The World Socialist Web Site is running live coverage of this week’s UK rail strike, including reports, photos and interviews from picket lines. The 24 hour strikes, involving 50,000 workers, began Tuesday and continue on Thursday and Saturday.
For full WSWS coverage of the strike, including the Socialist Equality Party (UK) statement, “The British rail strike: Mobilise the entire working class against the Johnson government!”, visit this WSWS topic page
Saturday June 25, 2022
Rail workers and supporters speak at London rally
Around 1,000 people attended a rally in support of striking rail workers in front of London King’s Cross station.
William, a signalling maintainer with 10 years’ experience, explained, “They say they don’t support fire and rehire, but the plan of Network Rail was to do away with a grade, which is about 3,000 jobs, and then create a new grade and hire some of them back. That is fire and rehire, it definitely is. They pay out all this money in profits but then when somebody asks for a pay rise in line with inflation after working through the pandemic, nothing!
“When [Prime Minister] Boris Johnson first announced on the news on the pandemic that you shouldn’t go outside unless it was a necessity, I was on my way to work. I was at work that night with no mask, no PPE. No one had got organised. We all worked through it. All the managers worked from home throughout the pandemic. But as soon as it was over the managers said, ‘we’ve got a plan, we are going to sack you all.’”
Describing the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, William said, “Everything is more expensive, it’s quite hard. We are lucky in our job we have the availability to do overtime. A lot of people rely on working overtime to survive and pay our bills. I don’t have kids but some that do have to work on the side for them. There is not much left over after paying my bills and rent. There is not much left over if I don’t go get extra shifts. It’s just working and paying bills.”
Asked if he thought the strike was a political struggle, he answered, “Yes, the Tories don’t want to give anyone a rise. They want to suppress the wages of everyone. If we in the RMT stand up it leads the way for other people to stand up. We want everyone to have a pay rise, like a lot of the socialist people here, we want everyone to have a rise. Someone has got to start the thing and stand up.”
Read more coverage from the London rally here.
Rail workers and supporters attended an afternoon rally in Manchester’s Cathedral Gardens
Call centre worker John said he was there “to support the striking railway workers, to help them get fair pay, because I think if we don’t support these now then the anti-union measures will get stronger and stronger, just like when the miners [1984-85] were on strike.
“Nobody wants to go on strike, but we want better pay and conditions, while you’ve got billionaires doubling their wealth during this pandemic.”
Asked if he would support a general strike, he said, “I think it should be a nationwide strike, a general strike. It would give a strong message to the government to say, ‘Look, we’re stronger than you think’.
“The government don’t want us to stand together, they want us divided. They want to keep taking from us and giving to their paymasters, who are big businesses, millionaires, billionaires. I don’t understand how you can have a billionaire while you have people sleeping on the streets and children going hungry.”
Asked about Sir Keir Starmer’s and the Labour Party’s explicit opposition to the rail strike and his instruction to Labour MPs not to join picket lines, John replied, “I think it’s disgusting. The Labour Party is not a true socialist party because it is not supporting workers in any way, shape or form. They’re not holding this government to account.”
John said of his own job, “I’ve only got four more days left in work. Unfortunately the call centre I work in is making people redundant. In the last two or three years, what they’ve done is increase the amount of work you have to do by giving you different skill-sets. Where you might have one skill-set, that’s gone to two, three, four or five. So, then you get to do five people’s work for one wage. Then they’re cutting jobs and then after they’ve cut jobs they’ve turned two paid call centres into outsourced ones.
“They say it’s the same pay and conditions, but it isn’t. When we were employed directly by the company it was a staff turnover of maybe 4 percent, but it’s up to maybe 16 percent turnover now.
“They’re exploited in every single way. When I first joined—I’ve been in the industry about 24 and a half years—you used to have one single skill-set, maybe two, and you’d have maybe five targets to hit. Now you’ve got five skill sets and maybe 25 targets to hit. They’re unrealistic, unachievable targets.”
Hannah is studying to qualify to apply to university. She said, “I’ve been here today and Thursday and I think all working people deserve better. Everybody’s an essential worker in my eyes. We all contribute to society and everyone deserves decent pay and decent working conditions. The only power that workers have is to withhold their labour, so I support the strike.
“I would like to see more workers taking up industrial action. It’s important that people can build solidarity with each other and understand we all have the same interests, and everyone deserves a better life. My family support the strike, my friends support it. My mum is a teacher and I saw her go on strike when I was younger, so I had it explained to me at a young age.
On the government’s insistence that there is no money for a decent pay rise, Hannah said, “I think it’s shameful for the government to continue to lie about what causes inflation, about what the rail workers are asking for. They are trying to divide the working class and get people to attack each other when they have the same interests. Pay needs to match inflation, at the least, if not better.”
Asked her thoughts on a general strike, Hannah replied, “Yes, there are other sectors, such as teachers, the NHS. I would absolutely support the NHS going on strike. I think they’ve had some of the worst to deal with over the past couple of years, during the pandemic.”
Manchester rail worker: “If other workers support us internationally then that’s the only way that anything’s going to be done”
Kevin, a signaller at Manchester Piccadilly, said, “We had to keep the railways going not just for the passengers but the amount of freight that goes on trains from Felixstowe, especially Manchester Trafford Park. We kept it going all the time and we haven’t had a pay rise for three years.
“Signallers are fairly well paid but it there is other staff such as cleaners and, on the stations, disabled assistants, those in the signal offices. They are not on this mythical figure of drivers on £56,000 a year. A lot of them working on the station are on minimum wage.
“These big bosses are still making millions, shareholders are doing well but ordinary workers are suffering with fuel prices, etc. You have got nurses who can’t fill their cars up to come to work.
“All this about rushing into strikes, the RMT was talking to the government for two years, talking to the employer and they have offered us 2 percent. It’s a wage cut year on year as inflation is steadily going up.
“I don’t know how people who are on minimum wage copewhat the future holds for them, when we get to September and it starts getting colder, will they be able to keep warm make a warm meal? How can you have it in this day and age? People having to go to a food bank when they are working full-time.
“I lost a close friend to COVID. He had retired during the pandemic. We said we would meet up after the pandemic had gone for a leaving do but three weeks later he was dead. He had been coming into work. There was the case of the lady down in London [Belly Mujinga] working on the station. It was said that someone spat in her face, and she ended up dead. Care workers, providing domiciliary care going from house to house.
“You had the likes of [then health secretary] Matt Hancock, Boris Johnson made all these decisions or rather in hindsight didn’t make the decisions that led to all these deaths, they will never be held to account.
“It’s a dereliction of duty by the Conservatives, [Transport Secretary] Grant Shapps has been a disgrace… It is all to do with cost cutting and the safety regime is just being slashed.
“A portion of track is patrolled each week, points signals, etc. Incidents have happened in the past such as Grey Rigg, Potters Bar. Short cuts with maintenance eventually lead to accidents. But the few quid they are saving fills the coffers of the shareholders.
Asked about his thoughts on unifying workers in a general strike against the government, Kevin replied, “The country has been calling out for the last 12 years for a general strike. If the teachers’ union, the nurses’ union come out it might turn into a general strike.”
A worker in the payroll department at a Manchester rail station said, “The reason I’m here is to fight for working conditions, to make sure the ticket office doesn’t close in our stations, for a fair pay rise for all our members.
“I think pay should definitely go up with inflation. Ticket prices go up with RPI [inflation] every year, so why shouldn’t our wages? It should be RPI plus 2 percent, 3 percent, 4 percent, whatever we can fight for.
“I think there should be a general strike. My dad’s a member of the RMT as well, my mum’s a nurse. We’re all public sector workers who are feeling the pinch. We should all band together. It’s going to show the Tories what we’re all about.”
Regarding government plans to bring in agency staff to break strikes, another signal worker said signallers and track workers “go through so many training programmes and courses before we can actually start our job. How can you bring somebody in for one day who’s never done the job before? How can you expect them to know our 10 life-saving rules and things like that?”
After seeing the support for the strike from workers around the world speaking to the WSWS, the worker said, “I think if other workers support us internationally then that’s the only way that anything’s going to be done. I think that the only way we can make any changes is by everybody getting onboard, whether that’s the whole of the UK or the whole of the world.”
Manchester train dispatcher: “We need to stand up for what we believe in”
A dispatcher for train company Avanti at Manchester Piccadilly station said, “Being here is the right thing to do because it’s time to stand up and be there for everybody. My friends that work in the ticket office and other colleagues, we all need to stand together and support everybody.
“I feel like management want to change everything. Avanti hasn’t been particularly great to work for. We haven’t had a new uniform for god knows how long. We have to buy our own polo tops and things like that. We need a pay rise for everything we put up with. Like the shifts and coming home at quarter to two in the morning with no extra increment no pay rise.
“We’ve worked all through COVID. I literally go to work do my job and go home, but this time around I thought we have to take a stand and hope it will have a ripple effect for everybody else that’s suffering. Every person I speak to in my department needs a decent pay rise to assist with the cost of living because everybody is suffering.
“In our role it takes a while to train people and the right kind of person. It’s not just a quick process. You can’t just put them out there. It’s not safe. You have train managers now that have incidents because they’ve only done the basic training. You need properly skilled people to do this work. They’re bringing in agency workers on zero contracts. It’s just going to spoil everything that we’ve all built up within the railway. It’s about time everybody makes a stand, whatever your role is because the government is just taking the mick. The fat cats are getting fatter and we’re just here getting more workload, more hours.
“Traffic at the station is back to pre-pandemic levels. They’ve got queues outside the door. The barriers are open. They’re crying out for staff. There are people that want the jobs but the train companies are just not backfilling jobs.
“We need to stand up for what we believe in because we’re not getting a pay rise and the cost of living is soaring. Some people can’t even afford to put the heating on.
“We had an American nurse, she came up to me up there before and she said, ‘Thank you so much to all of you, because in my job, me as a nurse, I actually can’t strike.’ That’s what we’re all doing it for. The bigger picture. Not just the railway. We’ve got a three-day strike, so that’s three days’ pay out of next week’s wages. But I think we’re in this for the long haul.”
Southeastern conductor: “A national general strike is going to happen, and it should happen!”
Ashford International station in Ashford, Kent, is a major rail hub for the whole south east of England. An experienced conductor for Southeastern trains said, “I am on strike today to protect 2,900 jobs that will be lost if we don't fight.
“To lose 2,900 jobs, especially after what happened down the road at P&O Ferries, is shocking. We need to fight to protect these jobs, to protect pensions which I have been paying in to for 20 years. This is going to be the only time we can stand up to the government. So do it now.
“A national general strike is going to happen, and it should happen! We have not had one since the 1970s. Workers need to unite, get together and show this government we are not going to be pushed around and we do not believe their lies. They have had their lies, their “partygate”. £78 billion wasted on PPE deals. Now according to them the pandemic is over.
“We want our pay rise, everyone deserves a pay rise. Those billions could have been spent on a pay rise for all workers, to sort out social housing and end the need for foodbanks. [Chancellor Rishi] Sunak has just decided to write off £30 billion that went missing. It is not good enough. This government has to go and we need to fight.
“What they want to do at Network Rail is cut thousands of jobs and replace them with drones. It is going to be Potters Bar all over againmore accidents. It is not going to be safe. It is the workers that make the railway safe. I would not want to travel on it if they do this. We need men and women on the trains, on the tracks and in the stations and ticket offices. The government want a railway with no people just machines. It is rubbish.
“Cleaners are disgracefully treated. They are on minimum wage or less. They work hard with no benefits, 12 hour days and nights. We have seen in the media that rail workers wages start at £34,000—it is rubbish. In the rail industry we have some of the worst paid people in the whole country, in all sectors of the railway. They need supporting and looking after.
“The cleaners set the tone. They went on strike first and now it is us. Then the barristers, Royal Mail, the teachers, then the NHS. Five years ago, the junior doctors went out on strike. How they were vilified by ‘The Scum’ newspaper (the Sun). They attacked doctors striking for a fare wage. We need to fight against all of this.
“I love my job and I love working for the railway. This is not a struggle against just management. It is against the Boris Johnson and his criminals.”
Sheffield rail pickets: “Workers are facing the same struggle, we have to stick together”
At Sheffield railway station Tom and Sue (not their real names) had already read the Socialist Equality Party’s statement “The British rail strike: Mobilise the entire working class against the Johnson government!” on day one of the strike. They were shown the live coverage feed from the World Socialist Web Site and responded, “That is brilliant”.
Tom has worked on the railways for more than three decades and is a rail guard, “I have worked on the rail through British Railways and seen it overtaken by the private sector. Privatisation clearly was not the answer to the problems that did exist in the railways. It needed modernising and investment. Through privatisation, it was no longer a service for the public but for investors and the rich. It was all about profits.
“Safety was compromised. We have constantly fought against Driver Only Operated [DOO] trains, which impacts me as a guard. This went through here in the 80s. It is an ongoing struggle in some cities. It is unsafe, the company knows it, but it is too costly, so safety is always reduced to profits. Every time there is new rolling stock, we have to fight to defend our jobs.”
When our reporter pointed out that the RMT had allowed DOO to go through at several companies and had sabotaged efforts by workers to oppose it, Tom said, “I agree, the unions didn’t fight DOO. It is a real bug bear of mine how the union allowed that to go through.
“This strike is necessary as our conditions are being attacked constantly. This is not just about wages,” Sue said. “This is about restructuring. Our pensions are being attacked and changed constantly.” Tom opposed the strike-breaking operation and said he was informed that on the first day of the strike there were 141 signalling violations which placed people at risk.
Tom said, “This is not just about redundancies or wages, but terms and conditions. If we end the dispute, they will just force through whatever they want and impose it on us. We can’t have that. Workers across the country are facing the same struggle. We have to stick together. These strikes should be coordinated nationally, with BA workers, Post Office and teachers.”
When our reporter explained that the unions have no intention of doing that and have isolated disputes and imposed the austerity policies of the last decade and the “let it rip” pandemic agenda which has cost tens of thousands of workers their lives, Sue said, “The government have bailed British Rail and other companies with millions and now they want us to pay for it.”
Tom said, “This is just the beginning. It will get worse and workers will be attacked. We have to fight this collectively.”
Another conductor stated, “They talk about modernisation, but this is about taking things backwards as far as workers’ terms and conditions are concerned. They want to end allowances for night and weekend work. It is modern slavery. And they expect us to be grateful. It is not just rail. They want to turn back the clock on the rights of all workers. We need to stand together. There is the money, but it is in the wrong hands and this needs to change, not just locally but globally.”
Striking rail workers march in Glasgow, as young people show support
Hundreds of striking rail workers and their supporters marched through Glasgow city centre on Saturday morning. Union branch delegations were represented, including teachers, fire fighters, Rolls Royce workers, local government care workers and cleansing workers.
Freddie Peters, a social care worker and student from Denmark, was among several young people who attended the rally.
Freddie said, “When anyone is striking, I think all workers have to be united and show solidarity. There is no difference between rail workers striking or university staff striking. It is all one united fight against the bosses, so I just think it’s important we support them in numbers. If one union is striking and not getting support from another, then that would affect everyone.'
Asked about the way forward, Freddie said, “I honestly think they should just keep striking. They are being villainised in the media which is just ridiculous. They have been pushed to this. No-one wants to be not working and not getting paid. It is a scary thing to do and will cost the union a lot of money. So I think they should go on as long as they can. I don't care about not being able to take the train, I'll take the bus.'
On the need for a wider struggle against the Johnson government and the union’s opposition to this, Freddie said, “I totally agree. Everyone keeps striking at different times. We can support specific groups individually at any one time. But it is not going to end with just one union. I think we all need to take collective action. Everyone needs to work together against the common enemy. It’s not just rail workers, it is every worker that is being affected by this.'
Freddie was attending the demonstration with Dan McPadden, a student and retail worker.
Dan said, “I am here because there is nothing more important to the trade union movement than showing solidarity. I know that if I am ever forced into a situation that I am forced into strike action, that people from the RMT and all the unions represented here would be out supporting me. That is what the trade unions are about.”
Our reporter pointed out that this had not been workers' experience for decades, Dan replied, “The trade union movement has been completely kneecapped by Tory and New Labour governments for that entire time, and it certainly hasn't helped itself. The people at the top of the trade unions have got a comfortable enough life. They are happy going along to meetings. Frances O'Grady, the head of the TUC was last year in a cushy wee meeting in Downing Street and agreed to stuff. The people currently at the head of the trade union movement are comfortable enough, going into meetings, agreeing small pay rises and not wanting to take this kind of action.'
Dan continued, “This is the biggest industrial action I have even seen in my lifetime. I think it is a strong base to build on, even though it’s not perfect”. Dan expressed agreement with the WSWS proposal to set up rank-and-file committees in every workplace. “I completely agree with that. James Connolly brought these ideas over from socialists in America. It’s a long-standing idea, and the only way we can ultimately defeat capitalism.”
York railway pickets: “people are beginning to wake up”
Michael works as a customer services assistant, train dispatcher, “We work on the station and moving forward they would like to close all the ticket offices and then amongst all the other roles we are expected to do, we will be involved in ticket sales, adding more pressure on us, wanting more and more for less reward.
“A lot of people with mobility issues or not from this country will need extra help, not all commuters are that savvy. The tickets are that complicated, and people need help, and it is not going to be there.”
Pickets reported that a company called Carlisle Services which operates the ticket barriers are set to take over jobs. Michael said, “the model of an airport is what they would like, with private contractors, cheap labour taking over the jobs that people are doing. I think that is the way they would like to take it.
“Moving forward, people are feeling the pinch with inflation rates, and are quite rightly demanding a fair pay rise. But for a lot of people, I don’t think that is the main issue. There are job losses, and [cuts to] pensions and how we are expected to be working. It is quite a tough environment. We work long hours, from 4 o’clock in the morning. We sacrifice a lot of our work/life balance. We should be rewarded for it, and we don’t feel we are.
“In the very early stages of the pandemic, the only PPE we had was a badge which said, ‘please keep 2 metres away’, but you had to go up close to be able to read it! For months and months that was all we were given.”
Recalling Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s declaration, “No more lockdowns. Let the bodies pile high in their thousands”, Michael said, “You can go back to the First World War, there was a lot of collateral damage, with them saying ‘don’t worry we are right behind you’. While a lot of people were giving their lives, and in the pandemic people were sacrificing their lives while others happily sat by watching.
“I think a lot of people have been quite happily going along. For the last two decades people have had money in their pockets to be able to buy a house and things and become a bit apathetic. But now people are beginning to wake up and realise what the issues are, where we are in the pecking order of things and their priorities and hopefully people are beginning to get the message.
“The politicians try to divide people, but there is a lot of support, and there is going to be a lot more unity. People over the last few decades might have been only able to afford one holiday a year but come October they won’t be able to put the heating on and they will be turning lights off. People are wakening up to the reality of that now.”
Kris, another rail picketer, said, “Workers are getting poorer, but shareholders are getting paid out, so the money is there. I think they want to break us and then they can break anybody, that is what they are trying to prove. But we are getting support from the public.”
Another York picket, Danny, works in Signals and Telecoms on the railway. He said, “The department I’m in we do national signal works. We decommission old signalling equipment and recommission the new kit on the tracks, signals, track circuits and level crossings.
“Every day when we go out there’s thousands of lives in our hands. We were out every day during the pandemic and still had to keep all the safety protocols, masks on all the time and 2 metre distance. We found it difficult because we have diagrams for the rewiring so I was having to stand back and check the work my colleague was doing. On a weekend, we had to take all the old stuff out, rewire for the replacement and test it all, make sure it’s all right, sign it back in again.
“I started on the railways in 1996 and with Network Rail since 2005. I've always been on signalling.
We've seen a lot of changessome of it for the better, but not all. TPWS [train protection warning system] was only brought in after an accident, and we had warned them about that, but the managers had their heads in the sand about it.
“Safety is key and the management say it’s in the Stone Age the way we work but things have to be checked to avoid accidents.
“We want to use new technology to make our lives easier and make the public safer. We want to use new technology and put equipment in so we can walk away from a job and think “with the work we've done, we're not causing a train crash”. We put TPWS in to protect junctions and crossovers [level crossings] and things to reduce the risk. We knew the old stuff we were taking out—the AWS [Automatic Warning System] stuff using magnets—was out-of-date technology.
“What they refer to as Great British Railways, really it's just the Tories bringing in changes as a present to their [big business] backers. It's got nothing to do with benefiting the British public. It benefits the franchises that are running the railways. You just have to look at British Gas, that's not there to benefit the public, it's just a commodity owned by big business. They [the government] have given billions to the rail companies and the shareholders. Why don't they go back to them if they're short of money?
“We are all in this together, nobody’s stupid they can see what’s going on the bigger picture and where the moneys going, we are just used to make profits for the shareholders.”
London Bus Rank-and-File Committee sends greetings to striking rail workers
Victimised London bus driver David O’Sullivan, a founding member of the London Bus Rank-and-File Committee, has sent a statement of support to rail workers as they wage a third day of strike action against the Johnson government’s privatisation plans for Great British Railways.
O’Sullivan, a London transport worker for three decades, was sacked by Metroline in February 2021 after he asserted his right to a safe workplace under Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act. The company was concealing an uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 infections at the garage.
A campaign for O’Sullivan’s unconditional reinstatement has won support from thousands of bus and transport workers in the UK and internationally. Information about the campaign is available here.
Dear brothers and sisters,
The London Bus Rank-and-File Committee extends our solidarity to this week’s powerful strike by 50,000 rail and underground workers. Your struggle is being followed by millions of workers in the UK and internationally.
Bus workers too are demanding united action. We have both experienced years of profiteering, speed-ups, longer hours, worsening conditions and pay.
Like you, within a very short period we’ve gone from being called frontline heroes working throughout the pandemic to being greedy, ungrateful “enemies within”, holding London to ransom.
More than 103 transport workers lost their lives to COVID-19, and this is how they treat us! And now the pandemic is being used to justify even further attacks on our livelihoods.
This is a political dispute. We’re confronting a Tory government that is spending billions on the war in Ukraine yet is saying they have no money for the NHS, for transport or for teachers. Their economic plan is for us to foot the bill.
There is potential right now to unify the struggles emerging on the rail and buses to bring down this hated government. But this is being suppressed and divided by the unions, while the Labour Party is denouncing the strikes and banning its own MPs from visiting pickets.
We face the same enemy and the same problems, but our struggles can only be unified if we build new organisations of class struggle, rank-and-and-file committees, to link up with workers across industries and across national borders.
The richest 10 billionaires increased their wealth to $1.5 trillion during the pandemic, while a new billionaire was minted every 30 hours. These vast riches, created by us, must be used for human need not profit. This means nationalising the major corporations, including transport, and placing them under the democratic control and ownership by working people.
All the problems we face—the cost-of-living crisis, the pandemic, the assault on democratic rights and war—are global problems that require a global solution. Workers are linked together like never before, working for the same multinational companies, and linked through the internet and social media like never before. We need to be linked together, through the International Workers’ Alliance of Rank-and-File Committees.
In solidarity, David O’Sullivan
Cambridge rail picket: “Cutting staff is wrong”
Emilio has been working on the railways for almost 19 years, since 2003. He said, “The cuts are wrong. First, they want to get rid of all the ticket offices. Old people, people with disabilities, or people who need help with the machines, or to plan their route, will have nothing.
“Cutting staff is wrong, because you want the passengers to travel well, and you need to take care of them. Network Rail is cutting the engineers and it’s absolutely wrong. When there is an accident maybe 100 people will die. They decide, ‘we need to save this but look at the profits they pay to the top companies or to the director. The directors earn a lot more than us!
“Pay is important, but for me it’s more about the future. My colleagues who used to pay £100 or £150 per month to come to work by car, now it’s about £250. But the most important thing is the future of the staff. We are very worried.”
Network Rail pickets at Cowlairs, Scotland: “We are choosing between heating and eating”
Around 20 Network Rail employees are picketing the Cowlairs maintenance depot in Springburn, north Glasgow.
James, a railways engineer said, “Today is one of my days off, and I came down to show solidarity with these guys. We’re all facing a cost-of-living crisis that the Tory government have mismanaged. We’re all feeling that. The vast majority of workers haven’t had a pay rise for years, so that’s now came to the fore as the rate of inflation hits double digits for the first time in my lifetime.
“My income hasn’t changed in four or five years, and it’s now at the point where we arechoosing between heating and eating. So, what these guys are doing, protesting and fighting back against job cuts, changes to terms and conditions, pension changes, as well as fighting for a fair pay rise, that affects us all.
“I would like to hope that within the whole working class, everybody’s behind these guys. All they’re fighting for is what we all want, a fair wage for a fair day’s work.”
Gordon Martin, an RMT regional organiser said, “The media keeps going on about pay, and pay is an important part of the dispute, but it is far wider than that. We have health and safety issues, we have got the slashing and burning of terms and conditions, we have got the slashing and burning of thousands of jobs potentially. These are the issues at the heart of this as well as pay.
“These guys here have not had a pay-rise for going onto the third year, and the cost-of-living crisis is not caused by the working class! They keep talking about wages causing inflation, but we have not had a pay rise and inflation is now at 11.7 percent RPI. The reality is inflation is caused by the bosses maximizing profits, particularly with the gas and electric prices going up, diesel, petrol, food. Everything is going up bar our wages.
“On the safety aspect, Network Rail are cutting up to 3,000 jobs nationwide. In Scotland there are already over 200 unfilled posts on the frontline. If they cut another 300 that is a huge swathe of the workforce. But they are also wanting to halve the maintenance regime, maintenance schedule tasks they are called. This is a safety risk, creating real danger. There was the Carmont derailment less than two years ago. A train went down an embankment that killed three people and inflicted life changing injuries. These are the high stakes we are playing for.
“The RMT is fighting to defend the rail industry. Some of the highest paid bosses work in rail. Alex Hynes of Network Rail in Scotland is on £330,000, which he can double with bonuses; Andrew Haines, the chief executive, £660,000 a year, which he can also double in bonuses. We have got men and women working at Central Station in Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Waverley on £20,000 a year basic. We have men and women working here maintain the infrastructure on £24,000—for unsociable hours and an inhospitable environment at times.
“On the train operating side, there are four operating companies in Scotland. They are looking to close all ticket and booking offices and to de-staff the trains. The railways will become a muggers’ paradise.”
An appeal to striking rail workers: Free Julian Assange!
One week ago, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel signed a warrant to extradite WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange to the United States, where he faces Espionage Act charges for exposing US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Today, as 40,000 rail workers enter the third day of their strike, the Socialist Equality Party in Britain makes an urgent appeal to the working class to take up the fight for Assange’s freedom.
Assange faces 175 years in a US supermax prison for publishing the Afghan and Iraq war logs, Guantanamo Bay detainee files, US diplomatic cables and “Collateral Murder” video that showed an Apache helicopter gunship crew slaying unarmed civilians.
WikiLeaks showed the brutal reality of invasion and occupation against the people of Iraq and Afghanistan that led to one million deaths. Assange exposed high crimes under international law that remain unpunished. War criminals George W. Bush and Tony Blair remain free, while the journalist who exposed their illegal conspiracies is locked up in London’s Belmarsh Prison.
“Workers must take up Assange’s cause as their own,” said Chris Marsden, SEP national secretary. “They cannot allow someone who has fought so heroically to expose the crimes of a state now being mobilised against them by Boris Johnson and Grant Shapps, to be silenced.
“Rail workers should follow the example set by dockers and millions of other workers in 1972, when a mass movement forced a Tory government to free five shop stewards jailed for defying a court injunction against picketing.
“Elected in June 1970, Edward Heath’s government immediately imposed the Industrial Relations Act against the trade unions, targeting unofficial strikes in particular. Over the next four years, he called five states of emergency, in an effort to crush a mass movement of millions against his government including the first national miners’ strike since the 1926 General Strike, in January 1972.
“On July 25 and 26, five striking shop stewards on the London docksDerek Watkins, Cornelius Clancy, Anthony Merrick, Bernie Steer and Vic Turner—were arrested for secondary picketing and sent to Pentonville jail. Mass opposition erupted led by the rank-and-file. All the major ports came to a standstill, as 170,000 dockers struck. Printers in Fleet Street walked out, stopping virtually all national newspapers.
“Rolling wildcat strikes swept the country including by airport workers, bus drivers, building workers, printers and miners. It was the biggest strike movement since the 1926 general strike.
“The Trades Union Congress remained huddled in discussions with Heath, issuing bland statements of protest. Faced with an insurrection by their members, they belatedly called a one-day general strike for July 31 to try and re-establish control.
“Too little and far too late! Amid a round-the-clock blockade of Pentonville prison by tens of thousands, the Tories caved. The hitherto little-known Official Solicitor, using ancient powers, ordered the release of the five, just six days after they were arrested.
“This is what the working class is capable of when it acts independently and in opposition to the rotten leadership of the trade union and Labour Party bureaucracy who have betrayed Assange just as surely as they want to betray the rail workers. The most powerful social force on the planet must again make itself felt against the Tory plans to deliver Assange to his would-be assassins.”
Friday June 24, 2022
New York City bus driver sends heartfelt support to UK railway workers
Wilson, a bus operator for 24 years in New York City, voiced his support for the 50,000 striking transport workers in the UK. “I support striking. It’s a way of getting their attention. Inflation is unbelievable. Everything is going up. We are just making it living from paycheck to paycheck.
“I work 12 hours a day. It’s blood money,” he continued. “The body wasn’t built for this. It’s insane. Bus operator retirees die three to five years after retirement. This is caused by bus fumes, sitting all day, driving over potholes, stress due to irate passengers. It’s a lot of different things.”
Wilson noted the social tensions that have increased together with mass death and disease from the pandemic. “Bus drivers are getting assaulted every day. One bus driver got her nose broken. She needed two surgeries. Another was stabbed about two weeks ago. The partition that we have [in city buses] is not good enough to protect us from a violent person. I believe a lot of this has increased because of the pandemic.”
New York City transit workers, like their brothers and sisters in the UK, have experienced a horrific toll from the pandemic due to the criminal policies of the government and transit agencies, working together with the unions. “When COVID first arrived, they didn’t want us to wear a mask,” Wilson recalled. “Now they write you up and penalize you with a loss of a day’s pay if you don’t wear a mask.
“A few of my very dear friends who I have known for 20 years died of this disease. I just recently went to a funeral for a bus cleaner who died of COVID-19. The wife tried to get the death penalty worth $500,000. She wasn’t able to do so because her husband was not vaccinated. She didn’t know this. This man was a father and a son.
“Management doesn’t care about us. Only when we started to drop dead like flies did they say that they will give us masks.
“The union says that they stepped up to this, but in reality, they did not. When [the union president] was campaigning in our depot, I asked him why don’t we get hazard pay. He said that the [New York] Governor Hochul will never agree to that. They call us heroes and this is the thanks we get.
“The Democrats and the Republicans are for the rich and not for the working class. We work until we die.”
Scabbing operation caused 25 safety violations on first day of strike
At least 25 safety violations were recorded on Tuesday during the first day of strike action by 50,000 rail workers, according to the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA).
Some trains left stations when signals were red, while multiple trains were sent in the wrong direction by scab stand-in staff organised by train operating companies and Network Rail.
The TSSA said it had received reports of “trains being wrong routed – which can cause serious safety incidents if trains are sent onto unfit rails, as well as leading to service delays and disruption.” The union has urged the Chief Inspector of Railways and Director of Railway Safety to investigate the safety breaches. No reply has been published.
Manuel Cortes, TSSA General Secretary, said, “Any one of these safety violations could have caused a serious accident and put both passengers and rail workers at risk…” Despite Cortes’ words, the TSSA did not ballot its own members to join this week’s national rail strike. It announced a National Rail strike ballot only this week, closing on July 11.
This week’s safety incidents show the dangers posed by new legislation tabled yesterday in parliament to legalise the use of agency staff to break strikes. It will be enacted within weeks as secondary legislation.
Tory Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng declared on Thursday that the move would give employers “the freedom to recruit skilled, temporary staff to plug vital roles during strike action.”
Kwarteng, Eton-educated, is the author of a 2015 book, Thatcher’s Trial: Six Months That Defined a Leader. He is an ardent Brexiteer who co-authored Brittania Unchained that set out Tory plans for “completing the Thatcher revolution.”
On picket lines this week, striking rail workers warned that using managers and agency workers to operate trains during strikes was a danger to public safety.
“It takes a long time to get trained up,” a Brixton picket told WSWS reporters, “So I don’t really see how they can bring agency workers in and have them do a safe job. It will be dangerous. If you go back to the King’s Cross Fire and before that, the railways were quite dangerous.
“Think of the crash in Hertfordshire—I think it was 20 years ago last month. They want to get rid of a third of the staff on National Rail. At night, when people are asleep, they’re fixing the tracks, getting the tracks in working order, Cutbacks will eventually lead to disaster.”
The Potters Bar derailment in 2002 killed 7 and injured 76. The WSWS described the derailment as “entirely preventable”, adding, “That pre-emptive steps were not taken is entirely put down to privatisation, which has produced a fragmented network and allowed the profit motive to undermine basic safety standards.”
On the picket line at Victoria, another rail worker, John, warned, “The mad rush to cut will lead to safety deficiencies and we could end up back in the days of a company called Railtrack who after privatisation were the first to take over. And we had so many serious incidents on the railways that they were removed.
“We had train crashes at Hatfield because of the conditions of the track. We had a train slide across the platform at Potters Bar and people died. It became unacceptable. We must not let people do that now and us have to endure that happening again with train crashes caused by cuts to the safety regime. We must not allow that to happen again.”
Four people were killed in the Hatfield crash in October 2000, and more than 70 injured.
The WSWS asked, “After the Hatfield rail crash—are accidents good for business?”, pointing out, “Having set up the company at a bargain price and received subsidies ever since, Railtrack executives have proceeded to enrich themselves at the expense of the rail network and the public it is supposed to serve.”
Veteran Australian Trotskyist and retired railway worker Terry Cook sends greetings to British rail strikers
The struggle of railway workers in Britain is evoking support among working people around the world. Terry Cook, born in Birmingham, England in 1942, is a founding member of the Socialist Labour League in Australia, the predecessor of the Socialist Equality Party. He worked as a railway fitter at the Electric Car workshops in Chullora, Sydney until his retirement.
Terry is a co-author of Death Underground: the 1994 Moura mine disaster and a regular contributor to the World Socialist Web Site, covering the struggles of transport workers and other key sections of the working class.
His statement is posted below:
Brother and sister rail workers,
I salute your determined stand against the drive of the corrupt Tory government and warmonger Boris Johnson to destroy thousands of rail jobs, brutally drive down wages and gut working conditions, safety and pensions.
Your struggle is a vital component of the emerging global counteroffensive by the working class against decades of austerity and vicious corporate restructuring imposed by capitalist governments to further bolster the already obscene profits and wealth of the corporate and financial elite.
Like the Johnson government, the newly elected Labor government in Australia is determined to make the working class pay for massive military spending as part of its backing for US-led imperialist war against Russia and China.
However, this takes place under conditions of mounting strikes and industrial action by rail workers, nurses, teachers and other important sections of the Australian working class against intolerable conditions inflicted over decades by Liberal and Labor governments.
Johnson is determined to inflict a defeat on rail workers as Thatcher did on the 1984-85 miners’ strike. The miners’ defeat resulted in an unprecedented suppression of the class struggle not only in Britain but internationally. A struggle spearheaded by rail workers in the UK to bring down the Tory government will strengthen the fight of workers everywhere. That is why the rail workers must receive the backing of the entire British and international working class.
To go forward, it is vital that workers in the UK and everywhere draw the lessons of the defeat of the British miners. Thatcher was only able to prevail because the miners’ struggle was undermined and sold out by the trade unions and the Labour Party. The turn now must be to the building of new independent organisations of struggle controlled by workers themselves, to mobilise the enormous social power of the British and international working class in a unified counteroffensive for their common interests.
I say to you: we stand in a common trench. We here in Australia will do all in our power to mobilise the support of the Australian working class behind your defiant and courageous stand.
Cabin crew at Ryanair, EasyJet and national carriers across Europe strike over pay and workload
Workers in the airline industry who suffered union-backed layoffs and cuts to pay and working conditions during the pandemic are fighting back across Europe.
Cabin crew at Ryanair in Spain, Belgium, Italy, France and Portugal walk out this week, demanding improvements in pay and working conditions. Spanish crew begin a three-day strike today, called by the Syndical Workers’ Union (USO) and the Independent Airline Cabin Crew Union (SITCPLA), with another three days planned next week. Workers in Belgium and Portugal will strike the same dates this week, while French workers will join the strike for two days on Saturday and Sunday. Italian workers walk out Saturday. According to Europa Press, 2,700 Ryanair workers are involved in the strikes.
Ryanair refuses to recognise many of the unions, with its CEO last week calling the USO and SITCPLA “Mickey Mouse unions” and lauding a deal with the Workers’ Commissions (CCOO). In comments in The Irish Times, Ryanair praised the setup in Ireland and the UK, where “We deal with Fórsa in Ireland and Unite in the UK. We deal with one union and it’s simple.”
The smaller unions have no perspective for reversing the cuts imposed on airline workers or fighting the divide-and-conquer approach of the airlines. Speaking to Europa Press about the plan for nine days of strikes at EasyJet in July, a USO official noted the enormous pay gap between EasyJet workers in Spain compared with France and Germany. But, “Reaching the level of our colleagues in France would mean an increase of 80 percent, which we understand is impossible given the current economic situation,” and called for 40 percent. This lowered demand will be betrayed at the first opportunity.
Workers at Brussels Airlines, the Belgian subsidiary of Lufthansa, also began a three-day strike on Thursday, and around 1,000 pilots at the Scandinavian airline SAS will strike on June 29 against plans for a 30 percent pay cut.
National strike action in Belgium
With the UK rail strikes ongoing amid talk of a general strike, similar action is being taken across Europe.
Public sector workers in Belgium joined a one-day national strike on Monday, and a demonstration of 80,000 workers took place in Brussels. Workers in public transport, schools, hospitals and other public services walked out to demand an increase in real pay, and modification to the country’s “wage norms” law.
The General Labour Federation of Belgium (FGTB), Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (CSC) and General Confederation of Liberal Trade Unions of Belgium (CGSLB) called for the law to be “modified”. It is intended to guarantee a race to the bottom by forbidding Belgian workers from receiving a pay rise above that is received in neighbouring France, Germany and the Netherlands. This rate was set at the particularly low rate of 0.4 percent in 2021.
Supposedly to protect workers’ wages from inflation, pay is automatically increased by a national “index” on top of the wage norm. Prime Minister Alexander De Croo attacked Monday’s strike, claiming that Belgian workers are “better protected in terms of purchasing power than in any other eurozone country”. The increase in the index always lags behind inflation as it is made at the start of the year. In January it was set at 3.6 percent for 2022.
The Brussels Times reported that the employers’ association Voka asked for the index to be set at 3 percent and made a one-off payment rather than pay rise.
A previous one-day national public sector strike was held on May 31, paralysing the country’s rail and bus networks.
New York City transit and other US workers back UK rail strikers
New York City transit workers and other US workers expressed their solidarity with the 50,000 striking rail workers in the United Kingdom.
“Yeah I support them,” a cleaner said, drawing parallels to the “crazy inflation” impacting workers in New York City as well as the UK. This year’s wage increase was a measly 2.75 percent, equivalent to about a 6 percent pay cut after inflation.
She explained the long hours she’s forced to work to save enough to purchase a house in one of the most expensive metropolitan areas of the country. “I spend most of the time here on the job. I even sleep here. I do double shifts and work all kinds of crazy hours. I sleep in my car in a bed I set up there,” she said. “I need a break.”
A train operator, when informed of the rail strike in the UK, responded, “I wish we would do it here too.”
Many workers hadn’t heard of the nationwide strike and were appreciative of the WSWS team for bringing it to their attention. Transit workers in New York quickly identified the commonalities they share with workers in the UK struggling to offset inflation and deteriorating working conditions.
Given the soaring levels of inflation facing workers in the UK as well as the US, a conductor said, “It’s not easy. I support my family by myself. I have a wife and two kids. I have to work like a machine. Six days a week, 14 hour day, sometimes more than that. I have no choice. I have to pay the bills.”
One conductor explained, “I have four kids myself and it’s a real struggle just to buy food. We need to do more than merely survive, we want to live.”
Another motorman commented, “Workers should be able to afford [to live] in the city where they work, but many of us cannot.” He contrasted that with the newly appointed transit chief, Richard Davey, who “lives upstairs” in one of the newly constructed ultra-luxury high rises built above the terminus of the 7 train in Manhattan.
A striking nurse at Saint Michael’s Hospital in Newark, New Jersey also expressed her support for the rail workers in Britain.
“I support the strike and everybody here at the hospital knows about it. I think it’s great. It’s very hard for those people. They were having strikes on and off over the years. It was safety-related. It was not right what they were asking them [train operators] to do. They were told to work alone in one train. But if anything happens on that train, there is no other person who can help. All because they were cutting costs, they were privatizing a lot of the lines there.”
Rail worker B. Jones said, “As a nine year Freight Rail worker in the US, I fully support the strike actions taken by the RMT. Some things are universal across all countries with rail infrastructure, which include worker’s pay, lifestyle and retirement. All of these things, while critical to the rail worker, seem to be expendable to the rail carrier and the government in order to year after year show record profits. Everything the RMT is striking for: working conditions, duty hours and a minimal pay raise for the employees who make the rail industry operate 365 days a year, is just.
“From an outsider’s perspective, it seems both the UK and Canadian politicians are trying to take cues from the US politicians and carriers. I implore everyone to take a look at the current rail crisis that is taking place right now. The carriers blame the employees for their mismanagement and lie to the STB [Surface Transportation Board] to avoid sanctions that would cut into their record profits. This leaves many rail employees asking ‘Where is the respect and gratitude from the carriers towards their employees, who are the backbone of the rail system?’ It’s time for all railway laborers across the world to stand together in unison for better pay, workers’ rights, benefits and overall better treatment.”
Thursday June 23, 2022
Care worker supports striking rail workers: “It’s not trickle down, it’s suck up”
Sarah Grimstone stopped at the Leeds Holbeck picket to show her support for striking rail workers, “I work in outreach for people with mental health and learning difficulties. I think it’s about time that the workers stood up and demanded what we deserve.
“I know this is the beginning of a long stream of protests. I think the nurses are up next and the doctors. To be honest I think we need a general strike, because all the money is just being sucked upwards. It’s not trickle down, it’s suck up.
“I’m getting sick to death of all the Tories awarding themselves money while all the workers are just having the crumbs off the table. We work in the care industry, we don’t do it for the money, we do it because we care, but the government takes advantage of that.”
Responding to Tory MP Tobias Elwood’s attacks on rail workers as “Putin’s friends” for striking, Sarah said, “Oh, they’re trying everything”. She said of Johnson’s call for “sacrifice” for the war in Ukraine, “They don’t make a sacrifice.
“I think the country’s waking up to that now. There’s a hell of a lot more support for these chaps [striking] now than there would have been before. Let’s see what happens in Wakefield and Tiverton [by elections] because I think the tide is turning.
“For a lot of my clients, I have to get food parcels from the foodbanks because they just can’t survive. There’s no food, there’s nothing.
“Our clients with learning difficulties and mental health issues—god knows what they’re going to do in October [when the energy price caps are again lifted]. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. They’re struggling now, but god knows what they’re going to do.”
London Victoria station picket: “We are struggling to get to the end of the month”
A train dispatcher at the London Victoria picket line explained this morning, “When you look at it, I earn less than the national average. I earn less than £25,000 a year. But all these people in the media are saying that I’m on £40,000 to £69,000—it’s not true. I’m on less than £25,000 a year and I am struggling; I’ve had to do so many cuts for me and my family. And all these guys here have families to feed as well. We have to work days off and extra hours just to make ends meet. It’s not fair, when you get the fat cats who are earning millions and they’re getting big bonusses, and now Boris Johnson’s just said they can keep more of it. It’s just… I find it unfair.
“I’m fighting for what I believe in. For me and all my colleagues, we are struggling to get to the end of the month. And I think people need to understand that. We don’t earn as much as [Transport Secretary Grant] Shapps and all the others say. I wish I did! If I earned £44,000 a year, I wouldn’t be standing here right now! But I am because I need to be, it’s a necessity.”
John joined in, “They use this line to attack the strikes: ‘how is a nurse going to get to work?’ And I say, ‘well, do you know that their pay has been cut, too?’ They’ve had their pay cut for 12 years. The nurses have suffered the same as the railway workers have. You say the nurse is low paid and can’t get to work because of our action, but the point is the nurses have been deprived of a proper pay rise since 2010, the start of austerity. Their pay has been eroded by up to 20 percent. The most despicable thing to do is to use the nurses as a big stick to beat rail workers with. It’s disgraceful. They don’t care about the nurses.
“It’s a bit of a shock for the workers who supported the entire nation through a terrible time with the COVID pandemic, people who were lauded as heroes, to be faced with such behaviour.”
John stressed the importance of the ongoing strike of Churchill rail cleaners:
“There are cleaners on the railway who, even if they have the London living wage, that’s been wiped out by this most recent increase in inflation, almost instantaneously. They’re employed by outsources like Churchill. Outsourcing is a scourge, not just on the railways but the entire nation. A lot of the workers are poor migrant workers who really value any job they can get and are terrorised about losing their job and, trust me, terror is a weapon that these companies use to suppress the views of the workforce”.
Bristol Temple Meads picket: “We could bring this government down within days if workers united in a General Strike”
Around 40-50 workers and union reps were on the picket line at Bristol Temple Meads railway station, with a lot of support from passing vehicles.
One of the pickets explained, “I have worked on the railway for seven years now and for three of those I have had a pay freeze. I am striking today because of the attacks on the railway. Thousands of jobs will be eliminated, and current roles abolished as they attempt to implement ‘role harmonisation’ of all station grades.
“The media seems to be portraying this as a train drivers’ strike, but they are not on strike—it is all the other workers who enable the drivers to do their job safely. We are under attack and that is why we are standing up for ourselves.
“There are claims that railway workers are highly paid, with the implication we should not be striking over pay. Many station workers are part-time in a drive to save costs and they do not have the same T&Cs as full-time workers. These workers can be earning less than £20k a year and are forced to claim benefits to top up their wages. The idea of part-time workers is to keep them desperate and fighting amongst themselves for overtime to ensure the stations are fully manned.
“The £16 billion provided to the railways [during the pandemic] did not go to the workers—it was to keep the railways running and avoid furloughing staff. We worked throughout the pandemic, and we went to work frightened of catching a deadly disease. People were getting sick, and some colleagues died, but we kept working because we had a critical job to do. A few months ago, we were hailed as “heroes” and now we are demonised as the ‘enemy within’.
“Due to the lack of overtime, I am down about £400 a month. Understandably everyone is trying to get overtime with limited availability. We’ve now been told all overtime is banned, which appears to be in retaliation for the strike action.
“My gas and electric bills have skyrocketed but thankfully my wife works as well, but if we lose any hours or one of us is laid off, we are completely screwed. Just two years ago we could have scraped by on one wage if we had to for a while, but not now.
“My hope is the railway strikes will inspire other workers to take action and start fighting back. It is no exaggeration that we could bring this government down within days if workers united in a General Strike.”
Clapham depot, London: “Everyone should come out. We’re all for each other, we’re all workers.”
WSWS reporters spoke to pickets at Clapham rail depot. An experienced rail worker explained:
“I’ve had a pay freeze for three years now. The last rise I got was in 2019. We worked all through COVID, didn’t get any bonuses for dealing with COVID, a lack of support, it got really stressful. Now bills are going up, council tax is going up, rent is going up. My wife was laid off a year ago, so we lost £21,000 a year. Things are very difficult.
“My greatest fear is my pension. Without pay rises, my pension isn’t going to increase and they are going to cut down pensions.
“I fear for the younger people coming into the industry who have years and years left before they retire. They’re not going to have long service like me; their pension scheme is going to be very inferior. Instead of getting better, things are getting worse—we’re going backwards.
“It’s also about jobs. We’ve just had a voluntary severance scheme. Because it’s voluntary, we couldn’t insist on the agreed redundancy pay. It was far inferior to the normal version. This was through the Rail Industry Recovery Group. We have fewer staff in our department now, so they’re expecting more work out of us for less pay, and they just keep saying, ‘You’re lucky to be in a job.’
“What I’d like, really, is a 16 percent pay rise. Because we haven’t had anything for three years and inflation now is at 11 percent. They expect us to take about 3 percent. Goodness knows what it will be like the following year. If it carries on like this we’ll be living on the riverbanks. We won’t be able to pay our rent, the heating bills. It’s not just us, it’s everyone, all workers. There are people in full-time work having to take benefits. It really is a bad situation.”
Asked about the conditions working during the pandemic, the rail worker replied, “It was horrible. We turned out for work as normal. It took a long while before they gave us any masks or any protection. They didn’t recognise that we needed protection. We had a lack of support from management. It’s been very dangerous. You came into work all the time and you didn’t get any reward for it. Some staff who are even worse paid than me and rely on overtime had their overtime slashed as well.”
Speaking about the strike, he said, “I want all workers to get on board on this. Everyone should come out; we’re all for each other, we’re all workers. I feel for a lot of workers in other industries—the teachers, in the post office, NHS staff, binmen, all the council workers. Everyone should join us.
“We need a general strike now. We really need one this year. We could actually have a turning point, we really could.”
When our reporters raised the many strikes taking place internationally, the workers responded, “One of our slogans years ago was ‘Workers of the world unite!’ We should be supporting each other. Everywhere, all workers should join together. I’ve got more in common with a Chinese labourer than I have with Prince Charles over here.”
Longsight, Manchester pickets: “We should all down tools, it’s the cost of living and everything is going up for everyone”
Strikers on the picket line at Longsight Traincare Depot in south Manchester saw many cars showing their support by beeping their horns. As WSWS reporters were at the picket line, a woman with her daughter came over to solidarise with the strikers.
The depot is run by Alstom, the French-based multinational rolling stock manufacturer.
Addressing the aims of the government and rail companies in the strike, a picket employed by Network Rail said, “They might budge on the pay, but I don’t think money’s the real issue here. They want to get rid of people, make lots of changes and bring in modernisation. So, they’ve been in with the RMT and said they could increase pay, only slightly, but they’re not budging on the terms and conditions.
“They are trying to justify these changes saying they want to increase maintenance schedules and things like that. But that could be dangerous stuff. We have set schedules and we check stuff, and they want to double that. But’s that’s like doubling the lifespan of our equipment that we work on. In the long run that’s going to be dangerous for customers.”
Another worker said, “At our depot we’ve got some of the oldest equipment in the country, so it constantly needs maintaining.”
A picket explained how safety critical their jobs are, covering a wide area of the north of England: “We cover all the overhead lines. We go to Congleton, Glossop, north Bolton and pretty soon are going out to Wigan. We’ve got one of the biggest patches and we’re understaffed already.” A lot of the workers have been there for 10 years or more and “there’s a few jobs here under threat as it is now.”
WSWS reporters pointed out the number of workers throughout the public and private sector waging struggles in defence of jobs, pay and conditions. A picket replied, “We should all down tools, it’s the cost of living and everything is going up for everyone.”
Another said, “The government know what they can do to stop this but they won’t. They are not even being subtle about it. The latest thing that Johnson has announced, on the justification of bringing more investment to the country, is increasing the dividends for bankers and others. They are setting up a tax haven. He is screwing us over and it’s blatant and in your face. He is a criminal and they are determined to screw us over.”
Another striker pointed out that the government had said, when they attacked rail strikers as “Putin’s friends”, that Saturday’s planned third day of strikes would prevent people from attending the annual Armed Forces Day. “It’s hypocrisy, they don’t care about them. A lot of [armed forces] veterans are homeless on the street and can’t get housing because of this government.”
Rail workers rally in Glasgow: “We can’t let them get away with it”
In Scotland today, around 100 striking rail workers and RMT members, including from Avanti West Coast, along with trade union delegations and supporters attended a picket outside Glasgow Central Station. A delegation of P&O workers, sacked from the company’s Cairnryan to Larne route, also joined.
Although workers at Scotland’s main carrier ScotRail are not currently on strike, just a handful of services were running because rail infrastructure, track maintenance, cleaning and other services are provided by Network Rail.
Benny, who has worked on the railways for 33 years said, “I think the response is very much a winner. If we don’t do it now, we’ll never get a better chance or get a better opportunity to fight and say ‘enough’s enough’.
“The changes have been drastic. A lot of people have a controlled environment, but we are constantly going through changes, different aspirations from different employers. It’s not just the pay or the money but terms and conditions and protecting jobs for the next generation of railway workers which is probably more important than most, because if they don’t get a grip of this now, they might not get to come into this industry.
“I think it’s a major confrontation with the government and to be honest I don’t think the government’s views are ever going to change. I think if there’s a continuous round of strikes, they might be forced to do something. They are losing a lot of money and passengers.
“I totally agree it has to involve other sections of workers and we can’t let them get away with it. I do agree they are trying to impose their finances on the general public, on the workers. We worked through the pandemic, but think about what doctors and nurses went through, they never really had anything back for that. We all need to stand strong.”
Read more interviews here.
Workers at London Waterloo face down management and police harassment
Striking rail workers at Waterloo station in central London told our reporters management had sent members of security to try to intimidate the picket and falsely told police that workers had been aggressive towards them, with officers sent to the scene. “They come to try and get a rise out of us, so they can ban the picket.” The picket was disciplined and the mood defiant, with the police eventually forced to leave.
One conductor explained they were fighting for “A real pay rise and to defend our pensions and conditions. We’ve been fighting for our conditions since the railways began, since the 1800s, and we can’t stop now.” Describing the effects of the cost-of-living crisis he said, “We’ve got people here on 18-19k, having to live locally in London. It’s just not doable… I think come late August, the start of September, there are going to be strikes across the country, a national movement.” He added he would “absolutely” support a general strike against the government.
Another conductor said, “We are striking because they want to give us compulsory redundancies, they want to close all ticket offices and they want workers to be doing more for less pay. They want it to be easier to get rid of them. We are also asking for a pay rise. We believe we’re due one. During the COVID period, we did not take a single pay rise. We’ve had no pay rise for three years. If the MPs can give themselves a pay rise, we’re pretty sure we’re entitled to a pay rise as well.”
RMT hails Merseyrail deal and “progressive” talks with employers
On BBC Breakfast this morning, Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union General Secretary Mick Lynch hailed the deal struck on Merseyrail as an example of what can be achieved when “the Treasury are not pulling the strings”. Members of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) union accepted a 7.1 percent pay deal Wednesday. According to the Guardian, the RMT was also involved in the negotiations and plans to put the deal to its own members.
Lynch added, “Where [Transport Secretary] Grant Shapps has no influence on this railway we are getting deals and getting offers that are likely to be more progressive than the ones we’re getting from Westminster.”
RMT Assistant General Secretary Eddie Dempsey told Radio 4’s Today, “Wherever we’re dealing with somebody who’s not directly controlled by the [Department for Transport], we’re making progress: London Underground 8.5 percent; Docklands Light Railway, we’ve got an inflation busting deal [9 percent]; Crossrail, same thing, Transport for Wales, we’re in the business of negotiating something there now. Merseyrail, 7.1 percent.”
In reality, deals for 7-9 percent have already fallen behind inflation, which is now at 11.7 percent RPI and rising. The RMT and the other rail unions are not leading a joint struggle for an above-inflation pay increase, or even one in line with inflation, but planning a climbdown.
TSSA General Secretary Manuel Cortes said of the Merseyrail deal, “What this clearly shows is our union, and sister unions, are in no way a block on finding the solutions needed to avoid a summer of discontent on the railways.”
The RMT’s declared aims in the national dispute are for a below-inflation 7 percent pay rise and a commitment to no compulsory redundancies, in exchange for agreeing to many of the employers’ demands. Lynch told BBC Breakfast, “We need a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies and when we get that we can move on positively to the other agenda items, which includes changes to working practices, and the adoption of new technology.”
Even this rotten deal is considered out of the question by the employers as well as the government. Lynch claims, “If we were dealing with the companies of their own volition ... I think we would have had a deal on these issues quite a long time ago.”But Tim Shoveller, Network Rail’s chief negotiator, told Todaya deal around 7 percent was “very unlikely”.
He continued, “The difference between the three per cent on the table now and a 7.1 percent deal is this £65 million every year… that is £65 million a year, every year of additional savings that have to be found in order to fund that difference.”An industry source told the Times a 7 percent deal in the national dispute was “fanciful”.
Steve Montgomery, who chairs the Rail Delivery Group representing train operators, refused to rule out compulsory redundancies on BBC Breakfast, but left the door open to giving the RMT its fig leaf by proceeding through a “voluntary” scheme: “we just need to get through the processes and see how many people are left, and hopefully nobody requires to be made compulsory redundant.”
Network Rail Doncaster, Marshgate depot: “The Johnson government has been getting away with murder”
There was a large contingent of Network Rail strikers at the Marshgate depot in Doncaster. Around 30 had gathered just down the road from the main entrance where six were picketing in line with mandatory restrictions.
A Network Rail maintenance worker explained, “The Johnson government has been getting away with murder. Look at how they ignored the lockdown rules, but Johnson did not step down. They don’t care about what they’ve done.
“This strike is all about stopping any detriment to our terms and conditions and compulsory redundancies. We are told that a cost-of-living increase is not affordable, but the private operators were handed £16 billion in COVID subsidies. They never take any of the losses only the profits and the trains companies have been making £500 million a year. Passenger numbers are back up to around 90 percent of pre-pandemic levels.”
In response to the government and media claims that outdated practices had to be done away with he explained, “The job losses in maintenance will create risks and make it harder to fulfil safety requirements. There is a reason why a job performed by one worker must be checked and inspected by another and can involve around three workers. These procedures date back to the Clapham Junction crash [a collision involving three trains in December 1988 which claimed the lives of 35 people and injured 113]. They exist to prevent any repetition of that disaster.”
Another picket added, “The pay of MPs has gone up from £65,000 to £85,000 since 2012 but we are told we cannot have a proper pay rise.
“The perception that the rail just stopped running during the lockdowns is incorrect. Freight rail was critical for moving essential supplies and we kept it running, we worked throughout. We have gone from being hailed as heroes to being branded as criminals by this government.”
RMT says new strikes in July after talks with Network Rail break down
Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) General Secretary Mick Lynch has said a further round of strikes will likely be called, after last-minute talks with Network Rail failed.
A decision would not be taken before the final strike of the current round on Saturday and two weeks’ notice is required under anti-strike laws. A possible date of July 9 has been suggested.
Lynch still speaks of seeking a negotiated settlement, blaming Transport Secretary Grant Shapps for having “wrecked” negotiations by preventing Network Rail from withdrawing a letter threatening statutory redundancy for up to 2,900 railworkers. He reiterated his call for the government to “unshackle” Network Rail and the train operating companies to facilitate a settlement.
But the government is opposed to any compromise settlement. The Tories want to inflict a massive defeat on railworkers to deter threatened strikes by train drivers, Royal Mail and BT workers, teachers, civil servants and National Health Service workers.
The Telegraph today lists ballots closing July 11 by train drivers’ union Aslef for strikes over pay at 11 train operating companies, including Arriva Rail London, Chiltern Railways, Great Western, LNER, Northern Trains, Southeastern, TransPennine Express and West Midlands Trains. This could mean strikes by July 25. A ballot to strike at Avanti West Coast, CrossCountry and Direct Rail Services closes July 27.
The Times reports today that the Treasury “has told cabinet ministers that any pay rises for public sector workers must come from their existing budgets, “Amid mounting concern about wage awards fuelling inflation, ministers have been given the message that there will be ‘no new money’ for pay rises, meaning that any extra funding will have to be found through spending cuts or underspending.” This sets a top pay increase in the entire public sector of just 3 percent—a de facto 10 percent plus cut by the autumn due to inflation.
But claims that Network Rail and the train operating companies (TOCs) are innocent victims of Tory intransigence disarms rail workers about the nature of the struggle they face. The government and its rail infrastructure company speak with one voice, determined by the dictates of a ruling elite determined to smash the rail strikes.
Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive, rushed to solidarise himself with the government, telling the Telegraph, “The Government came into criticism for not being at the negotiating table. For holding the mandate. But the RMT people at the negotiating table have no mandate, they have to get everything through their executive committee.” Negotiators who left the table with “a big thumbs up” had “literally flipped” an hour later after meetings with the [RMT] NEC, Haines claimed.
Hostility to workers’ demands for decent pay is shared fully by the Labour Party.
Sir Keir Starmer has followed his threat to discipline MPs who attend pickets by making clear he will back the imposition of below-inflation pay awards. The Labour leader’s spokesman told the Times that “we respect the work of the public sector pay review bodies and it’s their job to come forward with recommendations.” Asked specifically whether Starmer would back below inflation awards, the spokesman added, “Our starting point would be to look at what the pay review bodies come forward with and our assumption would be that that would be what we would support.”
Network Rail picket in Holbeck, Leeds: “a drone can’t tighten up bolts”
Paul works in maintenance, repairing tracks and performing track inspections, a safety-critical role. He has worked at Network Rail for 15 years and is classed as an engineer. He was asked what he thinks about the government’s plans to bring in agency workers to take over jobs.
“It’s scandalous, safety to them is not paramount and we’ve already had incidents where people are not trained up properly in signal boxes and so on, re-routing trains the wrong way and that happened on Tuesday [during the strike]. There were about seven incidents where the wrong route had been set for trains. Some trains didn’t accept the route and stopped because they knew it was the wrong route and that can cause all kinds of complications.
“They keep saying we need to modernise, but we already have. We use a lot of technology already. Unfortunately, people don’t know that because mainstream media is a waste of time. We are modernising and we haven’t got our heads buried in the sand. Obviously, some jobs are threatened by it, but people will still need to be there to monitor. A drone can’t go in the tunnel, tighten up bolts and it can’t see everything. We’ve got a train now, a PLPR [plain line pattern recognition] with cameras on, that doesn’t spot everything. You still need boots on the ground. It might even spot things, but people still need to go and look and check.”
When asked about the government’s plans for the railways he said, “It’s all about profits for the train operating companies. Even through the pandemic, all the train operators still made money and got paid millions. Look at rail fares, they’re going up and up, and they’ll never drop. It’s a massive problem. Everything is going up, utility bills and come October they are going up again. You’re looking at over £2,500.”
Responding to the pay deal agreed by rail unions at Merseyrail, 4 percent less than current inflation, he replied, “It’s wrong that we have to carry it. That 1 percent are getting richer and richer. They did throughout the pandemic, and that will continue unless the general public, the working public, see through that. It’s time to make a stand. Cars passing today, we’ve got massive support. I would support a general strike.”
Mick, a control centre technician from York, was also on the Leeds picket: “I am here supporting my colleagues as I don’t want any of them to lose their jobs. We’d all like a pay rise but there is no point in that if people are going to lose their jobs. Job security is one of the main issues for me, and my terms and conditions. I’m happy with my conditions as they are now, but if they are going to change then it isn’t going to work.
“I work for signals and telecommunications, on the inside rather than on the track. Basically, I look after all the signallers’ equipment. If anything goes wrong, we are the first ones to know, it’s a safety-critical role.
“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that they want to get rid of half or all of our maintenance tasks. That’s the time you find these faults on the line. If they get rid of that then there are going to be even more accidents.”
WSWS reporters cited the comments of Tory MP Tobias Elwood who has called striking rail workers “Putin’s stooges”, along with Boris Johnson’s demand for sacrifice to support NATO’s war in Ukraine. There was money for the government to spend billions on weapons to blow people up, but no money for rail workers.
“I totally agree, as bad as it is there, people are suffering here too and we’re just not seeing that,” Mick said.
Newton Heath, Manchester: “The working class have just had enough”
At Newton Heath Traction Maintenance Depot in north-east Manchester, the picket line was over 20 strong.
The depot is run by Northern Trains. Previously it was run by Arriva Rail North but in 2020, due to chaos on its commuter schedules, the government took over the running of services as the Operator of Last Resort (OLR). Northern Trains is a subsidiary of OLR.
Johnny is a train driver picket who has worked at the depot for 10 years. He said, “There shouldn’t be job losses here. In this strike, people are not worried so much about the pay percentage we get. Pay is important but the main thing is job security. I want to know that for the rest of my life I’ve got a job.
“The railways used to be a job for life. A lot of people start as apprentices and finish when they retire. It’s not one of those places that you see new faces every day. Jobs will go here if we lose.
“This dispute is about cutting jobs. It’s about pay and conditions. We’ve not had a pay rise for years. We worked though the pandemic. We worked the entire time. With inflation I’m struggling. It’s unacceptable.”
Johnny agreed that a broader industrial and political offensive was needed to take on and defeat the Johnson government, “The bigger the impact the better. It’s the only way. The shareholders are still taking profits while we’re struggling. Here we’ve had [private companies] Serco and Abellio and then it was Arriva and then the government took it over. What do they know about this job? They don’t work here.”
Another driver, Joe, said the government was jeopardising safety in seeking to bring in agency workers to drive trains during the strike. “You can’t have agency workers doing the job we do. To be a driver you train for two years. There’s not a warehouse somewhere full of agency drivers sat down waiting for a phone call.
“When the government is saying ‘on average’ we’re all on high pay, they’re taking management pay into account. They’re not talking about cleaners and all the lower paid workers that make up the majority. They compare us to doctors and nurses, but it just highlights the fact that they should be paid more, not us paid less. It not a race to the bottom.”
His colleague Pete said, “There’s about 20 staff at this depot who only earn between £18,000 and £20,000.”
Joe agreed, pointing to the extent of inequality, “You’ve got government ministers earning millions and Boris Johnson auctioning dinners with him for 120 grand. But last year we were ‘heroes’. We are the ones who keep the country running. Not one of us were furloughed. I lost two weeks holiday last year having to work. We were the key workers and now we’re Public Enemy No 1.
“What they are doing to us during the strike is not safe. On Tuesday, across the railway nationally there were 26 serious incidents in the space of five hours. There were 26 incidents of the wrong signal being given to the driver. A signal was given to a train to go onto a track where there was already another train on the line. If a signaller had done that in normal circumstances, they would have been taken off the job straight away and suspended for an investigation. We’re safety-critical workers who take years to learn the job. You can’t just get someone in off the street.
“I really think this strike will be a catalyst for everyone. You’ve got us, Royal Mail are talking about striking, you’ve got teachers talking about it. People have had enough. The working class have just had enough. I think this will start workers in all other industries standing and fighting for what they think they’re worth as well. I think it needs a revolution.”
Brighton Railway Station deserted this morning at 6.10am
Britain’s rail strike and the struggle against war: Bring down the Johnson government!
Today’s World Socialist Web Site perspective makes clear the political struggle confronting the entire working class with this week’s national rail strikes:
“This is no ordinary industrial dispute. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government of political gangsters wants to emulate Margaret Thatcher’s targeting of the miners in 1984-85, which ended in a defeat that transformed the UK into a playground of the super-rich and began a social nightmare for millions of working people.
“Today the Tories are intent on inflicting a yet more brutal defeat on rail workers because their strike has become the focus of a tidal wave of opposition that threatens to erupt in the coming weeks. Teachers, nurses, doctors, local government workers, Royal Mail delivery and BT workers are all seeking to launch industrial action in the next months. The conditions are emerging for a decisive confrontation with the Johnson government, but this must be given a conscious programme and leadership.
“The working class must not let the Tories succeed. Every worker in the UK and internationally must rally to the railworkers cause, forging a unified industrial and political offensive to bring down the Johnson government. This demands above all the development of organised opposition among workers and young people to the efforts of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the Labour Party to isolate and betray the strike.”
Read the full statement here and share on social media.
Network Rail, Doncaster: “We’re fighting for our rights”
Around a dozen workers picketed the Network Rail depot in Doncaster, South Yorkshire. A twenty-year veteran of Network Rail said, “I’m here representing the union, fighting for our rights basically. Network Rail want to change our terms and conditions. They want to roster us more weekends, more nights and to multi-discipline jobs.
“We’re fighting for our rights and for not laying off so many jobs. They want to lay off 2,900 staff. If you read social media, everyone thinks it’s just about a pay rise. It’s part of it, but for me the main reason why I’m here is for terms and conditions, which they want to keep changing.
“I haven’t had a pay rise in three years. A lot of guys here have got families and are struggling with the cost of inflation. Fuel prices have gone up, everything is going up. It’s been a real struggle with COVID. We want a pay rise to match the cost of inflation.
“A lot of rail bosses earn nearly half a million. How can they justify so many top bosses on this kind of money when they cut so many jobs? I’m all for working class people fighting for their rights. They deserve a pay rise with the cost of inflation. People are struggling.
“I totally understand other industries and sectors wanting to do the same. If the government can stop us getting anything, then obviously they’ll stop any other sector wanting a pay rise.”
Doncaster Railway Station picket: “Johnson’s trying to have his Margaret Thatcher moment”
At Doncaster Railway Station one of the pickets explained, “Johnson’s trying to have his Margaret Thatcher moment, isn’t he? Like she took on the miners, he sees it as taking on the railway workers. I mean, he wants to smash the industry and smash the unions. And we’re going to do whatever we can to stop him.”
A picket explained that Johnson’s agenda for Great British Railways was based on tearing up jobs, conditions and safety, including the mass closure of ticketing offices, “So many people use ticket offices, particularly the elderly who can’t necessarily work the ticket machines. It’s just a disgusting attempt to lay off people and at the end of the day that will have a massive impact on the safety of passengers.”
He explained that Driver Only Operated trains was also on the agenda, “simmering beneath… the idea of just having a driver rather than a driver and a guard. The only people who want that are the government. The public don’t want it, and we don’t want it. You can imagine if you’re on a train in the middle of nowhere and something happens to your driver and there’s nobody else to look after you. The whole thing is just ridiculous and compromises the safety of the railway.”
Mass redundancies at Network Rail would also mean “the railway becomes unsafe, and so you’d end up taking your life in your hands just by making a short journey on a train, which is not what the railways are all about. It’s cost-cutting for the sake of cost-cutting.
“The railways are meant to be something that’s run for the people, but it’s run for profit. When you run something for profit, you cut corners. With something like the railways, you can’t afford to cut corners because you’re endangering people’s lives. That’s not what any of us signed up for.”
Like others in the public sector, rail workers have endured a three-year pay freeze, “It makes you feel sick doesn’t it. We worked all the way through the pandemic. We were supposedly heroes, working every day keeping the trains running. And now we’re the villains. The cost of living is spiralling, and our wages have stayed the same but in real terms we’re earning less now than we were three years ago.
“People point to the railways and say wages are quite high but in real terms they’re simply not. If you’re trying to keep a house going and a family and everything else, it’s becoming more and more difficult.
“I think over the rest of the summer we’re going to see more and more bodies coming out on strike. I think teachers will go on strike, there will be strikes in the National Health Service. We could be looking at a proper summer of discontent. We could even be looking at a general strike. Unless this is resolved, then I think that’s what we’re looking at.”
Responding to Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s edict that MPs who visit pickets will be disciplined, he said, “I’m not impressed by that at all. Listening to some of the Labour front bench spokespeople, it’s not a good look when they’re not backing the workers, seeing as it was the workers that founded the Labour Party in the first place.”
In the face of a vicious press campaign against the strike, pickets pointed to overwhelming public support, “Passengers have been very supportive of the action despite the fact it’s disrupting their lives. We’ve seen a poll today over 35,000 people have voted in this poll and there’s been something like 80 percent support for the strike. I think that speaks volumes about how the people feel about what we’re doing and how people feel about the government.”
Wednesday June 22, 2022
Tory MP Tobias Elwood denounces rail strikers as “Putin’s friends”
On Sky News this morning, Conservative Party MP Tobias Elwood attacked striking rail workers as “Putin’s friends”, demanding an end to strikes which he denounced as a distraction from NATO’s war against Russia in Ukraine.
He said, “I think Russia must be enjoying this self-inflicted distraction, pleased to see that the one government in Europe that is actually standing up to Putin is completely distracted in this way.”
Describing “huge self-harm as the country is brought to a halt”, he declared, “I say to the unions ‘please don’t be Putin’s friend, return to the talks today so we can get the country moving again’.”
Elwood’s remarks echo those of Prime Minister Boris Johnson at yesterday’s cabinet meeting where he cautioned against Ukrainian war “fatigue”. Johnson insisted the UK remain “steadfast” and that fiscal discipline meant pushing through reforms in the rail industry, “And we need the union barons to sit down with Network Rail and the train companies and get on with it.”
The government’s intervention makes clear that NATO’s war against Russia means class war against the working class at home. It reveals extreme nervousness in Europe’s capitals and in Washington over the strike’s potential to encourage a broader eruption of the class struggle.
Elwood’s branding rail workers as “Putin’s friends” follows attacks by the right-wing press, Labour and Tory politicians during London tube strikes in March, when the RMT was denounced as “Putin stooges” and “the enemy underground”.
Earlier this month, after ballots on the national rail returned an 89 percent strike vote, the RMT was witch-hunted as Putin’s “useful idiots” for “plotting a summer of mayhem on our railways”.
As the WSWS wrote:
War and the class struggle are inextricably linked. Britain is pouring billions in weapons and military support into Ukraine. The working class will foot the bill through savage austerity, including the gutting of the National Health Service, transport and infrastructure, social care, public education and welfare. NATO’s warmongering against Russia, including its imposition of sanctions, is also fuelling a global inflationary crisis, plunging millions into hardship, poverty and hunger.
Above all, the ruling class fears an eruption of the class struggle. Its right-wing press attacks on the RMT are aimed against thousands of rail workers who have signalled their readiness to fight.
Message of support from United States transit worker
“As a transit employee in the US, I stand and empathize with my brothers and sisters of UK rail workers. The conditions we work in and the challenges we face every day during these difficult times, which has come on the heels of the pandemic, deserves what is fair.
“They are not asking for a reward but rather what is justified and fair. Boris Johnson needs to remember that he got in the office on the shoulders of the working people and his job is to serve the people not to refuse to negotiate. I urge all the rail workers in UK to stay strong, they are fighting a good fight.”
New Jersey transit workers are also in struggle. Read more on the WSWS here
Britain’s rail network massively disrupted after Tuesday’s strike
Only around 60 percent of the 20,000 normal weekday services were running this morning, after yesterday’s one day rail and tube strikes. Only 20 percent of services ran yesterday.
Walkouts by signallers and control room staff meant trains left depots later today, and some not at all. Major cities like London were impacted, but partially recovered quicker than smaller town and rural areas, where trains were often many miles from where they were required.
ScotRail, for example, was only able to run services on five routes on strike days between 7.30am and 6.30pm. While the large signalling centres at Yoker and Edinburgh were reported as operating from 7.15am, others were not functioning all morning. Routes including the Dundee to Aberdeen and Dundee to Glasgow routes, will only see one train running all day, Inverness to Glasgow will only see three services running in the afternoon, and Glasgow to Perth and Stirling services running one train each in the evening.
Services nationally are also planned to finish earlier in anticipation of Thursday’s strike.
On the London Underground, services only resumed at 8.00am. Lines partially or wholly suspended included the Bakerloo, Central, Circle, District, Metropolitan and Jubilee lines.
Talks between RMT and employers resume ahead of Thursday’s rail strike
Rail workers face the danger of a sell-out by the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) as talks resume ahead of Thursday’s strike.
The RMT had already offered talks with the government “without preconditions” last week and goes into today’s negotiations demanding only a below inflation 7 percent pay raise and no compulsory redundancies. Thousands of jobs have already been destroyed via a union-endorsed “Voluntary Severance Scheme”.
Reports suggest that wholly government-controlled Network Rail and the train operating companies are offering a minor uptick to 4 percent and possibly 5 percent if a deal is struck. The existing offer of 3 percent from train operators is made up of 2 percent plus 1 percent dependent on agreeing a massive assault on terms, conditions, pensions and safety.
Network Rail has also asked the RMT to attend formal consultations next month on what chief negotiator Tim Shoveller called “dumping outdated working practices and introducing new technology”. This would reduce jobs “by around 1,800,” he added, stressing that “the vast majority of which will be lost through voluntary severance and natural wastage.”
The talk about “voluntary” job losses is aimed at providing the RMT a pretext to sell a filthy agreement with rail bosses to its members. The RMT has repeatedly stressed it will oppose only compulsory redundancies. Any such job losses would only be a first instalment, followed by thousands more.
The RMT has since confirmed that at the negotiations meeting Network Rail produced a statuary redundancy notice threatening 2,900 redundancies. The union said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has not allowed Network Rail to withdraw the letter.
Any agreement on these terms would pave the way for imposing the Tory government’s “Great British Railways” offensive in its entirety, including ticket office closures, shedding conductors’ jobs and undermining track and network safety.
The BBC emphasised statements by the RMT that they “have no problem with modernisation”, only “the desire to take ‘thousands of jobs from the industry and not pay our people properly in this cost-of-living crisis’.” In the 1980s and 90s the Thatcher and Blair governments carried out a wave of privatisations in the name of “modernisation” and “efficiency” that proved a disaster, turning basic services into cash cows for shareholders and investors.
Today it was reported that rail workers around Liverpool voted to accept a 7.1 percent pay rise, with the leader of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association Manuel Cortes emphasising that “our union, and sister unions, are in no way a block on finding the solutions needed to avoid a summer of discontent on the railways.”
Tuesday June 21, 2022
Train dispatcher, London Bridge: “People are working full-time and having to go to food banks”
A train dispatcher from national rail explained, “I work at London Bridge here as platform staff. We’re on strike because the transport industry wants to make reforms but it’s all behind a smokescreen of COVID really. They want to cut jobs on the maintenance side at Network Rail.
“If you cut 50 percent of maintenance staff and use drones to oversee the tracks, that means there is more chance of track defaults not being found. If a train goes over a track that is loose and then derails and causes multiple deaths, they will come back and say, ‘why did that happen?’
“It will be a knock-on effect. Apart from the maintenance side of things, they want to strip jobs out. They want to close all the ticket offices. They want to make Sunday a compulsory working day and not reward you for that. They want to make the working week longer. You’d be working six days a week most weeks with no extra pay.
“Your work-life balance will be severely reduced, and you won’t have the financial capacity to do even the most basic things. The money won’t even stretch to pay your rent, to pay your bills.
“The majority of people in this dispute earn less than £31,000. On the face of it, that sounds like a reasonable amount of money, but when you take into account how inflation has gone up… Rent’s going up, council tax is going up, bills are going up. The price of food is going up. The price of fuel is going up. You don’t have enough money to pay for the most basic things. People are working full-time and they’re having to go to food banks.
“I just think generally people have had enough. Like the fact you can be working in a full-time job, maybe commuting two hours there and back to your workplace, and at the end of the month you haven’t got enough money and you’re having to go to a food bank in the city of London—that’s very shameful. It’s as simple as that to be honest. They say that London is a very popular city to want to be in. Well, the outlook is not great.”
The dispatcher explained how managers had been recruited to try and run a scab skeleton service during the strike. “They’ve been putting them up in hotels around the corner and paying them £200, £250 to come in on strike days. You’re doing that and then saying there is no money to give to your workforce? We were asked to work all the way through COVID. The government says £16 billion was pumped into the railways, but that is because you wanted it to run. And it got run, and that is why no-one got furloughed. And a lot of people did catch COVID.
“It has got to a point where you have to make a stand. If you don’t say anything and you always keep accepting what’s being imposed, eventually you will be a broken person.”
Another national rail picketer at London Bridge station said, “I am on strike to support my colleagues on a point of principle, for the way we have all been treated over the last 3-4 years, and basically the cost-of-living crisis. As soon as COVID finished, everything went up from food in supermarkets, council tax, rents. All workers should act together in solidarity.”
A customer service worker picketing the entrance to London Bridge tube station spoke in solidarity with the national rail strikes, “It has been ages since rail workers had a proper pay rise. They were hailed as heroes during pandemic and now the lies coming out of [Transport Secretary Grant] Shapps are unbelievable.”
Pointing to a colleague, he said, “That is Dave, one of our cleaners. They are being screwed. They do not even get free travel on the network. It is absolutely disgusting. I would love to see them as in-house cleaners, they should have better conditions.”
Responding to the Johnson government’s privatisation plans (Great British Railways), the tube worker said, “For a little while we seemed to be going the other way as private firms have shown they cannot run rail properly. It is heavily subsidised, this is where the billions are going.
“Shareholders and owners are making a packet. Yet they want to exploit the workers. So many in senior management are on obscene money, and you never see that in the press. The attitude is ‘Who can we exploit? I’m alright Jack’. The government would like us to go back to the 1930s. They despise the working class.”
German tram driver Tom sends support to the UK rail strike
“Workers in Germany are closely following your strike. We workers face the same conditions all over the world.”
Victoria station, Manchester: “They want to modernise, but it’s going to be unsafe”
Pete, a conductor who works for Northern Rail, welcomed the opportunity to explain why he was on strike, “The more publicity the better.”
He explained, “This dispute is about pay and conditions. They want to erode pay and conditions we’ve had for decades. We’re going to lose out on pensions, and they want a seven-day working week. There’s cuts to the booking office—people rely on the human connection.
“We were working through the pandemic, when secretly they wanted to streamline services. They want to modernise, but it’s going to be unsafe.
“Look at Metrolink [trams in Manchester], plagued by crime because it’s understaffed. They’re cutting funding, but they can fund things when they want to.”
Commenting on government proposals to legislate for agency staff to be used as strikebreakers, Pete said, “That’s vindictive, aimed at the lowest paid. They can’t get agency workers to do complicated things. They’re trying to smash the union by taking it out on the lowest paid, like revenue staff, cleaners and caterers.
“At P&O [ferries, where 800 staff were sacked] the agency workers turned their backs when they knew they were asked to scab. I just hope they do the same for us.”
One worker said he heard through the grapevine that “one rail company was trying to include a no-strike deal in negotiations.”
Gary Walker, a shop steward at pallet manufacturer Chep, joined the picket at Victoria. A 21-week strike recently ended at Chep when the Unite union accepted a below-inflation pay deal.
“I’m here because we were shown massive support in our strike and it’s important to return the favour. This strike is massively important for the future of the country. There’s too many unions; it’s hard to knit together when there are too many vested interests.
Gary said he wanted to see the Labour Party “smashed up because they do not support strikes” and blamed the unions for not holding the Labour Party to account.
WSWS reporters pointed to the article “UK rail strikes begin this week: the working class needs its own strategy.” The article notes the RMT’s attempts to bolster the Labour Party. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch claimed recently that Labour is “against workers being exploited, and they’re against this Tory government.”
Piccadilly station, Manchester: “Teachers, doctors, midwives, they’re all talking about strike action”
Karen has worked at a private catering company that serves the railways for 16 years. She explained, “I’m running around for £14 an hour, that’s nothing for the shifts we have to do. We’re living to work, not working to live.
“I’ve got a son at home; I get up three in the morning, I do the school run, I’m doing that day in, day out.”
Karen disagreed with the RMT stance on accepting voluntary redundancies, “with no compulsory redundancies we will still have to work harder.”
Ken, a conductor, has worked on the railways for 20 years. “The shift patterns are very anti-social. We work weekends, Saturday nights. The 7.1 percent raise the union is asking for, that’s over three years as we haven’t had a pay raise for three years.”
He said the Johnson government’s Great British Railways plan would mean “We’ll get the same amount for doing more work, so that’s another pay cut. And they’re coming for our pensions.
“We should be out [on strike]; all the drivers should be out. If they get their way with this, they will steamroller everything.”
Brian has worked as a caterer at Virgin Atlantic for 23 years. He said that even before the latest attacks, conditions were poor: “We work anti-social hours… we work bank holidays, Saturdays, Sundays, throughout the Queen’s Jubilee weekend, and we’re told we are overpaid.
“I’m sick of reading that anyone can do our job, it’s very disrespectful. We’re at the bottom, and many people are scared there’s going to be a P&O here [mass sackings].”
Pointing to a section of the Socialist Equality Party statement distributed among pickets that references the miners’ strike of 1984-85, Brian said, “It’s like history repeating itself. I was only very young. This is what the process is; they [the unions] will leave us and they will hang us out to dry.
“Teachers, doctors, midwives, they’re all talking about strike action; they worked through the pandemic. Some managers didn’t stay on the trains during the pandemic. When I got home, I had to hose down, shower.”
His colleague Pete, who is a conductor, said, “That £16 billion bailout money to the rail companies in the pandemic, that was our money, it came from us.”
Responding to the government’s plans for Great British Railways, Pete said, “Grant Shapps says it’s nothing to do with us; the rail companies say it’s nothing to do with us. The Great British Railways plan is smashing everything up.”
Chris has worked as a train driver for three years. He explained, “There are six RMT drivers out at Piccadilly.” Drivers’ union ASLEF are balloting their own members separately, part of a conscious strategy by the rail unions to prevent a unified strike movement.
“We’ll have more work to do for the same pay,” he said. “What they say is ‘natural wastage’ is not replacing people. They want to get rid of roles, there’ll be less safety, 50 percent of maintenance jobs will go. Everything will be done at half standard.
“There’s no way they can possibly bring in agency workers for critical safety roles. In the 1990s they cut the maintenance budget and there were accidents, like at Hatfield. They say they’ve got new technology. I’ve yet to see it.
“Our gains are getting rolled back. We know they’re coming for our pensions. They’ve already been watered down; 25 years ago, we used to have a final salary scheme. We haven’t had a pay raise for three years. In 2019 we didn’t get a rise because of COVID.
“Everyone is looking to us to see how successful we are. Teachers are balloting, barristers are out next week.”
Britain’s press demand Johnson “stand firm” against strikes
The media are acutely aware of the sentiment in the working class for a mass mobilisation to protect wages, jobs, pensions and conditions. They are desperate to prevent the rail strikes becoming the spearhead of a broader offensive.
“If rail bosses and ministers capitulate, it would undoubtedly trigger similar eye-popping wage claims across the public sector,” warns the Daily Mail. “Troublingly, teachers, NHS staff and barristers are now threatening to join the rail unions in holding the country to ransom in a 1970s-style Summer of Discontent.” The paper demands, “Saying ‘no’ to the RMT is a warning shot across the bows, pour encourager les autres [to encourage the others].”
Its reference is to a line in Voltaire's novel Candide, “In this country, it is thought wise to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others,” referring to the British execution of Admiral John Byng during the Seven Years’ War. The Mail’s editorial concludes, “the good of the nation must come first.”
The Telegraph insists on state repression: “With a majority of 80, the Government could introduce emergency laws tomorrow. It should also stop the strikers making up their losses through overtime. It is time to get tough.” It warns of “copycat strikes which may follow throughout summer” and of the rail strikes setting “a benchmark for the rest of the public sector where unions are also agitating for trouble over pay and conditions.”
According to the Times, “more than 800,000 workers have been, or are in line to be, balloted over industrial action.” Against this, “The government must stand firm” and Prime Minister Boris Johnson “demonstrate he is ready to do whatever it takes.”
The Guardian takes a different but no less hostile view, noting, “If we are dealing… with a power struggle between capital and labour, then workers have been comprehensively defeated. Even with inflation shooting skywards, real wages are falling while company profits are rising.”
Speaking for the Labour and trade union bureaucracy, it argues for a demobilisation of the working class through political mythmaking, claiming, “Workers and bosses have a shared interest” and that ministers ought to step in “on the side of workers to mediate class conflict and ensure the spoils—or the pain—of economic activity is evenly shared.”
On Monday evening, the World Socialist Web Site explained:
Johnson’s Tory government intends to strike a devastating first blow against the wave of strikes threatening to break out this year…
The trade unions have repeatedly warned the government that it risks provoking a social explosion that would leave the RMT and others unable to control the upsurge of the working class. They are urging a deepening of their corporatist partnership with the government in order to implement its attacks in a less inflammatory way…
Rail workers and the millions of other workers pushing for industrial action cannot go into battle under a leadership desperately seeking to surrender. They must urgently form their own strategy for victory and their own leading organisations to see it through.
Former National Union of Mineworkers leader Arthur Scargill attends Wakefield RMT picket
Former leader of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) during the 1984-85 miners’ strike Arthur Scargill’s appearance at the Wakefield rail strike pickets should prompt a careful examination of the political line he championed during that critical struggle of the British working class.
The essay “Britain: 25 years since the year-long miners’ strike”, published in 2009, explains:
Throughout a year of bitter struggle, the actions of the TUC [Trades Union Congress] and the Labour leadership were dedicated to isolating the miners and ensuring that the substantial support that existed within the working class was not mobilised against the government…
Scargill and his supporters took an ambivalent attitude to the TUC and the Labour Party. Initially, they sought to keep them at arm's length, arguing that this would prevent them from being in a position to sell out the strike. On March 16, the NUM sent a secret letter to the TUC explicitly stating, “No request is being made by this union for the intervention or assistance of the TUC.“
But Scargill's efforts to “galvanise“ the labour movement by a display of mass picketing at the Orgreave Coke works near Sheffield in May and June were a disaster. It merely allowed thousands of riot police to wade into miners dressed only in jeans and t-shirts, and to make hundreds of arrests and seriously injure dozens more—including Scargill himself…
The NUM leader was in an unrivalled position from which to challenge the TUC and Labour bureaucracy, should he have chosen to do so. Had he made an explicit call to the working class to defy their leaders and come out in support of the miners, there is no doubt he would have met a powerful response. Instead, he kept his members out in an increasingly futile campaign before accepting defeat without securing a single concession from the government and the National Coal Board.
LNER worker at the Wakefield picket: “We need to protect our futures”
Dan, a host for LNER on the picket line in Wakefield, said, “I’m on strike because we need to protect our futures, our pensions, our terms and conditions and job security as well. In the eight years I have worked on the railways, I have seen big changes in other people’s role. I don’t think anyone can afford a pay cut, which is what 8 percent is.
“Everything is going up: fuel costs, even the bare necessities—bread, milk, teabags—are rising, so either bring prices down or raise our wages. I fully support the strike and anyone who goes on strike. We need to stand up to the government and say, ‘this is what we are preparing to do, this is what we shall and continue to do until we get what we ask for,’ it’s not much.
“We are the workers on the ground level, we do all the hard work for the people high up, we have to keep up with the cost of living. They always say there’s money for the high ups’ and the shareholders’ pockets and no money for us.
“We’re here to say, ‘we’re not scared to stand up to the government.’ I think the government should speak to us and give us an offer we can think about. I don't think they will.”
Holbeck depot, Leeds: “The rich are getting richer”
Track operatives Chris and David were on the picket line at Holbeck depot in Leeds. David said, “We are striking for job security. They want rid of half of us, more work less money. Less money less staff. They have kept this quiet in the news. They want more productivity and pay less money for it. We are track operatives and fix train tracks. Safety is paramount.”
Darren works on Signal and Telecoms, “It’s three years since we’ve had any rise at all, but it’s not a pay rise unless it’s above inflation.” RPI inflation now stands at 11.1 percent but the train operating companies’ pay offer is just 3 percent, tied to accepting mass sackings and the overhaul of existing contracts.
“It’s not just about money,” Darren added, “it’s terms and conditions. They want to alter the role and make us work even more nights and weekends. Changes are already happening, and we are so short-staffed, and they are wanting more work with less people.
“The government want to walk all over everybody. I think it needs a general strike. It’s been so obvious for a while now because it’s an attack on the working class. The rich are getting richer and there has never been so many millionaires and billionaires. It’s scandalous.”
Canadian rail worker declares his solidarity with UK rail workers’ strike
Mark, an engineer from Alberta, Canada, sent the following statement of solidarity for the 50,000 rail workers striking across Britain today.
Mark is a member of the CP Workers Rank-and-File Committee, which was established by rail workers at CP Rail, Canada’s second-largest rail company, in March. Workers formed the committee to oppose the sabotage by the Teamsters union of their strike for health and safety improvements, and an end to a brutal scheduling regime that denies workers adequate free time.
“I was born in Britain in the mid-1960s, a working class scion of miners, nurses, and railwaymen in other words, at Ground Zero of the labour struggle that would continue through my lifetime and, no doubt, beyond. My father, grandfather, and great grandfathers drove trains through war and peace, dug coal, and died young. Our women, for generations, healed the sick. Hailed as heroes when expedient, slated as villains when all sought fair recompense and appreciation for their labours, my family bore the brunt of a unilateral war of attrition against the most necessary sectors of industrial labour. I left Britain 30 years ago for Canada and, ironically enough, became a railwayman.
“Even in this vast land of wealth and privilege, the labour struggles continue unabated. We Canadian railroaders suffer the same ignominy as our brothers and sisters across the world foisted on us by the reptilian mind of capitalism, its arch protagonists are another species of human from us to all intents and purposes. We tarry in an environment where profits and executive remuneration spiral out of control and where labour standards and safety descend equally as quickly.
“We Canadian railroaders stand with our brethren in Britain and beyond, aggrieved by the craven excesses of our employers, yet buoyed by our solidarity. Your struggle in Britain is identical to ours in Canada, both products of a common source of imperialist thinking, wealth, and class disparity. As a result, we must stand together, not out of unseemly avarice, but out of dignity and pride. Few share our dedication, fewer enjoy the pride we eke from the grave responsibilities we shoulder with ease and grace. We ask for nothing more than fairness and equanimity; instead, we receive vile contempt.
“Strike because that is your last option in a situation without many. Carry the day, be resilient, be respectful, show them the professionalism we are known for. Win for you, win for us, be an example to workers everywhere. Show how we deserve a life of labour reciprocated by respecting the sanctity of our existences and role in society. We are worth more, we demand nothing less.”
Network Rail engineer in Sheffield speaks on risk to safety from cuts and fragmentation
“Safety will be compromised 100 percent. We already don’t have enough staff to do the work as it stands.”
A WSWS reporting team spoke to an experienced maintenance engineer on the picket line at the Network Rail depot on Blast Lane, Sheffield.
The worker, whose name has been withheld for protection, raised the danger that the slashing of jobs was taking the national rail back to the dark days of Railtrack. In 1994, track, signalling, tunnels, level crossings and stations were handed over to the private sector when British Rail was privatised.
A series of mass fatality disasters followed, including train collisions at Southall in 1997, Ladbroke Grove in 1999 and the Hatfield derailment in 2000. All were linked to the degradation of safety by private operators. Railtrack went into bankruptcy and was bailed out by the Labour government with rail infrastructure brought back into public ownership on an arms-length basis by the establishment of Network Rail in 2002.
“Nobody speaks about the fact that there are constantly positions opened up in Bands 1-4 which are effectively management grades for people who have no experience in the rail network. They bring them on with company cars on £60-70,000 a year jobs who then sit in offices around the country who have never been outside.
“The ground level staff, who are physically on the line, are outnumbered by 5 to 1. It is an upside-down pyramid. The more they move towards the fragmentation of maintenance its effectively a retreat to the Railtrack days. There were four major disasters before they retreated from that idea. But it’s the same government, same policies, same rhetoric the same circle of Thatcher politics.
“The current figure they are releasing for job losses is between two and a half to three thousand people. The part they don’t discuss as part of the modernisation of the railway program, where they are talking about changing team positions and reducing staff on that basis, the original figure is closer to 15,000. It is in a Network Rail published document. For instance, where you need three people to do certain jobs, taking it down to two is just not physically possible. If you do, you just encourage risk, you encourage danger and eventually people are going to die.
“We work in locations such as old power signal boxes where there are loads of electro-mechanical components all over the place it can involve running between 100-200 wires to renew something. Sounds simple enough. If you cross two of those wires over, that’s two trains into one another—head on—and you’ve just killed 600 people.”
See more on this story here.
London Bridge tube and rail pickets: “It’s good to see people coming together”
Two pickets are being held at London Bridge, with tube workers manning the entrance to the London Underground (LU) and national rail workers picketing the rail station entrance in Tooley Street.
More than a dozen workers stood at the London Bridge tube entrance, including station staff and a station supervisor. A similar number manned the railways entrance, including ticket barrier staff, train dispatch and customer service.
Many passers-by walked over to picketers, saying, “It’s about time” and “Take no notice of what the government’s saying, people back you.” Others tooted their car horns, shouting support.
A tube station supervisor explained, “Yes, we do have something in common even though our disputes are slightly different. Ours doesn’t have a pay aspect, ours is pensions, working conditions and job cuts. In the national rail it’s pensions as well, but it’s definitely a job cut and an argument for a pay rise that we haven’t had.
“We’re all suffering in the same way, like typical key workers, people who worked through the pandemic and were called heroes for working, not given our fair cut now as prices go up, life’s getting harder, so it’s good to see people coming together.
“It’s not just rail workers, it’s workers in the National Health Service, workers in shops. All workers are in the same situation, so if we can work together to fight for our pay and conditions and pensions, one set of workers benefits another doesn’t it? The old argument we get all the time is, ‘You people shouldn’t get a pay rise because what about nurses?’ But we all know that if our pensions are taken away it’s not so somebody can give it to nurses.”
Asked whether she supported growing calls by workers for a general strike, she replied, “I certainly don’t believe it’s a step too far. The government say we’re making political strikes, but they’re the ones playing politics with us. It’s the government who’s refusing to release proper funding [to Transport for London] so they are causing the situation.
“And like the other day [the government] saying again that workers can’t expect a wage that keeps pace with inflation. In that case everybody’s getting poorer, aren’t they? So, we haven’t got proper recourse then. When a general strike can be organised, that’s obviously the way we should go.”
Vast majority of Labour MPs abide by Keir Starmer’s demand to stay away from picket lines
Only a handful of Labour MPs, plus former leader Jeremy Corbyn now sitting as an independent, have joined striking rail workers’ picket lines.
The vast majority heeded party leader Sir Keir Starmer’s instruction yesterday to stay away, under threat of being disciplined.
Along with Corbyn were his former Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, the “left” rump Socialist Campaign Group leader Richard Burgon, former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, former national Union of Mineworkers leader Ian Lavery, Rebecca-Long Bailey, Tahir Ali and Beth Winter. Kate Osborne, a parliamentary aide, joined a London picket line together with Labour whip Navendu Mishra and parliamentary aide Paula Barker.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar went to Edinburgh Waverley station, but took pains to stress, “The workers don’t want strikes. The unions don’t want strikes. The public don’t want strikes… This is a crisis entirely of the government’s making.”
Starmer’s deputy leader Angela Rayner, intending to take career advantage of Starmer’s deep unpopularity, tweeted, “Workers have been left with no choice” but to strike, adding that she would “always defend their absolute right to do so for fairness at work.” She too insisted that Boris Johnson’s Conservative government had caused the situation and “Now they must solve it.”
That so few MPs would even contemplate such a minor act of rebellion is testimony to the ossified right-wing character of the Labour Party. But even this will deepen Labour’s crisis and the contempt felt towards it by millions of working people.
Sharon Graham, head of the Unite union, echoed RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch’s appeals to Starmer and “his team” to “ride the wave of resistance” and back the strikes. Graham stated, “we expect Labour MPs to defend workers, by words and by actions… It’s time to decide whose side you are on. Workers or bad bosses?”
Labour, to the obvious concern of the Corbynites, is now seen as unreservedly on the side of the bosses by so many workers that Graham has threatened to end her union’s funding of the party. But despite all advice from the trade union bureaucracy to pursue a less nakedly pro-big business line, the Blairites are marching steadfastly towards political oblivion, including threats to take action against dissenters when the first round of rail strikes ends Saturday.
Brixton picket: “We should all be coming out together”
London Underground workers mounted a picket outside Brixton station, on the entirely suspended Victoria line.
Sadie, a customer services assistant working on the tube for just over a year, explained, “The industry is chaotic at the moment not because of the strikes but we don’t have enough people anyway. Managers are relying on overtime a lot. We’re constantly getting emails asking to do overtime to cover this or that shift.
“Sometimes we even have to do overtime to keep the station from closing, because if we go under a certain number it’s not safe and we have to close. That’s happening all the time here. Some people are pushed to do overtime financially—the cost of living, everything is going up. People get pushed into doing extra hours when really, they need a rest.”
She said of the strike action, “It’s really good that it’s finally happened but it took us a long time to get to this. We voted for strikes, [but] our ballot ended in January. This is still only our fourth strike day. You’re wondering where it’s going. We need a lot more. And we need others. Everyone’s facing problems with the cost of living. We should all be coming out together.”
Phil, a member of station staff and RMT industrial rep with seven years in the industry, said, “On London Underground they want to make huge savings. They’ve proposed to get rid of 600 jobs. They want to give us inferior pensions and change terms and conditions to introduce more flexibility—letting them send us to a different station at the drop of a hat and things like that.
“We agreed a four-year pay deal. We’re in the last year now so we’ll be putting a claim in at the end of this year. This year, in April, we got an 8.4 percent pay rise, but by the time that hit our bank accounts in July, it was actually a pay freeze, a pay cut actually. RPI by then was over 9 percent, now it’s over 11 percent. Everything’s going up: rent’s going up, energy’s going up, petrol’s going up, food’s going up.
“We won’t apologise for asking for an inflation-matching pay rise. The way I see it, it’s a class struggle. Everyone needs a pay rise.”
He added, “The government are probably quite happy that at the moment they can take on just one union. But they can’t take on everybody at the same time, so we need to spread it.”
SEP Assistant National Secretary Thomas Scripps tweets on the 1926 British General Strike
Huddersfield: “They need us for revenue, but not for safety”
A dozen rail workers picketed outside Huddersfield Railway Station, West Yorkshire.
Tony, a conductor at Huddersfield, said, “I've worked for the railway for over 20 years. We’re all solid in what we believe. All of our members have trusted the ballot, and no one has crossed the picket line. Even workers not in the union have not crossed, which is supportive.
“As a conductor we had a fight four years ago against the introduction of driver only operations. That was a long, long strike and cost conductors a lot of money. I think they need us for the revenue but not the safety. CCTV can’t cover everything and talk to people. People don’t listen to tannoys.
“With the ticket offices, we’ve got a lot of experience and knowledge—the ticket machines are not easy to navigate. There are so many different tickets that passengers who have no idea can end up getting fined.”
Veteran London rail worker speaks on the historic struggles of the British working class
A rail worker with over 40 years in the industry who travelled to the Clapham rail depot to strengthen the picket spoke on the defeat of the 1984-5 miners’ strike.
“We lost an opportunity during the miners’ strike. Every worker should have gone on strike in support of the miners. And even the steel workers before then, we should have gone out for the steel workers. We should have stuck with them.
“That came after a series of struggles in the 1970s. I remember 1978, the Winter of Discontent. That was a build-up from when the Tories were in power from 1970, under Heath. The miners brought him down in ’74. And you had the Shrewsbury pickets in prison, with Ricky Tomlinson. During the early ‘70s, quite a few trade unionists were put in prison.
“After the miners’ strike you had Wapping. They sacked 5,000 print workers and put others in. Eric Hammond, the leader of the electricians’ union, the EETPU [Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunication and Plumbing Trade Union] was involved with [media oligarch Rupert] Murdoch.” Murdoch’s strikebreaking, with the aid of the EETPU, was carried out in close coordination with the Thatcher government.
“We lost some great opportunities. We have one now. We’ve got an opportunity to turn things around, we really have. We just need everyone out there.”
A two-part history of the miners’ strike published by the World Socialist Web Site in 2004, explaining its historical context, significance for the international class struggle, and reasons for its defeat, will be produced as a pamphlet shortly by the Socialist Equality Party. The essay explains:
“The dominant sections of the Labour bureaucracy were utterly opposed to any mobilisation of the working class against the [Thatcher] government. Yet the perspective of National Union of Mineworkers leader Arthur Scargill, the Labour Party's left wing and Britain's various radical groups was limited to the encouragement of a militant movement within the trade unions to pressurise Labour and the TUC into taking such a stand. What they would not contemplate was the development of any movement that threatened a political break from the bureaucracy. This was to prove decisive in the defeat of the miners' strike.”
Workers on the picket line at Bristol Temple Meads station
Sheffield strike action solid
Picketers at Sheffield Railway Station report that action is solid. Hundreds of RMT members there from train operating companies including Northern, East Midlands Railways and TransPennine Express have observed today’s strike.
According to guards picketing near the station entrance, train operating companies were able to operate only one train per hour from Sheffield to London between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., using management-grade staff. They said that if TSSA and ASLEF members were out too, the entire network nationally would be at a standstill.
Pickets explained why rail workers are striking: “The biggest thing is job security. The threat of compulsory redundancies is there for a lot of grades, for station and retail staff, Network Rail staff. They’re looking at employing agency workers, and if they’re on poor pay and conditions and don’t have the correct training, it’s diluting the grades.
“It’s also the pensions. They’re trying to make you work an extra three years, and lower contributions into your pensions. Anyone that’s not safeguarded as former British Railways staff, are threatened, and that’s the vast majority of people who work on the railways now.”
Workers rejected government claims that there is “no money” to fund a decent pay rise, explaining, “Of course it’s sickening, the money’s gone to the private operators, dividends are still getting paid out to the directors. MPs and government ministers have had their 2.5 percent pay rises.
“What’s going to give? Because at the end of the day we worked all the way through that pandemic, along with freight drivers and Network Rail infrastructure—all were here, and we kept things going.
“The hypocrisy of those such as Grant Shapps to go and condemn P&O Ferries for sacking all their workers and putting agency workers in, and then announce a few weeks later his plan to get rid of over 2,000 Network Rail staff and replace them with agency workers and drones, is pure hypocrisy.”
There was widespread support on the picket for broader strike action, including a General Strike, to bring down the Johnson government. Asked why the most hated government in British history was still in power after presiding over the deaths of more than 200,000 people during the pandemic, a worker responded, “That’s what we’d like to know!”
Interviews with strikers from Leeds railway station picket line
Mark, a guard with 19 years’ service said, “We are fighting the fight of our lives. If this doesn’t work, I fear for my job. I’ll be out of work in 12 months. We took 47 days of action and should have been gone in 2020. We are still here in 2022. We have to stand together. I would support a general strike without a doubt.
“As for pay we haven’t had a pay rise in three years. We got told your pay rise is deferred and we’ve still not had anything from that. Now they want to attack our pensions, terms and conditions and tear it all up. We’ve got no reason not to strike. The feeling at the Leeds depot is massive. Workers who left their shift at midnight turned up at 6 o’clock to picket.
“Our priority as a guard is the safety of the passengers. It’s paramount. The Tories want to tear it all up. They don’t want us on the train. They want to minimise staff and maximise profits for the shareholders.”
Trace, an RMT Regional Council Secretary and bus driver, said, “It’s about keeping everyone safe. They are going to be shutting all the ticket offices, so what happens when you go and buy a ticket and you’ve not got the correct one and get on the train and don’t know where you are going? You'll get fined £80 by the agency staff. Machines don’t tell you what ticket you actually need.
“Most people on the picket are conductors, cleaners, other station staff, platform and dispatch staff. A lot of people who are earning closer to £22,000 and up to £30,000. We are not talking about train drivers on top money. We’re talking about people who are having to choose between heating and eating, people who are going to foodbanks every day because the gap between those who have and have not is just getting wider. The fact that the government are against negotiations is because it’s a ploy to turn public opinion against the unions.”
Documents expose government’s class war agenda against rail workers
A 2022 pay offer published yesterday shows the scale of the attacks facing rail workers.
The six-page document made public by the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) lists sweeping “workplace reform” including the mass closure of ticket offices over the next 3-18 months.
Department for Transport train operating companies (TOCs) are offering just “2% from the 2022 pay anniversary date and a further 1% after six months from the pay anniversary date in recognition of commencing the implementation of the workforce reforms set out in this document.” (emphasis added)
Its “modernisation” programme includes introduction of Sunday working and complete “multi-skilling” across all station grades in what amounts to the overhaul of employment contracts, i.e., fire and rehire.
Pensions are to be gutted and the retirement age lifted from 62 to 65.
The rail bosses are demanding “a commitment to enter into future discussions on New Entrants, On-Board and Catering to review and agree changes to improve flexibility and utilisation of resources.”
New starters will be placed on lower pay and inferior conditions. The “flexibility” envisaged includes Driver Only Operated trains.
Taken together with cuts at Network Rail, where thousands of jobs are being axed and safety inspections slashed by 50 percent, the Johnson government has made clear it will stop at nothing to enforce its re-privatisation plan for Great British Railways.