Virgin train workers are balloting for strike action, credit: Phil Scott (uploaded 15/11/2017)
photo Phil Scott

A once-in-a-generation battle

A Midlands RMT member

RMT is balloting over 40,000 members across most of the British railway network.

All grades will be balloted – including train crew, signallers, maintenance and booking offices – in both Network Rail, which maintains and operates the infrastructure, and the Train Operating Companies (TOCs).

Some have called this our ‘miners’ strike’, as this confrontation has been provoked 100% by the rail employers, with the government backing them up.

They are using the Covid pandemic recovery as their opportunity to go after our jobs, hard-won pay and conditions, and pensions.

Throughout the pandemic we and other key workers were hailed as heroes. We have been ‘rewarded’ for our commitment with a two-year pay freeze with inflation now over 9%. They also want to rip up our terms and conditions.

Network Rail director Nicky Hughes crassly attempted to justify her own bloated salary by stating that our members should have worked harder at school! How to make friends and influence people!

The employers claim to want to tackle the climate emergency, by shifting more passenger and freight journeys from private cars and trucks to rail. But their post-Covid recovery plan spells out deep and permanent cuts to jobs, safety inspections, working practices, and pensions across all parts of the railway.

Fatal incidents such as Potters Bar and Greyrigg only go to prove the potentially disastrous effect of infrequent inspection and maintenance. Along with plans for unstaffed stations and the removal of guards from trains, this is a recipe for disaster. The public are also facing ever-increasing rail fares. RMT members will not stand for it.

Bosses have been busy sending out letters to our members reminding them that they are ‘not obliged to vote’ in the ballot, hoping to reduce the turnout below 50% and render us foul of the anti-union laws.

These laws stack the cards against workers whenever we try to defend ourselves. We not only have to campaign to fully explain the issues and for a ‘yes’ vote, but we must ensure that at least 50% actually vote. This burden does not apply to elections for capitalist politicians, only for workers’ organisations.

However, despite these hurdles we can win this ballot! At my own depot the WhatsApp group is constantly buzzing. Peer-to-peer texting and phone banking has been organised by the national union. Regional and national meetings have been organised, which have all reflected a real mood for a fight.

It is clear that the bosses want to smash our union and will be planning their scabbing operations behind the scenes. But a train with a scab manager acting as a guard won’t get very far if there is no signaller, fitter or infrastructure engineer on duty, will it?

I am confident that we can get the result over the line. When we do, the RMT leadership must use this mandate to put forward a militant plan of action. The enormous potential power of railway workers can drive the bosses back. This is a once-in-a-generation battle for the future of the railway which we cannot afford to lose.