Letters—Let’s not miss the chance for strikes in the NHS

Posted on: August 15th, 2022 by Isabel No Comments
Nurses and other NHS strikes on the march in 2021 with placards such as "Migrants make our NHS"

Nurses and NHS workers fought for pay in 2021 but did not carry out strikes (Pic: Guy Smallman)

It’s exciting to see so many workers on strike, and that health workers are getting ready to fight for better pay. It would be even better to see my union, Unison, collaborating and getting itself in gear sooner. The issues we face—rising bills, poverty and being unable to afford food—aren’t going anywhere. And it’s only going to get harder if we don’t strike now.

Bills are going up again in the winter and already nurses around me are in distress about how they’ll make ends meet. But last week younger nurses—part of the RCN union—were discussing going on strike. They were talking about not giving notice and being ready to just walk out.

Despite the RCN balloting from 15 September, Unison won’t be balloting until 27 October. If we all came out on the same day that would be a real show of strength. Instead union bureaucrats prove they know how to pop the bubble of anger and enthusiasm.

The reality is members are being stirred up now. The £1,400 pay “rise” we’ve been offered will start going into people’s accounts while balloting is going on. There is a need for urgency to get on with it quicker. Otherwise, we could be having arguments about fighting for the difference between what we want and what we’ve been given.

Unison is wondering how it can get higher than the 24 percent turnout we had last year. But it needs to be reactive to things in the real world. There is a really strong mood and a momentum that has to be built on now.

It was brilliant that Unison called a meeting of the health executive team as soon as the government announced the plans. But now we need to re-examine the timetable for the ballot. Let’s strike while the mood is hot.

Janet Maiden

Nurse and Unison union activist, London


Stop this deportation

Our friend Richard Nomba was taken into detention from his home in Swansea for the second time last Monday. He is now in the Immigration Removal Centre at Heathrow and at risk of imminent deportation. Richard was first detained in June and released after three days, but the government has come after him again.

Richard comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo—a country where opponents and critics of the existing regime are not welcome. He came to Swansea as an asylum seeker in June 2018. He began volunteering straight away, and became involved in an organisation to help other Congolese immigrants in Swansea.

When the lockdown began Richard packaged and delivered food and toiletries to people who were isolated and in need. His voluntary work was recognised by the National Lottery Community Fund. After he was detained and released in June, Richard came back to his home in Swansea and re-started volunteering.

Now his life has been turned upside down again by the cruel asylum policies of a vicious Tory government. Richard is a staunch supporter of Stand Up To Racism and understands the importance of fighting against racism. He is our friend, and should be allowed to come back to Swansea.

Alice Greenlees

Swansea


IMF admits horror but takes no effective action

The International Monetary Fund’s June report states extreme weather “has inflicted crippling losses across the Middle East”. But it was clear from Cop26 that new money will not go to poor nations. The decision in Glasgow was to only “initiate dialogue” about funding to “avert, minimise and address loss and damage”. The central banks and insurance companies need the science to know where their assets are likely to be hit.

But according to Professor Andy Pitman the modelling used is limited. It is geared only towards average climate change, not on extreme weather events. The Network for Greening the Financial System uses this limited modelling to advise around 100 central banks. Trillions of dollars are being invested without understanding the risks.

Miriam Scharf

East London


Strikers’ self-activity is crucial to win

The recent wave of strikes and ballots should give hope to socialists in every workplace. It is a welcome return to a level of militancy, which can break with a pessimistic attitude that workers cannot win. There should also be a return to large workplace pickets, meetings and all sorts of initiatives that go beyond not attending work. And these should be decided by workers themselves.

This year a strike wave took place with NEU union members in schools in Waltham Forest, east London. Fifteen ballots took place over the course of a year. Members were angry over a range of issues, including attacks on pensions, workload and redundancies.

The schools where strikes took place saw lively, well attended pickets and opportunities to discuss strategy and tactics. Crucial to this was the self-activity of the members themselves. This was the driving force. It was the union members, not the local officials, that became creative. Unsurprisingly, it helped create a new layer of reps in schools who feel they can build power in the workplace.

Paul Phillips

East London


Covid shows the Tories will let us die

If Boris Johnson was okay about elderly and disabled people dying during the pandemic, his successor will be okay with a few thousand more people dying this winter. It shows what this government thinks of people—letting us die and taking away our rights more and more. They all need to go now.

Alexa

On Twitter


Stop paying the fuel bills

The whole country—everyone—needs to stop paying their gas and electricity bills to these greedy power hunger companies. If everyone sticks together, they will have to take notice. Hit them in their pockets where it hurts, just like they are doing to all of us.

Shaun Boland

On Facebook


Food banks aren’t normal

It’s better for workers to strike now, especially NHS staff. Otherwise nurses will all turn and leave. This world is centred on profit. If anyone in work has to use benefits or food banks as a normal way of living then something is wrong.

Jonathan Broadhurst

On Twitter


Cops rotten to the core

The extent of Met police strip-searches of children is a disgrace (Socialist Worker, 6 August). It’s absolutely sickening that they get away with these violations. Socialist Worker linked this to another case of a man almost being killed after being put in a chokehold.

It’s story after story of the same horrors from the police. These aren’t evidence of accidents or anomalies. This is what the police do, and the sooner they’re off the streets the better.

Sharon Casey

Warwickshire

Wattstax–when soul tried to soothe America’s wounds

Posted on: August 15th, 2022 by Sam No Comments
Wattstax album cover

Giant crowds form the Wattstax live album cover.

“I may be poor but I am somebody. I may be on welfare but I am somebody.” Stadium compere Reverend Jesse Jackson cried out these words, beckoning each refrain to be repeated in a call and response pattern common to black churches.

“I may be unskilled, but I am somebody.” “I am black, beautiful and proud. I must be respected. I must be protected”.

“What time is it? Nation time!” This was the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on a hot August day 50 years ago. That crowd of concert goers took up Jackson’s rallying cry, raising fists which punctured the skies in uniform salute.

Jackson wore an African dashiki top that day, set off by an impeccably teased afro. Motown singer Kim Weston delivered a rendition of Lift Every Voice and Sing—a song billed as the black national anthem.

Wattstax was staged as a nod to the city’s urban rebellion of 1965. Watts is a district of Los Angeles. In 1965 some 20 percent of the city’s population was black and a third of them had no job.

While Stax was one of the biggest soul music labels. Riots Much as in Harlem, New York, the previous summer, the Watts riots were triggered by a seemingly mundane run-in with “the man”—white authority.

Cops had pulled a black motorist over a traffic violation but then drew their batons, clubbing a crowd that gathered to object. The response came as hundreds of people then hurled stones at passing white motorists. Cars were upended and then torched.

The action spread from there over six days. Time magazine, having grossly misread the nation’s mood, was shaken.

Its initial optimism stemmed from news of recent advances by US troops in Vietnam, plus reports of bumper crop harvests. Now, however, it shuddered at “The Negro’s unbridled rage”. It continued in that vein.

“A Negro woman tried to run a National Guard blockade and was riddled with machine gun fire,” it wrote. “An eighteen year old boy caught looting a fire-damaged furniture store was shot dead; near where he fell was a body so hideously charred that police were unable to determine the sex.

“Fifty police rushed to the Black Muslim mosque in Watts on a tip-off that arms were being laid there, arrested fifty-nine Negroes after a half-hour gun fight”. At its peak, the state deployed 14,000 National Guard soldiers.

Thirty five civilians died and 900 were injured. Property damage was said to be £40 million.

Stax was a Memphis-based soul record label, an unvarnished flip side to Detroit’s polished Motown. They propelled the Wattstax festival, lending their promotional name and supplying the artists.

Formed in 1959, Stax would achieve ascendancy over Sam Phillips’ Sun Records—the label of Elvis Presley and many early rhythm and blues artists—as the number one label in Memphis. It was home to some of the biggest names, including that man with the greatest set of pipes, Otis Redding.

Singer Rufus Thomas was a seasoned entertainer by the time Wattstax rolled into town. He arrived on stage like a cone of candy floss in matching pink cloak, jacket, shirt, extended shorts and just below knee-high funky white boots.

Thomas set about his track, The Breakdown, with joyful purpose, throwing down a trademark staccato foot shuffle. Intensity The Bar-Kays, in resplendent white, resembled a flock of seagulls. They brought an intensity heightened by a sharp-shooting brass section.

Guitar legend BB King’s gave the crowd I’ll Play the Blues For You. Its guitar bass licks and chord screams were cool enough to melt ice.

As the evening closed Luther Ingram’s confessional gospel/blues If Lovin’ You Is Wrong (I Don’t Wanna Be Right) was a beautiful lament. Isaac Hayes’ set brought the curtain down on the seven-hour festival. Sight of his stretch limousine cavalcade, his torso draped in chains and the flame orange pants he wore sent people wild.

The “Black Moses” had arrived. He performed the theme from Shaft, which had won an Oscar the previous year. But it was his song Soulsville, with its lyrical signposts to black life, that fitted best.

At Wattstax both politics and music stood at a crossroad. In his opening address Jackson proclaimed tellingly, “In Watts we have shifted from ‘burn, baby burn’ to ‘learn, baby learn’.” Street fighting the cops, and the looting and burning which had characterised the revolt of ’65, was past.

Electoral politics was now said to be the path to black freedom. Five months earlier, Jackson had met with activists and cultural nationalists in Gary, Indiana. Their purpose—which never materialised—was the formation of an electoral alternative to the twin political pillars of US capitalism, the Republicans and the Democrats.

Over time, former civil rights campaigners would run city administrations, district attorneys and heads of police departments. Stax Records also went into retreat.

With its best years of 1961-71 behind it, and unable to keep its stars, the company filed for bankruptcy. Its assets were auctioned off in 1975. Wattstax nonetheless remains a riveting all-sensory assault.

Hit The Road offers a distinctive spin on the road movie genre

Posted on: August 15th, 2022 by Sam No Comments
Hit the road

Hit The Road follows a family of four across the Iranian countryside

Hit the Road is the debut feature from Panah Panahi. He is the son of the revered, Iranian film director Jafar Panah—cruelly jailed by the Tehran regime last month.

The film charts the voyage of a family of four and their seriously ill dog as they drift towards the heart breaking departure of the elder of two sons (Amin Simiar). Due to circumstances that remain unclear throughout the film, the unnamed Big Brother is compelled to leave Iran.

We, the film’s audience, are largely in the dark, much like the younger son, who is being shielded from unsettling realities by his loving mother (Pantea Panahiha) and his grumpy but endearing father (Hassan Madjooni).

All four of the movie’s central performances are superb. However, six year old Rayan Sarlack (Little Brother) all but steals the show. A charismatic menace, he clowns around with an unrestrained curiosity that is both charming and hilarious.

Panahi’s film is deeply humanistic and layered with subtle political connotations. It has a grand sense of perspective that ensures we feel the heartbeat of this resilient family’s physical and emotional journey.

In one particularly glorious moment, the camera ascends from the ground at night. The Earth-bound scene transforms gradually until it becomes the beautiful image of the lounging father and his little boy hovering gracefully among the stars.

This memorable, imaginative scene is one of a number in which Panahi changes gear. He creates a reflective departure from the farce and tension that characterise the family’s road trip.

Panahi’s film reminds us that joy and sorrow are two sides of the same coin. An extremely funny, deeply moving story of love and loss, Hit the Road is an all too timely reminder of the brilliance and bravery of Iranian independent cinema. A truly remarkable debut, it is a road trip well worth taking.

Nationalise now, but not to bail out the system

Posted on: August 14th, 2022 by Sophie No Comments
nationalisation re-nationalisation

Gordon Brown has ruffles feathers after speaking about the possibility “last resort re-nationalisation”

The depth of the cost of living crisis is such that ideas only months ago were dismissed as “too radical” are suddenly back in fashion. The nationalisation of the energy companies is one of them.In Jeremy Corbyn’s time as leader, right wing Labour MPs dismissed their own party’s policy on the question as a throwback to the 1970s and unfit for the modern age.

A “properly regulated” free market was the only efficient way to supply households with electricity and gas, they insisted.But the sheer scale of household energy price rises has forced some to think again. Former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown this week decided to join in.

He said that the government should regulate the energy firms more tightly.And, “if this fails, as a last resort, operate their essential services from the public sector until the crisis is over.”Though he doesn’t use the word, Brown is saying that some energy firms should be re-nationalised. Brown’s apparent U-turn comes not because the arch centrist has discovered socialism.

We should remember that he was Tony Blair’s “Iron Chancellor” and presided over colossal privatisation projects, including in the NHS and on the London Underground. The conversion comes because there are times when vital industries are so threatened and the risk of popular rebellion so high that even sections of the ruling class can favour state ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.

That, after all, is how gas and electricity utilities—and many other industries first came into the public sector in 1948. In the wake of the Second World War British industry was battered, desperate and on its knees.

Only the government had the degree of centralised planning and resources necessary to rebuild it. The capitalist class were, in most cases, prepared to allow nationalisation of these assets because they believed it would help bring stability to the economy.

They saw that the cost of the modernisation of industry would be borne by the public. This form of nationalisation also encouraged a sense that “we’re all in it together”. Both the government and the bosses hoped it would mitigate against the deep pool of class bitterness that followed the war.

It is in this same spirit of “national unity” that Brown has offered his policy of a last resort re nationalisation of the energy industry. He hopes that capitalism today can be stabilised using a series of emergency measures that interfere with the market, but only temporarily.

It’s what Brown did as prime minister during the 2008 banking crisis to bail out the system. He interfered with private banks to save their system. They were part-nationalised and then handed back later.

Whatever the limitations in his plan now, Brown has certainly ruffled the feathers of Labour’s most right wing figures. Having fought off the challenge of Corbyn, they see the re-emergence of his policies as a grave danger. However, there are ways to favour nationalisation that are far better than Brown’s.

When the demand for state ownership comes as part of a mass movement or from workers in the industry, it can be part of a more radical vision of how society might be run. Fundamental to this is demanding the end of the rule of the free market.

Taking the energy industry under temporary government control until the current storm of high prices passes is a long way from a plan to wrestle control  of society from the rich. Far better than a windfall tax, we could seize the entire assets of firms such as Shell and BP and invest them in a low cost, fossil fuel-free future.

We could democratically decide ways in which to cut energy usage, and how to prioritise ecologically sustainable power generation. And, rather than overpaid bosses, workers in the new nationalised industry would run the firms themselves but be accountable to wider society.

This vision of nationalisation has nothing to do with those that want to stabilise capitalism. Instead, it aims to destroy and replace the system with something far better.

Wildcat strikes—purrfect way to claw back workers’ rights

Posted on: August 14th, 2022 by Sam No Comments
Oil refinery workers wildcat strike

Wildcat strike by oil refinery workers blocks the road in Grangemouth, Scotland. (Picture: Twitter)

As the cost of living surges, wildcat strikes are back. An increasing number of workers are downing tools to rage against the bosses. The term “wildcat strike” is used to describe a workers’ strike that bypasses the limitations of the trade union bureaucracy and the Tories’ oppressive anti-union laws.

Instead of waiting to go through the process of negotiations, indicative ballot, strike ballot and then waiting for strike dates, a wildcat strike is where workers act immediately. Most importantly it is action that rank and file workers push from below.

Amazon workers who took part in wildcat strikes last week showed that they could do just that when they refused to accept a pay rise of just 35p. These strikes have spread to other Amazon “fulfilment centres” but it’s not just Amazon workers taking action.

Construction, oil refinery and other workers are coming together and participating in wildcat strikes, demonstrating a radical mood to fight back immediately. These strikes should be celebrated and encouraged to spread.

The distinction between what is “unofficial” and “official” has often been blurred. One example was a series of powerful unofficial walkouts at Royal Mail in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Often these would be over outrageous disciplinary moves by management.

Workers didn’t want to wait for ballots—they wanted the decision reversed immediately. And they often won very quickly.

Formally the walkouts were utterly spontaneous and nothing to do with the union. This was so they could avoid punishment under the anti-union laws.

But anyone who knew anything about what really happened was aware that the better union officials sometimes played a role. This was known as giving a “nod and a wink” to the rank and file.

Often workers take unofficial action alongside official action. This was especially true in the 1970s.

In 1973 Colin Barker wrote in International Socialism journal, “The building workers’ strike in 1972 was turned into a national strike by unofficial action. In varying degrees, the same was true of strikes in the docks, at Ford, in the Post Office and the local authorities. In each case, the leadership was forced into giving official approval by a rising swell of unofficial action and the threat of ‘loss of control’.”

The most important lesson that wildcat strikes teach us, is that workers can organise themselves. Workers can use their knowledge to decide what to do, where to protest, who to contact about joining strikes and how not to get sacked. They can develop new tactics to fight, as they are the ones who truly know the best way to slow down production.

Building rank and file organisation and control of workers’ strikes terrifies the bosses. And it is through participation that workers’ confidence and ideas to win can grow.

A wildcat strike by refuse workers at Welwyn Hatfield Borough council managed to oust a manager that staff said was a sexist bully. Now workers say they have the confidence to strike for better pay.

For non-unionised workers, wildcat action raises the issue of what comes next. For some that will be signing up with one of the established unions.

That may provide protection and an existing layer of support. But it can also extinguish the element of raw anger and struggle. The union can mould the activists to its way of organising rather than the activists continuing to call the shots.

On other occasions, as at Amazon in the US, workers set up their own union. As Tory rules push working class people to the brink, every strike, whether official or wildcat, must try and replicate the militancy the wildcats have shown. 

Karol Modzelewski—a fighter against the Stalinist system

Posted on: August 13th, 2022 by TTE No Comments

Polish workers revolt in Poznan

Karol Modzelewski was an inspiration to anyone fighting for a socialist society where ordinary people are in charge. He always supported workers’ struggles, right up until his death last week. 

Modzelewski played a key role in the ten million-strong Solidarity rebellion that rocked the Stalinist dictatorship in 1980-1. And after it was brought down in 1989, he opposed neoliberal shock therapy. 

The Poznan Workers’ Uprising of June 1956 turned Modzelewski into a revolutionary socialist. For all the Stalinist regime’s rhetoric of socialism and people’s democracy, workers had no control in Russia and the Eastern Bloc. They were state capitalist societies, where the state bureaucracy behaved like bosses in the West. 

In Poznan, western Poland, workers rose up amid attacks on living standards. The Stalinist authorities sent tanks to quell the revolt, killing around 50 workers. But discontent continued to bubble across the country. Rebellious Lechoslaw Gozdzik, the 25 year old workers’ leader at Warsaw’s FSO car plant, asked Modzelewski and other rebellious students to organise discussions with workers. He went every day. 

By October 1956, the Russians were ready to send tanks into Warsaw. Modzelewski joined the occupation of the FSO plant, where workers were armed with a few guns, metal castings and petrol bombs. A new Polish leadership diffused the situation and the tanks turned back, but Modzelewski continued to oppose the dictatorship. 

In 1966 Modzelewski and Jacek Kuron wrote the Open Letter to the Party, a powerful Marxist indictment of the Stalinist system. They argued that state control of industry did not make Poland a socialist state. It was a class society where the bureaucracy’s goal was “production for the sake of production”. This echoed Karl Marx’s words about how profit maximisation and accumulation are central to capitalism. It was published by socialists around the world, including the forerunners of the Socialist Workers Party. 

Modzelewski and Kuron were sentenced to prison for this call for genuine socialism. And Modzelewski received a further prison term for being one of the leaders of the 1968 student revolt in Warsaw.

In the 1970s, Modzelewski devoted his time to academic studies. But when the Solidarity workers’ rebellion began in 1980, he rushed to become involved. The new movement’s power was based on mass strikes, occupations and the formation of inter-workplace strike committees (MKS). 

Modzelewski saw a group of strikers in Gdansk with a banner that said MKS Solidarity. On his suggestion the new independent union was named Solidarity. Modzelewski was no longer a revolutionary, but he was committed to building a strong workers’ movement. He resigned as Solidarity’s official spokesperson in March 1981 after Solidarity leader Lech Walesa called off an indefinite general strike. 

He was interned when the regime introduced martial law in December 1981. Modzelewski was one of the few well-known Solidarity opposition leaders to oppose the neoliberal “transformation” after 1989. 

In the early 1990s he tried unsuccessfully to form a Labour-type party. But he continued to back strikers. Only days before his death he called today’s leadership of Solidarity strike-breakers. They had cut a deal with the right wing government before the massive school and nursery strike took place.

Don’t let right exploit Salman Rushdie stabbing to whip up Islamophobia

Posted on: August 13th, 2022 by TTE No Comments
A picture of Salman Rushdie

Novelist Salman Rushdie (Picture: Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

The appalling stabbing of novelist Salman Rushdie in New York is certain to unleash a renewed tide of Islamophobia, whatever the details of his attacker. This reaction has to be opposed.

Rushdie was attacked on stage at the end of a literary event on Friday. According to his literary agent, on Saturday morning Rushdie was on a ventilator and unable to speak. He added that the author may lose one eye.

Rushdie catapulted to fame with Midnight’s Children in 1981, which went on to sell over one million copies in Britain alone. Rushdie, who had grown up in India and then moved to Britain, was well known for his criticism of colonialism and Western imperialism. And for siding with black and Asian people who faced racism in Britain. 

But his fourth book, published in 1988—The Satanic Verses—saw him go into hiding for fear of his life.

It includes a Prophet Muhammad-like figure who is depicted as lecherous, unscrupulous and a false prophet. Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini called for Rushdie and all those associated with the book to be put to death for blaspheming the Prophet Mohammed. 

Many millions of Muslims across the world saw the book as a conscious slur just as the tide of anti-Muslim hatred worldwide was growing.

Rushdie said he wasn’t attacking Muslims and his novel was a work of fiction. That didn’t stop opposition to the book becoming the focus for many Muslims in Britain. They faced mass job losses and brutal racism from a Tory government that had been waging class war for ten years. 

In the absence of a strong and united working class movement after the defeat of the Miners’ Strike of 1984-5, anger at Rushdie became a convenient but misplaced target. 

But it was never enough just to defend Rushdie. The “Rushdie affair” was used by sections of the right and liberals to step up a myth of  irrational and violent Muslims who were a threat to Western “civilisation”. They bayed for them to be repulsed by a battery of new laws in Europe and war abroad.

The offensive against Muslims in 1989 was a foretaste of what would be stepped up even more  during the War on Terror after 9/11. 

The Daily Mail newspaper raged, “Who asked Muslims to run our lives?” The Daily Star’s editorial against the secretary of the Bradford Council of Mosques was headlined, “Clear Off.” The Sun said there was “no place for murderers.” In less strident but equally poisonous tones, The Independent said there were “limits to mutual tolerance”.

That wasn’t what Rushdie wanted. In his last interview before he went into hiding, he told Socialist Worker, “In England, the most reactionary elements within the Asian community have fed stereotypes present in the most reactionary elements within white society.

“So it’s no pleasure to me to be supported by the Sun when it’s referring to Asians as rats. I’m not on the Sun’s side in that. I’d sooner be with the rats.”

Influential sections of the right sympathised with those who wanted to shut Rushdie up. They didn’t like an anti-imperialist, even if he was now targeted by Muslims. 


“We have known in our own religion people doing things which are deeply offensive to some of us. We feel it very much. And that is what is happening to Islam,” said Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher. She added that “great religions” would “endure long after the names of the people who criticised them have been forgotten”.

Her hatchet man Norman Tebbit said Rushdie’s life was “a record of despicable acts of betrayal to his upbringing, religion, adopted home and nationality”. 

In subsequent years Rushdie was a long way from anti-imperialism. He supported the 1999 Nato bombing of Yugoslavia and the US-led invasion in Afghanistan. However, he didn’t line up with the B52 liberals’ wholehearted backing for the British and US war in Iraq. He later said veils worn by Muslim women “suck” as they were a symbol of the “limitation of women”. Rushdie was certainly safe enough to be knighted in 2007 under the Tony Blair warmongers’ government.

Socialist Worker consistently argued, “No to censorship, no to racism”. In February 1989 its front page defended Rushdie’s right to criticise religion. But it also defended “the right of everyone to practise their religion “ and for Asians to “be defended against sickening racist intolerance”. 

As the right gears up for a wave of Islamophobia, it’s crucial that this socialist message from 1989 rings out clearly again.

Aslef strike builds further for rising arc of struggle against bosses and Tories

Posted on: August 13th, 2022 by Charlie No Comments
Seven Aslef strike pickets at Eusto in T-shirts that  say they were Key workers but are now "a greedy workshy union member"

Aslef strike pickets at Euston (Picture: Guy Smallman)

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. 

Big line of Aslef union members in hi-vis yellow jackets and supporters during Aslef strike in Edinburgh

On the picket line during the Aslef strike in Edinburgh

“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.

  • For pictures from the strike across Britain go to our Twitter here