Workers stand together on a Hitachi Rail picket line at Cragentinny

Train drivers in the Aslef union began a week of strikes on Tuesday as part of a battle that saw the first strike in July 2022. Strikes are set to take place in different companies on different days, with each set of workers taking one day of action.

It’s right to fight against the train operating companies’ attempts to hold pay rises below inflation—effectively a cut. But the strategy of spaced-out and short strikes isn’t working. As Aslef’s general secretary Mick Whelan said recently, “Many of our members have now not had a single penny increase to their pay in half a decade.” 

Recently, when train firm LNER threatened to use anti-union laws against Aslef, the union scheduled a much longer set of walkouts. That forced the bosses to back off. If stepping up strikes blocked the laws, then a much more serious set of strikes could win on pay.

Five days of strikes by Hitachi workers  

Over 400 rail workers employed on the East Coast main line by Hitachi Rail launched five days of strikes last Saturday over pay. The strike by RMT union members hit depots at Craigentinny in Edinburgh, Bounds Green in north London and Doncaster. Hitachi Rail maintains the rolling stock and signalling for the LNER rail firm.

Dave, an RMT member at Bounds Green told Socialist Worker, “Management has offered us a 6 percent rise and a lump sum. “But our last deal ran out in April 2023 when RPI inflation was 11.4 percent. That’s what we should have got—at least.”

Around 300 Unite union members in Hitachi Rail were supposed to join the strike. But union leaders called off the action for most at the last moment after a tiny improvement in the offer at Great Western Railway. Dave said he and his fellow strikers were “a bit miffed” by the Unite decision as it weakened the overall effect. “But we can win without them. We keep going,” he said.

The RMT strike was set to end on Thursday morning this week, the day before Aslef union train driver members were scheduled to walk out at LNER. The RMT says it is fully prepared for “a sustained industrial campaign if we cannot make progress”. That must happen soon.

The strike timetable

Tues 30 January: Southeastern, Southern, Gatwick Express, Great Northern, Thameslink, South Western Railway and SWR Island Line

Wed 31 January: Northern Trains, Transpennine Express

Fri 2 February: Greater Anglia, C2C, LNER

Sat 3 February: West Midlands Trains, Avanti West Coast, East Midlands Railway

Mon 5 February: Great Western, CrossCountry, Chiltern

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