Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 52 Number 16, June 26, 2022 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Stand as One with the Striking Rail Workers!

RMT contingent on the TUC march "We Demand Better - Enough Is Enough"

A powerful strike began on the morning of June 21, organised by the Railway, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT). It is recorded as the biggest national rail strike for decades, the largest in the industry since privatisation, involving some 25,000 workers.


Less than 20% of trains are running after staff walked off the job at midnight, many areas have no rail service at all. London Underground workers are also on strike. Two more days of strike action followed on Thursday and Saturday, June 23 and 25. The strike has a direct bearing over the funding of railways and investment, and hence control over the direction of the economy.

Network Rail's boss says he is "profoundly sorry" for the disruption, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged passengers to "stay the course", declaring the proposed "reforms" are in their interest - containing as they do plans to destroy infrastructure such as closing 1,000 ticket offices. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has devoted himself to getting all and sundry to condemn the strike. These callous positions are not in the interest of workers or the public and create further disequilibrium in employment relations.


The action by workers is over jobs, pay and safety, which are linked to workers' rights to a livelihood, a decent standard of living, and control over their working conditions. The conditions of work at issue in the present struggle range from guards on trains to track monitoring and maintenance.

Together with last Saturday's TUC march to defend workers' rights and the rights of all, the strike signals that the working class and people are intensifying their struggles in the face of the assault on their rights. Working people are saying that enough is enough, and the rail workers are currently in the forefront of this fight.

The cost-of-living crisis is intensifying, while the government, along with vested interests, have gone into hysteria with anti-worker laments of "holding the country to ransom". But such whining will have the opposite effect to that they wish for, as more and more workers, all of whom are in the same boat, see that their interests conflict with self-serving political and economic interests. The strike is a vital and important struggle of working people to fight against the callous lowering of wages as costs spiral.


The government, Shapps and Johnson, are all attempting to create distance from the negotiations in the public eye, but they lie exposed. Shapps has in fact refused to discuss with the union because "it would undermine the position of the employers in that negotiation", to use his words. RMT leader Mick Lynch has pointed out that the government is pulling all of the strings behind the railway management.

In this strike, workers are putting their weight behind their demands; they are intent that the government listen and negotiate. The old line of the government absolving itself from "commercial decisions" holds no water. Instead, the government resorts to its police powers, saying that it will bring in legislation to compel the railways to continue to operate when the transport workers are on strike [1].


The government claims that if these workers do not knuckle under and concede, the economy will be damaged, the rail industry will be on its knees and people will suffer further. Speaking at a rail depot on June 16 in Hornsey, north London, Shapps threatened workers with job losses. "Don't risk striking yourselves out of a job," he warned. Claiming that the strikes will drive down passenger numbers, he declared: "If we can't get people back to our railways, then of course we will have to cut the railways' cloth."

Government and management allege that the railways are in a separate situation that demands higher productivity from workers. The government points its finger at the unionised workers and their "outmoded working practices". As for what the government counters as "modern", Shapps said that Sunday working should be made compulsory. This is a flavour of what they mean by "productivity". The argument is nothing but the capital-centric distortion that workers are a cost. No mention is made of the huge amount of new value created by the rail workers and the added value, the profit, being siphoned off. Instead, the supposed cost of work is used to pit worker against worker, particularly in the public sector, to compare average salaries in a race to the bottom.

No discussion of how the rail industry should be funded is permitted. It is taken as obvious that the source is ticket sales. Yet the owners of capital benefit massively from the existence of rail transport - almost a half (46%) of around what is typically a billion rail journeys per year are for commuting and business purposes [2]. Much, such as commuting, is paid for by the individual. Business do not contribute to the value transferred in this way to the product their workers produce, profiteering and in so doing draining value from the rail sector. Ensuring businesses pay for the value they derive from rail could do much to allow ticket prices to fall and make travelling rail more affordable and so attractive to people, benefiting the environment and economy.

The strike is an important school for workers, giving them confidence. It shows that workers themselves can speak out in their own name and collectively and individually elaborate solutions, in that sense empowering themselves as a workers' opposition to the Westminster cartel. It is a step towards workers becoming worker politicians with their own independent programme for a new direction for the economy to serve the people's interests, and the control of political affairs in the hands of working people.


1. "Government Confronts the Power of the Workers' Movement with Police Powers", Workers' Weekly, June 18, 2022
2. "Transport Statistics Great Britain: 2021", December 16, 2021


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