A wave of strike action by RMT members on the railways has emboldened the entire trade union movement. From posties to barristers to airport staff: workers everywhere are moving into action. We say: Unite the struggles! Bring down the Tories!
The scores are in following the first round of battle between the RMT and the bosses. And the verdict is unanimous: the union has chalked up a win, landing a series of heavy blows against the Tories, the bosses, and their lackeys in the media.
All three days of strike action over the last week were solid, with RMT members bringing the railway network to a standstill. At the same time, solidarity and support has flooded in from across the trade union movement, and from the wider working class.
One recent poll, for example, found that 62% of respondents sympathised with striking rail workers. And another survey saw similar numbers wanting the government to intervene to address the union’s concerns over pay, jobs, and safety.
Strong public support has also been seen on picket lines, and at strike rallies held across the country last Saturday (see reports below), with ordinary people turning out to back the rail workers in their fight.
‘Not a wheel turns…’
Nevertheless, the fight is far from over. The government has shown no desire to negotiate or concede to the RMT’s demands. Instead, they have intransigently refused to compromise.
Unsurprisingly, the Tories have closed ranks with rail bosses, launching a vicious propaganda campaign against the union – all aided and abetted by the gutter press, of course.
These attacks have been skillfully deflected by RMT general secretary Mick Lynch, however, who has fought back in defence of striking rail workers, revealing the real class interests that lie behind this dispute.
Whilst answering the lies and smears of the Tories and bosses, the RMT leader has also correctly linked the union’s struggle to the fights facing workers in other sectors.
Speaking at a rally in support of the RMT strike outside Kings Cross station in London last Saturday, for example, Lynch denounced the scourge of low pay and outsourcing that plagues workers everywhere. At the same time, on the back of this super-exploitation, he added, the bosses are raking in super-profits.
Quoting Socialist Appeal founder Ted Grant, Lynch went on to passionately assert that:
“All of you have the power. A wheel doesn’t turn, a light doesn’t go on, without us. We create all of the wealth in this society – all of it. It’s our labour that delivers the services, makes the goods, distributes them, gets them to people.”
“You have the power. A wheel doesn’t turn. A light doesn’t go on without us.”
— PoliticsJOE (@PoliticsJOE_UK) June 25, 2022
Spreading like wildfire
Workers in other sectors, in turn, have clearly been emboldened by the RMT’s inspiring, militant struggle. And with workers across the board facing the same assault on pay, jobs, and conditions, strike action is set to spread like wildfire in the weeks and months ahead.
With no sign of progress in negotiations, further waves of action are in store on the railways. And RMT members could be joined by colleagues from ASLEF and TSSA in future strikes, with these rail unions also balloting members at a number of franchises, and on Network Rail.
Croydon Tramlink drivers organised in ASLEF are already out on strike today and tomorrow. Meanwhile, bus drivers employed by Arriva in Yorkshire are currently undertaking strike action in a dispute over pay.
Elsewhere, CWU members in telecoms and Royal Mail are now balloting to strike. If they vote Yes to action, this could lead to over 200,000 workers across the CWU and RMT striking at the same time. And more unions are likely to follow.
? the images coming in from hundreds of offices this morning are so inspiring. Ballot papers land at home addresses from tomorrow. Let’s deliver a yes vote so big that it rocks Royal Mail Group management to their core! #HomeToVote pic.twitter.com/g8q5V7WPLi
— The CWU (@CWUnews) June 28, 2022
Criminal law barristers in England and Wales have begun strike action this week, shutting down courts as they demand greater funding for legal aid. Civil servants and teachers in PCS and NEU, respectively, are being balloted over pay. And other public sector workers – in the NHS and local government – could follow suit, when the government’s next annual pay offer is presented.
Hundreds of workers at Heathrow airport have voted to walk out during the summer holiday period, meanwhile, protesting against the attacks of airline bosses.
This rising tide of militancy shows why the Tories are stubbornly facing down the RMT. The government fears that appetite will come with eating, and that victory for the rail strikers could spur other workers to demand more. That is why they are so keen to break this strike, and make an example of the union.
Which side are you on?
The Labour leadership have scandalously opposed these strikes and calls for action also, with Keir Starmer and shadow foreign secretary David Lammy amongst those on the party’s frontbench who have publicly denounced the unions and sided with the bosses.
But with inflation continuing to soar, set to reach 11% by October, workers have no choice but to organise and fight back.
By contrast, Socialist Appeal activists have offered RMT strikers their full support and solidarity – on picket lines and protests, and at recent rallies. And we will mobilise to back all workers in struggle against the Tories and bosses.
As RMT leaders have correctly stated: this is class war. We know which side we are on. United and organised, armed with clear socialist policies, it is our class that will win.
- Solidarity to the RMT!
- For coordinated mass action to bring down the Tories!
- Victory to the workers!
Liverpool rally report
Hundreds of workers came together at Lime Street station in Liverpool on Saturday to show solidarity with the RMT strikers.
The mood at the rally reflected the hundreds of acts of solidarity that the working class of Liverpool has shown towards the strike: from the sound of car horns beeping in support as they passed picket lines; to cups of tea, sandwiches, and cakes being passed round; plus donations from local union branches.
RMT northwest regional secretary Darren Pilling spoke first:
“When COVID hit, we all worked everyday to keep the country moving, along with the doctors, the nurses, postal workers, and the rest. But while we worked, they partied.
“Rail workers are standing up for the kind of pay rise that every worker deserves. But we are also standing up for our industry, for safety, because they want to reduce the frequency of safety checks on the tracks. Rail has to be safe first and foremost.”
Darren ended by highlighting the inspiration and leadership that the RMT are providing to the whole trade union movement, and the whole working class:
“We have stood firm. No one is going to work. With the resolve that all of you give us, we will prevail. And when we do, we will support other groups of workers who do the same – standing up for fair pay rises, pay justice, and respect.”
— Revolution not War (@RMike1820) June 25, 2022
Other trade union speakers were also present, from UCU, CWU, PCS, Unite dockers, and Liverpool Trades Council. All gave an account of the battles they were facing – and also of how the RMT strike has changed the mood in their workplaces.
Jane Loftus, vice-president of the CWU, spoke about their union’s upcoming struggles in BT and the Royal Mail. Talking about the postal ballot, Loftus stated: “I know we will get a massive Yes vote and we will be out on strike.”
Alongside these speakers were Chantelle Lunt of Merseyside Black Lives Matter; Liverpool Community Independents leader Anna Rothery; and local Labour MPs Kim Johnson and Ian Byrne. Ian included this quote from James Connolly in his speech:
“Don’t be ‘practical’ in politics. To be practical in that sense means that you have schooled yourself to think along the lines, and in the grooves that those who rob you would desire you to think.”
Karl Schofield also spoke for the RMT, starting with the battle cry of: “The RMT are here to stay!”
— Revolution not War (@RMike1820) June 25, 2022
Schofield then went on to assert: “Make no mistake, this is class war. Billionaires don’t want to share their wealth with workers.” And talking about COVID, he stated: “We weren’t the ones sitting around in our silk pyjamas deciding what cuts to make.”
RMT members on the picket lines are grateful for all the support and solidarity they have received. And, in turn, other workers are grateful to the RMT for leading the side of the workers in this open class war.
London strike rally
There was a fantastic RMT rally at Kings Cross station for day three of the strike, with hundreds of pickets, and a large presence from other trade unions, such as Unite, Unison, UCU, CWU, GMB and more.
There were militant speeches from all the speakers – especially RMT general secretary Mick Lynch, assistant general secretary Eddie Dempsey, and CWU general secretary Dave Ward.
Each presented the situation as an attempt by the bosses to make us pay for the crisis, while their profits soar.
“RMT members will never meekly join the dole queues of this country to protect the profits of the rich,” Eddie Dempsey asserted.
“The super-rich are getting richer and richer, year after year; the workers are getting poorer year on year,” Mick Lynch stated. “And what do we say? We refuse to be poor anymore!”
This strike has clearly had a huge impact on consciousness in Britain. One passerby that we spoke with said, within seconds, “we need a revolution!”
The mood for coordinated action to fight back the Tories is high – amongst the strikers, and amongst teachers, posties, health and care workers, civil servants, and other transport and communications workers.
This was reflected by the call from Mick Lynch for a “hot summer” of industrial action, organised jointly with other unions.
“Unions must come together now like never before,” Dave Ward stated. “We should be setting out the race to the top: the real modernisation agenda; the real levelling up agenda.”
Cambridge strike solidarity
In Cambridge, there were two picket lines on every strike day: one at the signal house, and the second at the railway station.
Speaking to the signalling strikers, we were told about the appalling working conditions, particularly arising from understaffing and overwork. Pay is one of the most significant issues, along with casualisation and outsourcing. Horrifically, several track operators highlighted that most of their time is spent clearing human bodies – several every day – from rail tracks.
Last Thursday, the second day of the strike, ASLEF union members were also on strike. But their picket was unfortunately completely separate from the RMT ones, in an unknown location. This shows that efforts still need to be made going forwards to coordinate action and unite these fights across the trade unions.
During our conversations with workers, we listened to their issues and reasons for going on strike. Workers widely acknowledged the need for nationalisation, highlighting the problems associated with multiple private companies and contractors in the railway sector.
Privatisation affects their day-to-day operations. And it creates a huge barrier to workers’ unity. The rail workers explained that under full nationalisation of the transport system, services would improve, whilst costs would be reduced for commuters.
We also interviewed Steve Smart, a regional organiser for the RMT, who spoke about the reason for strikes; the government’s plan of sending in strike-breakers; and the future course of action in this struggle.
On the third and final day of the RMT strikes, there was a demonstration of dozens from different campaign groups, starting from Parker’s Piece park and ending up at the station.
There was a huge police presence at the station in the morning, with private security guards later taking over. The station manager was constantly coming over to intimidate the RMT strikers, ‘reminding’ them about anti-trade union laws regarding strikes and picket lines.
The RMT leadership did not let themselves get flustered by management, however, and were instead given confidence from all the displays of solidarity from local workers.
Workers from the nearby Café Nero brought free coffees, lemonades, and snacks for the strikers every 30 minutes, for example.
Speakers from various campaign groups spoke at the solidarity rally, including Socialist Appeal supporter Arsalan Ghani, a local Unite member.
Arsalan offered solidarity to the RMT strikers, whilst also calling for a mass trade union movement to bring down the Tory government and the capitalist system – a perspective that is becoming more concrete, with several sector-wide strike ballots now on the cards.
Norwich solidarity and support
In Norwich, Socialist Appeal activists turned out to the picket lines for each day of the RMT strike, with the biggest crowd arriving on the Saturday morning for a rally outside the station.
Spirits were high on all three days, and many strikers commented that public support seemed strong – as the many honks from passing vehicles demonstrated.
Fighting talk from RMT general secretary Mick Lynch in the press was also a hot topic of conversation. The union leader’s bold stance is clearly having a positive effect on the mood of trade union members – in the RMT and more widely.
The morale in the RMT is certainly high at the moment. One union rep at the Norwich picket line told us: “They bought in privatisation to stop more big strikes. But clearly it failed. The train guards here were on strike a few years ago, and they won. They know now that we can all win.”
And just as past victories are giving confidence to the present struggle, so the RMT’s current struggle is inspiring workers across many other sectors and trade unions. On the pickets, it was regularly mentioned that there are many other industrial ballots underway this summer.
More photos from today’s picket line, and all the banners out in support pic.twitter.com/2UDZGYPA28
— Socialist Appeal Norwich (@NorwichMarxists) June 25, 2022
At Saturday’s rally, there was a presence from a range of trade unions and other activist groups, with banners on display.
A comrade from Norwich Socialist Appeal spoke on the mic, talking about the accelerating industrial action that is underway. Quoting Lenin, the comrade noted that, “there are decades where little happens, and weeks where decades happen.”
Socialist Appeal will be back out in Norwich to stand with RMT members – and any other trade unions moving into action – as this summer of discontent heats up!