This week, the Rail, Maritime, and Transport (RMT) union is once again undertaking strike action in their nationwide dispute over pay, pensions, jobs, and conditions, involving 14 train operators and infrastructure operator Network Rail.
The strike follows on from the resounding 91.7% 'Yes' vote in the industrial action reballot, and the 64% rejection by RMT members of Network Rail's latest pay offer of 5% (2022) + 4% (2023), with all the strings attached regarding working conditions.
The result of each vote has decisively shown the readiness of rail workers to fight. Members refused to accept either a real-terms pay cut or the attacks on terms and conditions, despite the barrage of lies from the ruling class and the media, or the bribe of a pre-Christmas bonus dangled in front of them by the bosses.
In turn, the RMT leadership has correctly responded by escalating the strike, with seven days called for December and four further days for January.
The mood and potential for further coordination are clear, as workers head into a ‘winter of discontent’. A one-day public sector-wide general strike is inherent in the situation, and the demand for such is seeing greater reception on picket lines.
Workers across all industries can see that they are fighting against the same attacks and the same system.
Conversely, with this rising wave, workers can identify the same lies of the bosses everywhere: that ‘there is no money; or that lay-offs and attacks on terms and conditions are necessary to ‘modernise working practices’.
But frontline staff can see the situation for what it is. Workers are already overstretched. Cuts will only lead to the further deterioration of their work and the service they can provide – only in the interest of boosting short-term profits.
Socialist Appeal supporters went to RMT picket lines up and down the country to give support to this movement, hear about workers' conditions and the mood of the strike, and discuss our demands for coordinated industrial action and workers' democratic control of industry.
The RMT picket line at Sheffield train station was cheerful as ever this week.
Strikes always result in union membership growth, and in Sheffield this is no different. One of the pickets told us how as the strike has progressed, more workers are beginning to join their picket line and some are attending union meetings for the first time this week.
With the Tory attack dogs out in force on telly and in the press, and employers making threats, one might think this could impact the morale of the pickets.
But they completely dismissed the bosses and Tory government's threats and attacks against the union, saying in essence they were not intimidated and were prepared to keep calling strike days for as long as it takes.
Months into the action, it seems that the RMT is more willing to fight than ever.
Two Socialist Appeal supporters from York attended the RMT pickets today. The mood was very upbeat with music playing and the pickets smiling.
Additionally, from those driving past in cars there seemed to be a lot of honks and waves from bus drivers, postmen, construction workers and the public in general showing support.
The workers we spoke to explained the importance of the strikes and that their concerns weren’t only over pay but also the fact that safety on trains and in stations was being threatened.
They were clear on the divide between the interests of those who run the companies and their own. We also spoke about politics with some of the picketers. Some pointed out that while they would vote for Labour they said it sometimes felt like the choice was between two evils.
Despite the freezing cold weather, spirits were certainly high on the Euston picket line. This was buoyed by a visit by local Royal Mail workers who were on strike just up the road (some of the RMT pickets then headed to their picket in turn).
The station was very quiet, completely different to a normal day where it would be packed with a steady stream of commuters and tourists, showing the impact of the strike at one station alone. And what’s more, despite the impression you might get from the press there was no hostility from passersby.
In fact, members of the public walking past often raised clenched fists in solidarity, and some came to shake their hands and voice support. Plenty of cars beeped in support too. One of the pickets we spoke to noted this fact, saying the public was increasingly more openly supportive of their strike.
The picket said many have become aware that the strike isn’t just about winning a real pay rise but also about defending the future of the service they provide, given the sweeping job cuts and ‘modernisations’ the bosses want to bring forward such as closing ticket offices.
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Unlike the bosses’ press, Socialist Appeal is written by workers and for workers, reflecting the lives of the working class. Therefore, we want to hear from you – our supporters and readers – about if you have been on strike or visited a picket recently.