A huge real terms pay cut pushed 6,000 train drivers in the Aslef union to walk out for a second 24-hour strike on Saturday.
And with inflation at 11.8 percent the strike “is even more important now than when we initially voted”, striking train driver Tom from Oxfordshire told Socialist Worker.
Workers struck at nine train operating companies that are refusing a pay rise. The drivers at these companies have not had an increase for more than three years—since April 2019.
The bosses say the decision now is down to the government and the government says it’s down to the operating companies.
Andy from Manchester Aslef told Socialist Worker, “This is a blatant attack on workers post-Covid. The bosses give contracts to their friends and families and they expect us to pick up the bill.”
He added, “We will fight for every term and condition they want off us.”
“We haven’t had much choice but to strike,” said Tom. “All rail workers have seen multi-million pound deals given to the rail network and bosses being paid handsomely.
“What we are asking for isn’t unreasonable—we’ve seen the money, passenger levels are almost up to pre-pandemic levels. We just want a new pay deal that acknowledges we worked through the pandemic and the high cost of living.”
Before the pandemic, train operators paid out dividends to shareholders worth £262 million. During the pandemic’s first year, they still managed to pay out £38 million.
Avanti West Coast bosses lied to passengers that Aslef strikes were causing disruption on non-strike days. They used this as a cover as they slashed services this week. Aslef general secretary Mark Whelan said, “There is—and has been—no unofficial industrial action on Avanti.
“The truth is that the company does not employ enough drivers to deliver the services it has promised passengers it will run. The company itself has admitted that 400 services each week are dependent on drivers working their rest days.”
Transport minister Grant Shapps fuelled the disinformation adding, “Archaic rules from 1919 mean working on rest days is voluntary.”
Shapps probably doesn’t know that 1919 was the year of a great railway strike which saw members of what was then the National Union of Railwaymen bring the rail network to a complete standstill for nine days.
They were fighting 20 percent pay cuts. The government eventually capitulated and workers won big concessions—although union leaders then backed off as Britain moved towards the brink of revolution.
The only thing “archaic” about the present situation is that bosses and shareholders have trousered hundreds of millions while workers get wage cuts.
Despite attacks from bosses and Tories the strikers received masses of support on around 40 major picket lines. Members of the Unison union joined the picket line at King’s Cross in London, NEU members joined in Derby, the IWW in Oxford, Unite in Hull and Extinction Rebellion in Portsmouth among others.
Tom added, “The support we’ve been getting is really reassuring when the media is not on our side.”
The strike has the potential to escalate with strike ballots closing at Chiltern Railways, Northern Trains and TransPennine Express on 25 August.
Aslef leaders mustn’t delay calling more dates—and these should be in unison with other rail and bus workers who will walk out from Thursday.
The rail workers have started a movement against the Tories and bosses’ low wage, high profit system that needs numbers to spread to more industries.
Not only can the rail workers win on pay but they can tear apart the fragile Tory party and raise larger demands of renationalisation.