RMT rail workers: “We are all militant and we all stand together”
Railway workers in RMT took another day of strike action on 27 July, defending pay, jobs, terms and conditions. The next scheduled dates are 18 and 20 August. RMT members on London Underground are scheduled to strike next on 19 August. Socialist Party members report from just a few of the many picket lines we visited.
“We’re getting a good vibe with support from the public passing the picket line. It’s not going to be an easy process but we need to sweat it out. Jobs security is a priority. We’re focusing on the terms and conditions of any pay rise. The employers always portray us as greedy, but if they get what they want, the job wouldn’t be worth having.
“They’ve offered us a one-off £600 ‘incentive’ not to strike, but given themselves massive rises. Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines has just given himself £38,000 while we fight for our T&Cs and job security. Does this not go against one of the things we are actually fighting for in this dispute?”
Bassetlaw RMT branch secretary Wayne Barnett and rep Rex Revill spoke to Jon Dale and Paul Tooley-Okonkwo
On Tyneside, the Socialist Party visited three RMT picket lines. On all there was a gritty determination to fight for decent pay and conditions.
As one striker said: “The RMT has a union culture, we are all militant and we all stand together.”
There was derision, both from RMT strikers and Labour Party members present, towards Keir Starmer, who has unceremoniously ditched all previous pledges to nationalise rail, energy, mail and water.
RMT members we spoke to also recognise that both Sunak and Truss have their sights on a battle with the RMT. As one striker said: “The difference between them is one wants to burn us, the other would have us drowned”.
There was a confident mood on the RMT picket. Strikers said that they were willing to be in this dispute for the long run – one claiming they were certain the RMT could renew its ballot if necessary.
Our argument for coordinated action was widely supported, it is already widely discussed on the picket line. Several members, including a visiting GMB rep, agreed to raise the upcoming NSSN rally of the TUC (see page 3) with their branches. The mood is out there for coordinated strikes – we need to turn that willingness into concrete action!
Eastleigh RMT signallers are determined to win their fight, especially the protection of jobs: “We need a general strike, everyone out and more support from Labour.” They are angry at the costly and dangerous use of contractors, often unskilled, to do the jobs they are brought in to do, especially managers, who put lives at risk on strike days through their incompetent attempts to run trains.
Mabel Wellman and Nick Chaffey
Everyone I spoke to on the picket agreed that strike action should be coordinated between the unions – some said a one-day strike of all transport unions to shut everything down, others said staggered strike action over a few days of drivers, then signallers etc.
Leicester RMT had solidarity visits from PCS, CWU, FBU, Unite, Unison, NEU and Leicester and the district Trades Council. CWU and FBU reps took NSSN leaflets and said they would propose the model motion calling on the union leaders to coordinate strikes.
Aslef train drivers: “We have a new word for scabs here. We call them Starmers”
Socialist Party members joined Aslef train drivers’ picket lines on 30 July. Another strike day is scheduled for 13 August.
This is certainly turning into a summer of discontent! Aslef strikers underlined to us the rotten role of this Tory government, and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, in scuppering negotiations. This is clearly a Tory government hell-bent on ensuring it is workers who pay.
Workers on the Aslef picket line also patently understand it’s not wage increases that create inflation. Prices are skyrocketing but, alongside many other workers, rail worker’s wages have not kept up with inflation. Many Aslef members haven’t had a pay increase since 2019.
On every picket line we visited, workers were scathing of Keir Starmer. Also, although the strikers are happy to have local Labour MPs visit the picket lines, the feeling of the strikers we spoke to is that the Labour Party no longer represents them, and there was agreement over the need for a new mass workers’ party.
The funniest comment was when I asked if many trains were running. One of the drivers flipped that managers were supposed to be running the trains, but they probably didn’t know how to use the ignition keys.
Standing on an Aslef picket line in Bristol for the first time in 40 years, the mood was determined and confident. When I raised the idea of coordinated action with other unions, all the pickets thought that was blindingly obvious and the only way to go from here. Mention of the Labour leadership’s role drew immediate contempt, with one worker saying: “We have a new word for scabs here. We call them Starmers”. All the pickets bought a copy of the Socialist.
There was a brilliant turnout with drivers lining the picket all day, the whole time they had a chorus of supportive honks and cheers from drivers passing by.
One of the workers we spoke to had come down from the Coventry picket where he had met Socialist Party member and ex Labour MP, Dave Nellist. He shared with us how he had withdrawn his Labour Party membership a month ago. Another striker was considering doing the same. The victory won by the Coventry bin workers against a Labour council is well known (see page 7) and has inspired many. We spoke to strikers of the need for a new political party to represent workers.
Members of the public showed fantastic support to the strikers. One woman gave the pickets a gift card to buy drinks at a local coffee shop. We could see why the capitalist media struggles to find anyone that doesn’t support workers fighting against the cost-of-living crisis!
Among other trade unionists who attended there was an understanding of the importance of supporting the rail strikes and an acknowledgement of the positive effect these are having on the confidence of their own members.
CWU BT and Openreach workers: “The price of everything is going up except our wages”
CWU members working for BT took two days of strike action on 29 July and 1 August, fighting for better pay. Socialist Party members report from the picket lines.
Ahmed Kasu, rep for CWU Midland Counties branch said: “We aren’t getting a pay rise. Yet those at the top have bumped their pay up significantly. They want to give us peanuts for the work we do.
“We worked through the pandemic; our engineers put their lives on the line whilst these CEOs are sitting cosily in their homes. We’ve ensured that the company has made a significant profit and they have rewarded shareholders, yet they don’t want to reward the workers that made them their profit.
“We need to make a stand. The price of everything is going up except our wages!”
I spoke to Nigel Bailey, CWU SE Anglia Branch Secretary, on the picket line. “The mood is very positive,” he said, “no one wants this strike but the company won’t move so we’re going to have to make them.”
Nigel already subscribes to the NSSN bulletin so he was positive about the NSSN lobby on 11 September – “The TUC needs to pull all of these disputes together.”
Nigel had the following advice for pickets everywhere in the UK’s summer strike wave: “Hydrate, use a high SPF and never look directly at the Sun – the newspaper that is.”
The biggest cheer was when two ‘white van men’, plumbing contractors, refused to cross the picket line and one of the strikers said: “Feel the power! Toilets not getting fixed today!”
Now that’s what I call a front page … We should have these in all the exchanges!
Review of the Socialist from Openreach engineer in Sheffield
30 striking workers were at the picket line at the BT tower on 1 August. Cardiff trades union council and Socialist Party members offered our full support and solidarity with the strike.
The strikers were pleased that the trades council came along, in order to try to bring together the local union movement to support their action – and were eager to get photos in front of the banner to share around.
I spoke to one Communication Workers Union (CWU) members about the feeling local members have towards local MPs and the Labour Party. He said that his CWU branch only gives the bare minimum to local constituency parties for affiliation fees. And if they want more, then they have to prove that they support CWU members.
He also said if the Labour MP doesn’t join them on the picket line, then his CWU branch is done with them and will cut ties. He said that if that happens, then questions will be asked what political candidates they will be backing.
A young couple with a child walked pass the picket line and offered their support. One of them said that nationalisation is such an obvious solution, he’s utterly shocked that Labour isn’t putting that forward.
He went on to say that if people work, they should be able to afford a comfortable life, no ifs, no buts. It should be the minimum that we expect! With public opinion polls showing a majority support of nationalisation of public utilities, it’s not surprising that workers walking by want to show their support and congratulating people for giving it a good go!
The idea of coordinated action, and it went down really well. The striking workers said they look forward to seeing us again, and with their new favourite banner.
Some of the strikers bought copies of the Socialist paper. The presence of the Socialist paper instigated a few conversations on what socialism was too. Its clear workers are looking for new ideas and are open to discussing with us the strategy going forward.
Afterwards, they had a sing and dance to some classic trade union songs.