Save London Transport rally Save London Transport rally. Photo: Shabbir Lakha

Alia Butt reports on a packed-out RMT rally to save London transport as the next round of Tory attacks on workers and services is revealed

In response to the government’s latest funding deal accepted by TfL which will see massive cuts to the London transport system, the RMT organised a rally on Wednesday to save London transport.

The TUC’s Congress House main hall was packed out showing both the strength of feeling against the massive attacks on working people right now as well as the mood to fight back. The rally was chaired by RMT President Alex Gordon who gave a sense of the importance of the rally and the need for a concerted and united response from the labour movement.

London is the only capital city in the developed world whose public transport is not funded by central government and which is now facing the removal of numerous bus routes, reduced tube services and, if Grant Shapps’ plans to reduce train drivers and station staff are implemented, a massive reduction in health and safety and accessibility.

Speakers at the rally included RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch, Aslef General Secretary Mick Whelan, TSSA organiser Mel Taylor and Unite’s national bus lead Onay Kasab, along with John McDonnell MP, London Assembly member Elly Baker, disability rights activist and comedian Barbara Lisicki, New Economics Foundation CEO Miatta Fahnbulleh and US Senator Bernie Sanders.

There were video messages of solidarity from Marsha De Cordova MP and John Mark Mwanika from the International Transport Workers Federation, and a special appearance from Postman Pat who accompanied Hannah Carroll from the CWU whose members in Royal Mail and BT were striking earlier that day.

The speakers reminded us that this is an attack on London’s working class – many of whom depend on public transport and will have their freedoms and independence dramatically reduced. While the focus was on the immediate threat to London’s transport, all the speakers placed the issue in the wider crises of inflation, wage stagnation and the soaring cost of living.

We were reminded that these issues are entirely connected and part of an economic strategy designed to keep the existing distribution of wealth and power, and that contrary to what the mainstream media would like us to believe, it is profits not wages driving inflation.

The prioritising of profits has resulted in the increase in hungry and freezing people, many of whom will die if things do not change. We were reminded of the importance of our rail, water, energy, and postal services and why it makes no sense for them to not be publicly owned.

There was a lot of fighting talk at the rally – of the need for more strike action, in more sections of the economy and for coordination between them. There was also a strong case made for political action and solidarity that extends beyond the labour movement and mobilises people in communities across the country.

The calls to action received rapturous applause from the audience in the room. There was a clear sense of the scale of the crisis we face, the scale of the movement we need to resist, and the radical transformation of society necessary to stop the war on working people.

Something is shifting and the growing number of workers fighting is giving hope to many, many more of us. People are able to see that this is our fight too. Bernie Sanders told the room that workers in the US were watching the UK strike wave and being inspired and that “unions are now more popular than they have been since the 1960s in the US”.

He went on to paraphrase Frederick Douglass and said,

“The only way justice ever comes about, the only way the working people ever make success, is when we stand up, we take them on and we win. That’s what this struggle is about.”

The overarching message was one of solidarity, something we need more than anything else over the coming months. We need to get out onto the picket lines, we need to co-ordinate our struggles and we need to remember at all times that our fight is one.

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