By Bernie McAdam
IN RESPONSE to threats over pay, compulsory redundancies and safety, RMT rail workers have voted in favour of strike action across Network Rail and 13 other train companies in the biggest endorsement of strike action since privatisation. Only at GTR did the vote for action fall short. RMT balloted over 40,000 members, 71% of those took part in the vote with 89% voting for strikes.
Network Rail is set to shed 2,500 maintenance jobs over the next two years. There has been an effective pay freeze since 2020 against the backdrop of a cost of living crisis. And there are many proposed changes in working practices that threaten safety for railworkers and passengers.
Union leaders will obviously use the ballot result to demand talks with rail bosses. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said, ‘Our NEC will now meet to discuss a timetable for strike action from mid-June’ unless a ‘reasonable settlement’ is reached.
But exactly what is ‘reasonable’ should be for the rail workers to decide, not union officials who do not have to live on rail workers’ wages or work under their conditions.
Rank and file rail workers should assert their control by organising mass meetings where delegates can be elected to democratically run strike committees. These should be fully accountable to the members and coordinated nationally to decide how to run the strike.
Meanwhile in Scotland, ScotRail has axed over a 1,000 services after rail drivers rejected the latest pay offer and refused to work overtime. Aslef’s Kevin Lindsay said ‘A 2.2% pay increase (offered verbally and not in writing) at a time when inflation is nearing 10% is a significant real-terms pay cut’.
Aslef now intends to hold a ballot in early June to seek a mandate for industrial action, including an all out strike for an improved pay offer. RMT will also ballot of its members on ScotRail. Members of both unions and white-collar staff in TSSA should hold joint meetings and work together to bring about a strike and prevent union leaders from adopting conflicting strategies or, worse, from selling out.
Indeed now is the time for union leaders to link all these struggles and strike together whilst the iron is hot. Rail unions can be the first to show the government and the bosses that the working class should not have to pay for the cost of the current economic crisis.
A complete transport shutdown would terrify the Tories and their privateer friends; it could even threaten to blow the teetering UK economy into a full-on recession, halting not only passenger trains but freight as well.
Rank and file rail militants must ensure their leaders use this opportunity to the max and not settle for partial gains that will be whittled away by inflation. Or they must replace them.
At the same time, activists in other unions or local cost of living campaigns can play their part by building public support for the strikes, explaining that it is penny-pinching bosses to blame and calling for renationalisation of the railways—without a penny of compensation!