Workers at Waterloo station. Photo: James Ivens
Workers at Waterloo station. Photo: James Ivens

Defend jobs, pensions, pay and conditions

Generalise the industrial fightback

Unite the industrial and political struggle 

Jared Wood, RMT National Executive Committee (personal capacity) – pictured speaking at a strike rally

The fight against the managed decline of the rail industry is a fight with our bosses but it is also a political struggle against the Tory government and, in London, the Labour Mayor.

RMT rail union general secretary Mick Lynch has rammed the point home on TV interviews. It is not possible for an agreement to be reached while Network Rail (NR) and the Train Operating Companies (TOCs) are under the direction of the Department for Transport (DfT), but the government refuses to negotiate with RMT.

In London the position is even more complicated, with the DfT and London Mayor both seeking to blame the other for cuts, but both are committed to implementing them.

At the root of our industrial battle is a government plan to cut £4 billion from rail spending. £2 billion is to be cut from NR and the TOCs, with the other £2 billion coming from Transport for London (TfL), which includes London Underground (LU).

RMT has stepped up magnificently. At a time when too many trade union leaders urge members to suck up pay cuts, pension attacks and flexible working, RMT has taken three days of strike action on NR and TOCs, and four on London Underground, including a stations’ strike.

In addition to this, RMT drivers on LU have taken action for over six months in protest against the imposition of unsociable rosters to incorporate night-tube duties.

The industrial response must continue. We have to keep all TOCs, NR and different grades together. On LU, seven functions have to be united, involving over 10,000 members. But so far this has been achieved. We must maintain this unity, and keep the struggle going forwards with further strike action. The successful re-ballot on LU and the massive mandates for action on NR and the TOCs demonstrate the determination of members to win.

When RMT reps and activists speak at trades councils or other unions’ branch meetings we are always asked what they can do to help. Well, solidarity meetings are always welcome. But the most effective way to assist us is for other unions to get into the battle themselves and fight for their own pay, pensions and conditions.

It is apparent that the Johnson wing of the Tory party is using the strike to marshal its support behind the banner of smashing the unions. But they have miscalculated. The strike is absolutely solid, and RMT members have never encountered so much support on picket lines. Opinion polls show a clear majority support the strikes.

A generalised fightback would paralyse a weak and divided Tory government and force them into reverse. First up is the need for a generalised response encompassing RMT, Unite and Aslef in the rail sector.

But looming ballots of teachers, civil servants, local government workers and health service workers should be brought forward as soon as possible to join the resistance to another round of austerity.

The austerity, of course, is only targeted at working people. Government ministers and journalists are in apoplectic rage at the thought of a working-class tube driver getting £60,000 a year, but they have no problem with billionaires taking multi-million-pound bonuses. In fact, the government is so relaxed about this transfer of wealth from working-class pockets to the super-rich, that they are offering them another tax break.

We’re expected to believe that a cleaner getting a 10% pay rise on the living wage is going to personally drive up inflation. Perhaps the government should hand out holiday homes, champagne and Bentleys to rail workers, as these purchases are not considered to be inflationary at all!

RMT is offering a fighting strategy to the trade union movement and has led the way into battle. The indications are that others will follow. But workers also need a political alternative. A government that is wedded to the privately owned capitalist economy cannot solve the problems confronting working people in Britain or worldwide.

The economic crisis has been triggered by issues associated with recovering from the pandemic lockdowns. But the underlying crisis of productivity, low wages and the inability of workers to buy the goods being produced requires a socialist programme. It requires a mass workers’ party that is prepared to break with the dictatorship of the banks, multinational business and the political class that does their bidding.

RMT can take a lead in that process too. There is no off-the-shelf socialist alternative ready to replace the increasingly moribund Labour Party. But with the will, the trade union movement could create a force to oppose austerity, from the town halls to Westminster. Such a programme now, allied to nationalisation of our utilities, the building of real affordable housing and fair wages, would be unstoppable.

Jared Wood speaking to the rally at Kings Cross. Video: London SP

Why is there a £4 billion funding gap for our rail services?

The government likes to pretend that we just cannot afford to maintain our rail services, or the pay and conditions of rail workers.

They say both Transport for London (TfL) and the national rail industry face a £2 billion gap between their income and expenditure.

But this is arbitrary. The only reason there is any gap is because the government has chosen to cut the subsidies for our rail services. If the level of subsidy that was in place on TfL when the current prime minister was mayor of London was restored, back to its abolition in 2015, then TfL would be sitting on a financial surplus.

On our national rail system, the situation is even more bizarre. The level of subsidy is around double the maximum level of assistance that was ever given to British Rail under nationalisation. So the state actually spends a fortune supporting the dividends, profits and executive wages of the rail industry.

The row about funding our rail and tube systems is, in reality, a straightforward struggle to share out the profits of the economy to benefit working people. The rail companies had their profits fully indemnified by the state throughout the pandemic. The oft-quoted support for rail over the past two years was to support the profits of the privatised industry, not services and certainly not workers.

Instead of now demanding that we get rid of guards, stop inspecting track, and close all ticket offices, the Department for Transport could think about removing the chairman of Network Rail, which would save over £500,000 a year at the stroke of a pen. That is one redundancy RMT members could live with.

What has RMT been offered?

On London Underground, management has not made a single offer to address RMT demands: to maintain job numbers in the face of £500 million cuts to the annual operating budget, guarantee no detriment to our pensions, and maintain terms and conditions on key issues including rostering, notice of duties and work locations.

Network Rail and the TOCs have offered a pay rise of 2% with a further increase, later in the year, of a one-off non-consolidated 1%. But this insult is conditional on RMT accepting all the productivity demands of the employers, including thousands of job cuts. These job cuts could include compulsory redundancies.

As if these offers are not enough to detonate talks and prevent any hope of a settlement, the TOCs have now added an additional demand for pension ‘reform’.