transport minister Huw Merriman, is refusing to up their offer. 

The union leaders’ strategy of one of two days of strikes—punctuated by long pauses in action—has failed. It’s time to switch track—and call hard-hitting action that has the power to derail the Tories’ and bosses’ attacks. 

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