The RMT has announced its next round of strikes at Network Rail (NR) and 14 train operating companies (TOCs), with a rolling campaign of action set to begin from mid-March.
Workers in all 15 companies are set to strike together on 16 March. This will be followed by walkouts on 18 March, 30 March, and 1 April for TOC staff, and alternating overtime bans over six weeks for NR members.
After a period of discussion in special branch and regional council meetings, called by the RMT leadership to discuss the bosses’ offers and the way forward for the disputes, members voted to reject the most recent pay deals, which came with strings attached.
The response was overwhelmingly against these deals – which did nothing but tinker around the edges of the previous unacceptable offer – and in favour of further strike action.
The RMT leadership, in turn, has responded with militancy.
“We know senior figures in Network Rail think we ‘should have tried harder in school’,” general secretary Mick Lynch stated in a strike circular, “but do they really believe RMT members are gullible enough to think the latest offer is an improvement on the offer that was already voted down?”
“Do they think operations members will be prepared to accept the dangerous precedent of paying for our own rises through productivity in talks for 2024?” Lynch continued. “They have made the mistake of underestimating our resolve.”
The circular concludes: “Let’s stick together and keep fighting!”
These words of defiance must be followed with militant, escalated action. And positively, in this respect, the 16 March strike is set to be the opening of what Lynch described as the “next phase” in the campaign.
This date has been explicitly set in coordination with the joint strike action of teachers and civil servants taking place on 15 March (to allow strikers in other unions to travel by rail to demonstrations on this day).
This is a welcome move towards greater coordination across the labour movement.
‘Days of action’ are becoming more frequent. These are helping to direct workers’ anger against the Tory government, which is waging attacks on the entire public sector, at the same time as it threatens our right to strike with draconian legislation.
These struggles must be funnelled into a movement with bold political demands, and with the clear aim of toppling the Tories.
Involving the union’s ranks in decision-making is essential for escalating our strike. Similarly, the ranks of different unions should be coordinating action on the ground.
There has been a lot of talk about the potential for a general strike. A one-day public sector general strike is within reach. This would be the logical next step after the 15 March day of action.
But this cannot simply be talked about or called from above. It needs to be consciously organised and built from below.
This requires militant workers to come together and form cross-union strike committees at a workplace, city, and regional level.
The democratic discussion that has taken place within the union over recent weeks also points the way forward.
As the strike escalates, and the bosses continue bandying with incremental changes, it will become increasingly necessary for union leaders and reps to keep in touch with the mood amongst the grassroots.
The more the rank and file is involved in discussing the strategy of the strike, the more confident and united our fightback will be.
Rather than special branch and regional meetings called for a limited period, we should actively form or consolidate existing strike committees, with elected representatives from every workplace.
Such bodies could provide constant feedback to the leadership about the mood amongst the membership, while also building support for strikes in workplaces.
There is a renewal of confidence in the RMT’s ranks, following the period of special branch meetings and the fighting response of the leadership.
The aims of the strike are clear. As stated by Mick Lynch regarding the negotiations at NR: “We are seeking an unconditional and improved pay offer, as well as the withdrawal of their modernising maintenance plans.” This, correctly and positively, is uncompromising language.
Nonetheless there needs to be complete clarity throughout the union with regards to the strategy. It is not clear, for instance, why the action following 16 March has been split up differently between TOC, NR maintenance, and NR operations members.
Whether or not this is tactically justified, the reasoning must be clearly presented to the ranks. Furthermore, members want to know answers to key questions: Where next after the next round of strike action? How will we achieve these high aims that we have set?
The bosses, together with the Tories, clearly have a belligerent, intransigent position with regards to their attacks. At the same time, they have exposed themselves repeatedly through their lying propaganda and delaying tactics.
The rail strikes must be escalated with every round, and united across the 15 companies – and with the wider labour movement – to give confidence to the ranks.
In turn, to raise the stakes, the membership must be emboldened with broader, political demands.
We are, in essence, fighting a defensive struggle for our jobs, pay, and conditions, and for the preservation of Britain’s railways.
But the attacks we are fighting against are evidently not isolated to a single boss, or even just to our industry. They are part and parcel of the logic of capitalism as a whole, with the bosses aiming to maximise their profits at our expense.
Our response must be: Down with the fat cats and their system! Nationalise the monopolies without compensation! Let workers inspect the books and propose their own budgets! For democratic workers’ control of industry!