Unjum Mirza reports on the next round of railway strike dates and the need for co-ordination and escalation to beat back the Tories
The RMT announced yesterday strike action across Network Rail and the Train Operating Companies (TOCs) on Wednesday 27 July. Today, the Aslef executive committee issued notice for strike action across 8 TOCs on Saturday 30 July.
Additional strike dates on the railways include Aslef action on Hull Trains on 16 and 23 July co-ordinated with RMT at the same company on 17 and 24 July. Aslef train drivers will also walk out at Great Anglia Trains on 23 July while TSSA members at Avanti West Coast join the struggle on 27 July.
Earlier this week on Monday, Aslef announced massive strike votes at Arriva Rail London (98.9%); Chiltern Railways (92.3%); Great Western (86.1%) LNER (88.5%); Northern Trains (95.2%); SouthEastern (91.6%); TransPennine Express (94.2% and West Midlands Trains (89.6%). Aslef ballots at a further 3 TOCs are to be announced on 27 July. The TSSA also announced on Monday that 77.4% had voted for strike action across 6000 members on Network Rail.
Everyone must get behind these strikes and deliver the maximum solidarity on the picket lines.
On Wednesday, Mick Whelan, Aslef general secretary and Eddie Dempsey, RMT senior assistant general secretary spelt out the unions’ case in evidence at the Transport Select Committee. Dempsey relayed the concerns of “going back to the days of Railtrack”, noting that the inappropriately named ‘modernisation’ agenda threatens the “removal of a third of frontline maintenance workforce (and) cutting scheduled maintenance tasks in half” with disastrous implications for jobs, conditions, contracts and staff and public safety.
Whelan attacked the “underlying deceit” with “employers entering into a contract that allows someone else to dictate what we would be paid, what our terms and conditions would be”. Whelan said “I believe the employers that we work for are being quite disingenuous and dishonourable… they keep their profits and maintain their opportunities in the railway industry signed up to contracts that the DfT allowed” while the “secretary of state (for transport i.e Grant Shapps) is allowed to determine what percentages of wages we get and what we could and couldn’t talk about”.
Whelan added “we will not engage in a race to the bottom” while Dempsey highlighted the Tory government’s increasing authoritarianism and efforts in “criminalising dissent” as workers fight back amid a deepening cost of living crisis. In response to the Tories’ legislation to allow employers to use agency workers to break strikes, Whelan said, “as for the scab charter you’ve created or the government has created recently – that’s what it’ll be… scab labour can only work for scab management and what it’ll do is it’ll impact and destroy the industrial relations in this industry going forward… anyone who’s employed scab labour, we will look at them as our employers in a different way”. The Tory MP chair of the session said “You used the word scab” to which Whelan responded, “anyone who breaks a strike and crosses a picket line”.
While the Transport committee met, the RMT Executive considered the Network Rail offer and rightly rejected it as “paltry”. The Aslef executive committee met the following day and announced strike action explaining “the train companies failed to make a pay offer to keep pace with the increase in the cost of living… offering us nothing saying their hands have been tied by the government. That means, in real terms, with inflation running ahead at 9%, 10% and even 11% this year, according to which index you use, that (train drivers) are being told to take a real-terms pay cut”.
Following RMT’s hugely successful strike action in June, it is extremely positive that the rail unions are beginning to pull together to co-ordinate action against the employers’ offensive and the Tory government.
The Tory Government is desperately divided and weak. We cannot await the outcome of the Tory party leadership election between a nasty and vile bunch – all of whom served under the brutal and discredited Boris Johnson premiership.
We cannot rely on Starmer’s Labour Party full stop - let alone their games and manoeuvres that will only channel our power down a parliamentary dead end.
The Resolution Foundation Report – Stagnation Nation, found “The toxic combination of slow growth and high inequality was posing challenges for low-to-middle income Britain’s living standards even before the post-pandemic cost of living crisis struck”. While real wages grew by 33% a decade between 1970 and 2007 on average, this fell to below zero from the 2010s. Income inequality in the UK was higher than any other large European country in 2018. With the rising cost of food, energy bills and wages suppressed in the midst of a deepening cost of living crisis, millions are facing desperate, desperate times in the period ahead.
That’s why we must rely on our own power. That means building solidarity with the rail strikes. But we cannot entertain any illusions. We cannot allow this fight to fragment. We should not settle for anything less than no-strings inflation (RPI) linked pay rises i.e. nothing less than 11.7% as it stands presently; no job cuts, no concessions on working conditions and for scrapping the employers’ modernisation agenda.
The CWU BT workers are set to announce strike dates imminently; the postal workers strike ballot to return on 19 July. The PCS have announced a national strike ballot over pay, pensions, jobs and redundancy terms from 26 September. The UCU and NEU are set to ballot for strike action in the autumn. This is where the power lies to tear the Tories apart. If we are to witness a summer of discontent we need to push for a far greater level of co-ordination between the unions and a rapid escalation of strikes beyond twenty-four hours action to secure victory.
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Unjum Mirza is a driver on the London Underground. He is on the Editorial Board of Tunnel Vision, the rank and file bulletin, and is an Aslef union branch chair.
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