Strikers on the train drivers’ picket line in Hastings (Picture: Simon Hester)

Train drivers in the Aslef union began a week of walkouts this week with Tories demanding more use of anti-strike laws.

Workers struck on Tuesday at South Western, Southeastern, GTR and Southern, causing major disruption. 

Some of the drivers have not had a pay rise for five years, and they are fighting attempts to force through another below-inflation offer and to rip up conditions.

On the Waterloo picket line in London, Aslef member Graham said, “This has been a long battle, but we are very determined. The government is standing with the train operators and it ought to bring us together for a settlement that can end the strikes.”

Rishi Sunak denounced the strikes and insisted rail companies use new anti-union powers to enforce strike-breaking.

Sunak told The Telegraph newspaper. “It is for this very reason that the minimum service levels legislation was introduced—not only for rail but across vital services including ambulance workers too. Train operators should now use them.”

Sunak’s intervention is pro-boss, anti-worker—and strange. The Aslef strikes were expected to be the first test of the minimum service level laws. They are designed to force scabbing so that train operators run 40 percent of the normal timetable. 

LNER planned to use the new powers. But an immediate escalation by Aslef, which called five additional days of strikes at the company, prompted a climbdown.

But LNER is one of the three operators directly run by the Department for Transport. So it was presumably a government decision that Sunak knew about to run away from workers’ action this time.

Tory MP Caroline Nokes already thinks the law needs to go further even before it’s been used.

She said on Tuesday, “The stark reality is that the legislation clearly isn’t working, it isn’t delivering what Grant Shapps promised in enabling people to get to work.

“I don’t know whether that means going back to the drawing board, whether it means amendments, but it does seem to be farcical that we were expecting this to work. It hasn’t.”

It’s clear that when LNER backed off from using the laws it was a battle postponed. A major challenge will return, and every worker has to prepare for action to beat the anti-union laws.

Everyone should support the Aslef strikes. But the strategy of spaced-out and short action isn’t working. As Aslef’s general secretary Mick Whelan said recently, “We have not heard from the Transport Secretary since December 2022, or from the train operating companies since April 2023.”

It’s time to up the action.

Strike timetable

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

London Overground to strike

The RMT union has announced two 48-hour strikes by over 300 workers on the London Overground on 19 February and 4 March over pay. Those set to strike are security, station, revenue and control staff.

Arriva Rail London, which has the contract on London Overground, put forward a below-inflation pay offer.

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