Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 5, February 8, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Defend the Right to Take Strike Action

Government Plan to "Hobble" Strike Action by Transport Unions

RMT picket line: This Strike Is All About Safety

The Queen's Speech, which outlined the government's legislation for this Parliament, announced that "measures will be developed to provide minimum levels of service during transport strikes". The government briefing notes state:

"Minimum Service Agreements will set out the minimum service pattern to be provided during rail strikes, and the minimum number and nature of staff who shall work to provide that service. Any strike against a rail employer shall be unlawful unless a Minimum Service Agreement is in place. If the Minimum Service Agreement is not honoured, the strike shall be unlawful and injunctions or damages may be sought against the union in the normal way."

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps explained that the legislation would be designed to prevent trade unions from holding passengers "to ransom" so that services "continue to operate", while a report in the Transport Network in December stated that "the legislation is set to hobble the impact of any strike action by transport unions".

Once again, this is further evidence that the government's programme offers no solutions to the problems of transport workers and all that remains of their civil society and of public authority is the arbitrary power of the state to settle scores with the workers on behalf of private competing monopoly interests.

In the January issue of the RMT News, Mick Cash, general secretary of the transport union RMT, pointed out how rail workers were taking up their responsibility for society: "Against the backdrop of the General Election our members on South Western Railway stood absolutely rock solid in an unprecedented month-long strike in the fight for a safe and accessible railway for all. They are an absolute credit to our movement and despite everything that was thrown at them by a hostile management and their friends in the media their fight goes on."

He said: "It didn't take long for the newly-elected Tory government under Boris Johnson to show their true colours. Barely had the last ballot papers been counted before the outriders were spinning in the press that they were coming for RMT and the transport sector with a new raft of anti-trade union legislation."

The government tried to claim that it is the railway workers who are holding passengers to "ransom", but it is their corporate-led transport system geared to making maximum profits for the rich that is wrecking the transport system at the expense of passengers and holding society to ransom. Up and down the country, the privatised and fragmented railway and bus systems are in crisis, unable to deliver on-time services and fleecing passengers with high prices and price hikes that are higher than even the inflation rise.

In 2018, Virgin Trains East Coast was allowed to renege on its contract to provide trains until 2023 for the North Eastern mainline services with reports it could not make enough money from the contract, leaving huge costs to be paid for out of public funds to replace the high speed train fleet.

Already this year, South Western Trains' own auditors, London Deloitte, have said that South Western faces "material uncertainty" over whether it can continue operating, leading to government announcements on its uncertain future and whether to take the franchise from the First Group company or give it more pay-outs to keep the company afloat.

Following a year of chaos and cancellations across the Northern network, which runs from Newcastle to Leeds, Liverpool, Hull, Manchester and Stoke, and a last-ditched attempt at a fare hike, the government was forced to announce on January 29 that it was to strip the rail company owned by Serco-Abellio of the franchise, again with huge cost to the Treasury.

The truth is, it is the railway, bus and other transport workers, who by fighting to safeguard their interests and never giving up their struggle, are the ones speaking out for the interests of passengers, their safety and a modern transport system that meets everyone's needs. The issue that is posing itself to rail workers and on which they are speaking out is that an integrated rail system operating across fragmented privately-competing parts has reached the point of a sheer inability to function given the demands of a modern socialised economy.

That the government is threatening to use state power against the struggle of rail workers shows that the old arrangements of civil society, which tolerate workers taking strike action, are in tatters, and all that remains of public authority is arbitrary power wielded on behalf of private competing monopoly interests. It also underlines the power that working people have shown in their organised defence of their collective interests. It shows that the resistance of the railway workers to speak out and organise is not only just, but vital in defending their interests and that of the interests of society.

This is a fight to bring into being new arrangements that favour the people, not the financial oligarchs, the monopolies whose rule is tearing apart society's social programmes and infrastructure. What is needed today is a look at how authority and control needs to change. How can decision-making pass to the people who work in the railway network so that it is cohesive, based on the common public interest and not competing private interests?


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