Traffic wardens on all-out strike in Camden joined the rail workers’ picket line at London Euston (Picture: Liz Wheatley)

About 20,000 workers in the RMT union at 14 train operating companies launched their third 24-hour strike in nine days on Saturday. The battle began over a year ago, but bosses have not moved except to offer various below-inflation pay deals. 

These have been combined with massive attacks on jobs, conditions and safety. Most rail workers haven’t had a wage rise now for four years.

The government stands behind the pay-slashing bosses and has provided the rail companies with £1 billion in indemnities to cover their losses during the last year of strikes.

Speaking from a picket line at Waverley station in Edinburgh, an RMT member told Socialist Worker, “Over 12 months on and we’re still solid. We know that it’s a hard battle but we are not going away. And our action has a big effect with lots of services cancelled. We’ll do whatever members think is necessary to win. And that could mean more action and more frequent action.”

As well as pay, train firms want to close over 1,000 ticket offices with the loss of over 2,000 railway station staff. 

Following campaigns by unions, disabled people and passenger groups, the Tories and bosses have extended ticket office closure consultations until 1 September. But nobody thinks this fake listening exercise will result in more than the most minor amendments to the bosses’ plans.

Future rail strikes could be affected by the new anti-union laws the government rammed through parliament last week. These impose “minimum service levels”—enforced scabbing—during strikes in sectors including health, fire and rescue, education and transport.

The laws can’t be applied now as there will be “public consultation” on the measures over the summer. But it is a massive threat to the 5.5 million workers in the areas directly hit and wider.

Unions have formally called for action. The firefighters’ FBU general secretary Matt Wrack has backed “mass non-cooperation and non-compliance”. At the recent RMT conference, delegates adopted a resolution committing the union to call a national demonstration on a Saturday by 28 October, and coordinated strikes. 

A big demo would have been better before the law went through but must now be used to boost defiance and widespread strikes if the Tories try to use the legislation.

The Unite union policy conference earlier in July passed a motion to “call on the TUC to coordinate action, in the form of a 24-hour general strike”.

TUC union federation leader Paul Nowak says the organisation will “fight this pernicious legislation tooth and nail—exploring all options including legal routes”. 

It’s positive that recently the High Court ruled that ministers had not consulted unions, as required by the law, over the strike-breaking regulations brought in last year to allow agencies freely to supply scabs during strikes. Judges quashed the laws.

But it would be a serious error to expect the courts to do the same over the latest anti-union moves. Real action will be needed to defeat the laws, and escalation towards indefinite strikes is the best way to win on the rail.

What’s a union leader’s day job?

This weekend marks a year since the Aslef train drivers’ union held its first strike during the present dispute. It has in all held 11 one-day walkouts over the subsequent 12 months which, perhaps unsurprisingly, has not been enough to win.

On Monday Aslef members start an overtime ban that continues until 5 August and then another week-long ban starts on 7 August.

Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan admitted in January that the union was “hardly manning the barricades every week”.

He added six months ago, “Our members think we should be going in harder and faster and there’s a clamour for us to do more.” But there was no such escalation.

In a recent press release, Whelan said, the union was taking the overtime bans “to try to bring things to a head. Then I can concentrate on my day job working with others in the industry to rebuild Britain’s railways for passengers, for business, and for this country.”

Apparently organising effective action to win on pay, jobs and safety is not part of his usual task.

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