The scale of strikes over pay takes another big step forward this week. Over 85,000 people were set to walk out and mount picket lines across Britain in a series of crucial struggles. On Wednesday, 40,000 RMT union rail workers were set to strike at Network Rail and 14 train companies. They were to be joined by TSSA union members on the Avanti West Coast line.
And on Friday, some 40,000 telecoms workers, members of the CWU union, planned to strike nationally for the first time since 1987. Two days later, some 6,000 train drivers, members of the Aslef union, were scheduled to take to the picket lines at eight companies. And then BT workers were to walk out for a second time next Monday.
All eyes will be on RMT strikers as they are expected to paralyse the railway system. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said workers were “more determined than ever to secure a decent pay rise, job security and good working conditions.”
He said bosses were doubling down on their threats to “impose compulsory redundancies and unsafe 50 percent cuts to maintenance work”. Workers at BT and Openreach voted overwhelmingly to strike after bosses imposed a pay increase of just £1,500 a year—which for everyone amounted to a real terms pay cut.
Eugene Caparros, a CWU rep in South Wales, told Socialist Worker that “the members’ morale is high”. “They’re looking forward to making a stand against the company. They’re very disappointed with chief executive Philip Jansen and the firm.”
Reps report BT managers have been ringing round every worker asking them whether they plan to strike—a clear effort at intimidation. They also say bosses have been spreading “disinformation”. This includes saying that striking will affect overtime payments or that new starters, apprentices and non-union members can’t join the action.
An internal message to workers from BT bosses also said it’s unacceptable to “tell others what they should or shouldn’t do on the days of strike action”. But clearly it’s supposed to be OK for bosses to do it. BT bosses say they don’t expect many workers to join the strike. But, Eugene said, the managers reporting this to BT’s top bosses are acting as “yes men.”
“That is absolutely not the feedback we’re getting and not what people voted for,” he said. “I think they’re in for a shock. They think in South Wales they’ll get the children of miners crossing picket lines. “It’s going to be great fun seeing the managers’ reactions. “On Friday the emperor’s clothes will be revealed.”
The last phase of train strikes saw a rush of solidarity that buoyed railway workers as they came under intense attack from the Tory government. These strikes are a beacon of hope for everyone being hammered by the cost of living crisis and poor pay. A victory by rail and BT workers will be hugely inspirational to everyone who wants to sock it to penny-pinching bosses or bullying management.
They will also serve a decisive blow to the Tories intent on making workers suffer their crisis. The strikes need to escalate and spread to win, and there must be no pay deals less than the RPI rate of inflation.
The right for bosses to employ strikebreakers may be challenged in court by the Unison union. The union is seeking a judicial review of changes to employment law, which came into force last Thursday.
It wrote to business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng on Friday of last week to say it believes the changes are unlawful. The union gave him 14 days to respond, otherwise it will take the government to the High Court. Unison leader Christina McAnea said, “Ministers have been spooked by the sympathy people are showing for workers fighting for fair wages.
“The government’s cynical solution is to ride a coach and horses through employment law, risking the safety of staff and the public by parachuting in agency workers who won’t know the ropes. Changing the law to make it harder for workers to win disputes is both reckless and unlawful. If ministers won’t back down, we’ll take the government to court to prove it.”
MPs voted 289 to 202 to change the law to allow agency workers to be employed during walkouts. Business minister Jane Hunt said the change was needed to remove the “outdated blanket ban” on using agency workers during strikes.
Hunt told parliament, “Some trade unions appear to us to be looking to create maximum disruption in a bid to stay relevant.” The changes to the law were accelerated because of the rail workers’ strikes.
It shows how the government fears workers’ action—and how it will try every trick in the book to stop it. Any use of these laws is another reason for mass pickets, not just legal challenges.
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