Summer of discontent

Posted: June 17, 2022 in Uncategorized
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by New Worker correspondent

ON TUESDAY the Office for National Statistics published figures that show real terms pay fell by 2.2 per cent between February and April when adjusted for inflation, a dramatic fall for just two months.

In response up and down the length and breadth of the country rail workers are involved in battles for pay which have already driven the Tory Government into panic measures. Already strikes have taken place on London Underground, and train drivers in Scotland have won a pay rise encouraging other workers to take industrial action.

Next week, on Tuesday 21st June, tens of thousands of rail and London underground workers belonging to RMT are taking industrial action to prevent job cuts and secure a well-deserved pay rise. This will amount to the first national rail strike since 1989. On that day as many as 50,000 railway workers expected to strike. On the 23rd and 25th as many as 40,000 will strike on the railways.

It is even claimed that as a result people will not be able to attend the Glastonbury Festival, so they will have to sit in muddy puddles in their own gardens.

Most of the network will be directly affected. The staggered strikes will also cause disruption on other days as trains will not be in their usual places. Among the thirteen companies affected are Chiltern Railways, Greater Anglia, LNER, East Midlands Railway, Northern Trains, South Western Railway, Great Western Railway, Avanti West Coast and West Midlands Trains.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch complained that: “Railway workers have been treated appallingly and despite our best efforts in negotiations, the rail industry with the support of the government has failed to take their concerns seriously. Rail companies are making at least £500m a year in profits, whilst fat cat rail bosses have been paid millions during the Covid-19 pandemic”.

Train drivers’ union ASLEF is also taking action on the Greater Anglia lines on Thursday 23 and on Hull Trains the next Saturday.

National Rail’s £585,000 a year CEO Andrew Haines responded by saying that RMT “must recognise we are a public body and any pay increase has to be affordable for taxpayers” which is code for saying a firm No.

Bosses and Government say they have to make cuts of £1-2 billion to repay the huge subsidies doled out to train operating companies, primarily their shareholders, during the pandemic.

Nonsense

Apart from pay, other grievances are that train crews are being cut from five or six to a new norm of four. Management claims that there are not enough passengers are nonsense.

Mick Whelan, ASLEF General Secretary, points out that Department for Transport figures show that passenger numbers on Britain’s railways are nearly back to pre-pandemic levels. “This blows the argument that “there is no money” right out of the water. There is, now the railway is returning to normal, because passengers are back and services are packed again”. London Underground numbers have already completely recovered.

Involves

While the dispute mainly involves ASLEF and RMT, TSSA is also currently balloting 870 members for strike action on Cross Country, East Midlands Railway and West Midlands Trains in related disputes over pay, conditions and job security. On East Midlands some staff earn as little as £18,000, and have not had a rise since 2019.

General Secretary Manuel Cortes warned that: “unless these demands are met, we could be seeing a summer of discontent across our railways in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games which take place in Birmingham – the centre of many of these train operators’ services”.

On London Underground the dispute is about pensions and job losses. Transport for London (TfL) claims that no one will lose their job, as it will simply not fill 500-600 jobs to meet Government demands that TfL achieve financial sustainability by next April. Needless to say these are still job losses.

Unite the union, which has about 1,000 members in London Underground across the network is also angry over TfL’s failure to make an acceptable pay offer to members for either 2021 or 2022, and it is concerned that TfL refuses to guarantee there will be no job cuts. Regional Officer Simon warns: “Strike action will inevitably cause severe disruption across London but this is a direct result of TfL management’s repeated failure to offer guarantees on pensions, pay or job cuts.

“Strike action and the resulting disruption can be avoided by TfL making a clear commitment it won’t cut workers’ pensions or jobs, while also making a cost of living pay rise to our members.”

To add to the industrial action the small App Drivers and Couriers Union which organises Uber cab drivers in London will also be taking strike action next Wednesday.

In south London ASLEF’s drivers on the Croydon Tramlink will be on strike over pay from 28 to 29 June and 13 to 14 July. ASLEF members on Croydon Tramlink voted 99.2 per cent on favour of strike action on an 86 per cent turnout. London Underground organiser, Finn Brennan said: “More than six months after the end of our last pay settlement and with the RPI rate of inflation running at over 11 per cent, there has still been no offer from the company to resolve this dispute.

Determined

“Every day our members are seeing the price of their necessities, from fuel to food go up, while the real value of wages has fallen dramatically. Tram drivers, like other workers in public transport do a difficult and demanding job with round the clock shifts seven days a week. They deserve fair pay and are determined to fight for it.’

Management is said to be offering double time on strike days to bribe workers to break the strike action and making plans to get staff into work without crossing picket lines.

And Transport Secretary Grant Shapps says the Tories are even planning to change the law to use agency workers as scabs in strikes.

TSSA’s General Secretary Manuel Cortes denounce the plans by saying “Make no mistake, there are very real safety implications in this daft plan from Shapps. Agency staff won’t be able to do any of the safety critical jobs our members carry out on our railways”.

“Shapps must think again and tell the bean counters at the Treasury to come up with solutions to this dispute instead of charting a course which endangers public safety. The alternative is a summer of discontent across the rail network.”

RMT took a stiffer line with Mick Lynch demanding that: “Grant Shapps needs to stop smearing the RMT and unshackle the rail operating companies so they can come to a negotiated settlement that can end this dispute. We already have the most restrictive anti-democratic trade union laws in Western Europe and if the government attempts to reduce our rights further, the RMT along with the rest of the trade union movement will mount the fiercest resistance possible.”

TUC deputy general secretary Paul Nowak even came to life to say: “this government is desperate to distract from its numerous failings by picking a fight with unions. Allowing agency staff to replace striking workers would undermine the right to strike and be extremely reckless. Some may not realise until it is too late that they are being asked to break a strike. Having repeatedly promised a high-wage economy, ministers now seem determined to reduce workers’ bargaining power and to make it harder for working people to win fair pay and conditions”.

Even Neil Carberry, CEO of Recruitment and Employment Confederation, the organisation for companies hiring out agency workers denounced the move saying: “Repealing the ban on agency workers replacing those on strike is the wrong policy – it puts agency workers and agencies in an invidious position and moves the focus away from resolving the dispute”.

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