40,000 workers on the railways who are members of the RMT Union began national strike action to protect jobs and pay today. It is the most significant industrial action since the privatisation of the railways 30 years ago and a crucial fight for the whole of the working class. RMT members are striking over the government mandated pay freeze, and threats to their terms and conditions including pensions, changes to working patterns and refusal to guarantee redundancies, which will happen in Network Rail and train companies as track workers are laid off, ticket offices are closed and other station grades threatened with being replaced with Driver Only Operation or guards only train dispatch The Tory government and big business want to make ordinary workers pay for the cost of living crisis whilst corporate profits are protected. The RMT Union are standing in their way and we need to stand alongside them in solidarity. We also desperately need more green public transport so this is not just a fight for workers’ rights but also a fight for the environment and for climate justice. On Saturday 25th June there will be a major demonstration in Bristol assembling 12 noon at the Knights templar Pub on Temple Quay. This solidarity rally and protest was called by Bristol Trades Council, Bristol People’s Assembly and Bristol Climate Justice Coalition.
Former RMT member Glen Burrows said “The RMT is fighting for the future of the railway system in Britain, in the face of threats to cut thousands of jobs, close ticket offices, increase working hours and alter wages and conditions, all without consultation with the rail unions. RMT members have no choice but to strike, since employers have refused to negotiate and the government has failed to help find a settlement. The decision to strike, incurring loss of pay, as well as reducing services to the public, is never taken lightly, but RMT members will not accept pay and job cuts while employers continue to rake in profits. The support received from other trades unions has been magnificent, as was shown in the reception given to the RMT delegation at the London March on June 18th. With other unions balloting for strike action over the cost of living crisis, there was never a more important time for workers to show strength and solidarity. And the Labour Party must do the same if it is to deserve to be called the party of labour.
Strength in Unity
County Labour group Leader Cllr Leigh Redman (Bridgwater North) said “For any worker to withdraw their labour and strike is ALWAYS a last resort, we need to remember that unions work very hard to find compromise, employers will try and drive a divide between worker and worker, employee and their union. I fully support any union member that is forced to strike, in this case the government are not taking their responsibility seriously, perhaps the PM is happy for another story to divert attention from his lies!! I send solidarity to all workers who have been forced into withdrawing their labour, Remember there is strength in Unity.”
9:1 in favour of strike
Somerset County Labour Secretary Cllr Sean Dromgoole (Langport) commented “These are tough times. An incompetent and grossly corrupt government are spinning out of control. They have no interest in maintaining or protecting the employment conditions of the bulk of us. The Brexit experiment is proving to be a disaster for those who would export or hire. The truth about the extent of the trousering that went on during the pandemic is starting to emerge.”
Sean continued “They are getting through “ethics advisors” faster than most of us can type and the only place our Prime Minister popular is a war zone. The wheels are truly coming off. In the midst of this mayhem the government are trying to impose new conditions and worse pay on the staff of our much-beleaguered railways. They are deliberately picking a fight as a distraction. The RMT have carefully balloted their members, and they are in favour of the strike action by 9 to 1. I’m certain the RMT regret the disruption as much as anyone but as I see it they have little choice. No sensible negotiation has been countenanced by Grant Schappes and his crew of wreckers so they have little choice but to withhold their labour. Regrettable but fair enough. When, I wonder, will the rest of us decide that enough is enough and we are done with this shoddy bunch of spivvy chancers. When will we all decide that on this day we withdraw our labour and protest at the un-British levels of lying and corruption we have been subject to by these awful Tories. I hope that day is soon.”
‘A Government in Crisis’
Bridgwater Town Council’s Economy spokesman Cllr Mick Lerry (Labour, Victoria) added ““The government has consistently referred to the breakdown of negotiations as a matter for the RMT and Employers. The government and the secretary of state for transport continues to try and use events to seek advantage, rather than trying to help resolve the pay dispute and conditions of service of the rail industry. Constant reference to the 70s is the government’s way to try an demonise the RMT, while seeking a position to try and influence the two byelections this week. Proof again that we have a government more concerned about gimmicks than trying resolve issues. The secretary of state for transport is a puppet more interested in pleasing the Prime Minister than sorting out the dispute. The public needs to focus the blame where it belongs, with a weak transport minister and a government in crisis”
Starting to raise alarm bells
Yeovil Labour Chair Terry Ledlie said “Remarkably interesting to see that the RMT dispute seems to be starting to raise alarm bells in different industries. A 35-hour week now expected to work a 44-hour week? Typical Tories punish the workers to make sure that the shareholders maximise profits. I stand in solidarity with all RMT members taking the action required to protect terms and conditions that the Tory Government seem so intent on removing. Please do not vote Tory and Please do not vote Liberal democrat who allowed Vince Cable to privatise Royal Mail. If you are not happy with the Labour party, then get involved and as it is a party for the workers let us re-build it from within. Please don’t allow them to convince you that they are a credible party as they are only interested in self-preservation and whilst they are famous for the slogan, “Vote Liberal- democrats to keep the Tories out”, they jumped into bed with the Tories In 2010 and helped sow the seeds for today’s cost of living crisis that we all now face. I can never vote Tory or Liberal Democrat and the way I see it is if you really want to get the Tories out and if you are a Trade unionist then you should stand as a Labour candidate and then we can elect people who really know how to represent people. Forget about a new party, it is time that the Trade union started putting up candidates in all local elections and General elections so we can elect a Government that represents the workers. However, we could always vote tactically and elect the Tory B team and allow the Liberal Democrats another chance to shaft us. It is your decision, but I will never vote for the Yellow Tory. For change to happen we need Trade unionists to stand as candidates and then change will happen.”
Vanguard of other Unions
Bridgwater Labour Party Branch Chair Cllr Irena Hubble (Labour, Fairfax West) said “A few weeks ago the head -line in the Torygraph sent a clear message to unions that the government was on a mission to break ‘ the so-called stranglehold of unions’ in this country. This morning it is becoming clearer what these tactics will be. Firstly, it is refusing to intervene in talks as the Labour Party is urging it to do and secondly it has announced it will allow companies to hire ‘replacements ‘ for striking workers in order to break the strike. These are expected tactics and have been seen before in other industrial disputes such as the Clarks strike which happened on our doorstep in Street. However, the implications of this are huge for the railway network – not only for jobs but for passenger and worker safety. We cannot sit by and allow this to happen. If RMT are taking the fight to the Tories they are in the vanguard of other Unions such as the teaching unions who are also about to ballot members on strike action. My own Union UCU is currently balloting on strike action on pay offers in the area which are in fact seen as pay cuts.”
Cllr Brian Smedley Leader of Labour controlled Bridgwater Town Council said “At moments like this it is important for councillors and MPs elected as Labour to say they are 100% behind the workers taking strike action against cuts to their jobs, pay and conditions. I certainly am”
For a full perspective of the RMT case click here.