Britain: Historic RMT strikes show the way

During the Covid crisis the combined wealth of the billionaires in the UK rose 21.7% to £597 billion. Yet the Tory government and capitalist media complain about workers on the railways fighting for an increase in pay and to save jobs!

Our members will not stand by and watch our conditions, won by years of struggle, be smashed by a government that represents the interests of the capitalists. The cabinet is made up of millionaires including Rishi Sunak and his billionaire tax-dodging family.

The workers in the rail industry worked during the Covid crisis, like all workers are struggling with the cost of living, and are now threatened with job losses and attacks on pensions and wages.

Enough is enough. 50,000 rail workers are now striking to fight back. Other unions are balloting for action.

Polls suggest the vast majority of workers support us. This is a historic strike that must be supported by the whole trade union movement, not least because of the threats of new anti-trade union measures, such as setting minimum service requirements and legalising the use of agency workers to do the work of strikers.

But this strike could also be the start of mass working-class struggle the length and breadth of Britain, as workers facing similar attacks gain in confidence and push their trade union leaders to coordinate action.

United in one struggle

Train guard

We only finished our last dispute with West Midlands Trains in 2019 and now we are having to fight for the future of our jobs again.

I am 100% in support of the strike action and if we all stick together we can force management back.

Most of us come from industries where the terms and conditions are nowhere near as good as what we get on the railway. We want to keep it that way, but you have to be prepared to fight for them once in a while. That can encourage other workers to fight for better too.

Shift work can be a killer but we are on a four-day week and get an above-average amount of annual leave. They can’t force you to change your hours just to suit them. This is the benefit of having a strong trade union, but you have to be prepared to take strike action when necessary, otherwise management will try to take advantage.

We know that guards on trains make the railway better and safer for passengers but management see us as an unnecessary expense and want to get rid of us eventually.

This dispute is fantastic because finally all grades can be united in one struggle. I truly believe that if we stick to our guns we can win a decent pay rise and keep our terms and conditions.

Enough is enough

Network Rail maintenance worker

Infrastructure maintenance workers are now more than ready for the largest nationwide industrial action in generations, and prepared to fight against the company’s proposed attacks on their jobs, pay and conditions.

These attacks on our infrastructure workers include the threat of compulsory redundancies with thousands of job cuts in maintenance, including the removal of a whole grade of workers. They include tearing up long-standing terms and conditions, such as removal or reduction of protections on unsociable hours and weekend working.

The bosses want to change the current grading structures and duties, including the requirement to cover other areas and departments. This will ultimately result in the closure of depots and the loss of more jobs. The company has also stated that in order to fund a pay rise, even more ‘efficiency’ savings would need to be found.

The company is also pushing through with a 50% reduction in signalling maintenance inspections and a reduction to the frequency of many other safety-critical maintenance tasks. It seems that the company and this Tory government have forgotten the lessons of the past. Do we really need to return to the dark old days where underfunded and inadequate maintenance regimes resulted in serious derailments such as at Potters Bar?

But these proposals, under the guise of ‘Modernising Maintenance’, are nothing new. The massive mandate for industrial action is a result of years of threats. The company is now using the drop in passenger numbers during the pandemic and government underfunding as an excuse to try to push through their long-term plans, and more.

But our infrastructure maintenance members have clearly stated that enough is enough. We are more than ready to come out fighting and demand a decent pay rise reflecting the cost-of-living increases, and a halt to the constant attempts to attack our terms and conditions at every opportunity.

Building on the spirit of 1994

Signaller

It’s been 28 years since our grade took industrial action, and we were hoping that those bad old days were firmly in the past.

But with this particular Tory government, nothing at all comes as a surprise. Boris has had a bee in his bonnet with the RMT since long before he was prime minister, and I don’t think he ever got over the bloody nose he was given by Bob Crow when he was London mayor.

Having been praised as key workers during the pandemic, we have been ignored in the aftermath. Our traditional inflation-linked pay rises have not happened in three years, with no prospect of any deal, and the cost of everything spiralling.

Our industry is changing, with many signal boxes now gone and replaced by computerised Operating Centres.

The younger members who weren’t around in 1994 do not know how hard we fought that summer to get the terms and conditions and decent wages we have all enjoyed since.

But if this government gets its way, we could soon return to the dark old days pre-1994, with attacks on pensions as well as everything else.

That is why I am proud of the turnout in the ballot, which sends a message to Boris and his cronies that this generation of members are prepared to carry the baton and build on the spirit of 1994.

We will strike alongside 50,000 other rail and tube workers to fight to defend our hard-won terms and conditions.

Unity is strength

London Underground tube driver

In March 2020, the UK went into a Covid lockdown. London Underground has a ‘self-financing’ model, the only major metro system not to be subsidised by government. But under the Covid crisis, the Tories had to step in to help support the system.

Fully aided by the London Labour mayor, the Tory government drip fed Transport for London with money, under the condition that TfL tear up our terms and conditions, reduce our workforce, and review our pension scheme with the intention of increasing contribution rates, decreasing benefits or both.

The government spending review laid this out in stark terms:

  • a reduction of 600 station jobs
  • more flexibility and more unsociable hours
  • £730 million of savings year on year
  • a review of service levels, likely to lead to a reduction of drivers and services on trains
  • a review of the pension scheme, which London Underground hope will save them around a £100 million a year

RMT members have said enough is enough. We have kept the transport system running during the pandemic, with the sad loss of many of our members in doing this.

In March we took action altogether on the tube, which showed our collective power in shutting London down. This was followed by our station members taking action on 6 June, which was a huge success.

We fundamentally believe that the Underground system is a service and should be publicly owned and funded, and not used as a profit-making tool for the capitalist system. It should be a cheap and fully integrated transport system, democratically run, for the benefit of Londoners and visitors to London, whether for work, leisure or tourism.

We also recognise that this could be a long battle. On 21 June we will take action again, and will be proud to stand with our national rail colleagues.

We need to stand together in unity to maximise pressure on the Tory government and its austerity ideology, because unity is indeed strength.

Long strike on the underground continues

For a decent work-life balance

RMT night tube worker

For the last six months, the RMT transport union has carried out the longest period of industrial action on London Underground. That action is because of the imposition of night tube duties on the full-time driver roster.

The employer has cut 300 night tube part-time jobs, which is the equivalent of 180 full-time positions. There is a previous agreement which meant that full-time drivers were not required to work night tube shifts. However, during negotiations arising from the Covid-19 pandemic, part-time night tube positions have been abolished and the workload has been absorbed by the full-time roster.

The RMT attempted to negotiate a fair deal for drivers, however the night tube leaders of the Aslef union agreed to force compulsory nights on the drivers’ grade. They did not consult their members as they knew this would be unpopular. These officials will most likely never have to work these shifts, because of the association’s structure.

These shift patterns are anti-social and are a degradation of drivers’ work-life balance. They are unpopular with the Aslef drivers; however, they have not had a say. The RMT drivers have had a say and have consistently voted for strike action!

Aslef’s hierarchy have narrated this dispute as them against the RMT. However the real narrative is not what union you’re in but what side you’re on: the side of the worker or the side of the employer, who is enforcing inferior working practices on the cheap.

The RMT position is simple insofar that we simply want the night tube shifts to be voluntary. In some cases, representatives of Aslef have volunteered to cross picket lines and have actively sought to cover shifts. The workload at the moment for the night tube is negligible as the successful RMT dispute has meant that no driver need work a night tube shift.

The choice is clear for any driver: stand with your class, your own long-term interest and the next generation of employees so that we do not hand them inferior working conditions. Aslef members have not had a say but benefit from the duties being voluntary. In fact, most of them observe the picket lines.

On the 7 June the RMT received ballot results for the night tube reballot. The result was 86% ‘yes’ vote to continue the strikes.

In solidarity with the continuing working-class struggle!

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