The Workers Party of Britain denounces Network Rail’s plan to cut up to 2,500 rail jobs, condemns transport secretary Grant Shapps threat to criminalise strikes and welcomes the overwhelming mandate for national strike action delivered by an RMT ballot of over 40,000 rail workers. A magnificent 89 percent voted for strike action on a turn out of 71 percent.
Workers whose jobs are under threat include those who maintain the tracks, signals and overhead lines, employed by Network Rail and by fifteen different train operating companies, including LNER, Chiltern, Avanti, Cross Country and South Western.
Network Rail complains that government subsidies to the industry to compensate for the fall in passenger numbers during the pandemic are drying up, so that “We cannot keep relying on government handouts, and so we must work together with train operators and our trade unions to save millions of pounds and deliver a more efficient railway.”
Since the privatised train operating companies are not run as charitable ventures and will resist like the plague anything that threatens their profit margins, the real message they are trying to sell us is that ‘we’ must now work together to cut millions of pounds from workers’ wages in order to get ‘us’ out of the hole we dug for ourselves by ‘our’ own mismanagement.
Whilst the rail bosses cannot be blamed for the pandemic, it remains the case that the long term underinvestment in the rail industry, plus the get-rich-quick mentality of the privateers, who drove the travelling public away by charging ever higher prices for the privilege of riding in ever more overcrowded and unreliable trains, rendered the rail industry extremely vulnerable to any external shock at all.
The government, having already doled out £16 billion in subsidies, is telling rail bosses the gravy train is leaving the station, and inviting them to make good the shortfall by imposing wage freezes, below-inflation pay settlements and job insecurity. In short, workers are being told for the umpteenth time that it is up to them to save the day by tightening their belts and keeping their heads down.
The Department for Transport even has the gall to tell workers that it wants a “fair deal for staff, passengers and taxpayers so the railway doesn’t take money away from other essential public services like the NHS”, as if workers in the rail industry fighting for pay justice are somehow to blame for the collapse of the health service (in reality hollowed out from within by privatisation, just like the rail industry).
It is not the working class which is damaging the economy, but the crisis of the capitalist system, for which the working class will not forever keep footing the bill. Whilst stressing that it is “always open for meaningful talks”, the RMT states plainly that it would not work with “the Rail Delivery Group or anyone else to help distribute the pain of job losses and real terms pay cuts that have nothing to do with securing a thriving railway going forward”.
And if Grant Shapps presses on with his latest threat to criminalise strikes where service levels sink below a minimum level dictated by the government, rail workers will be right to tell the transport secretary precisely where he can shove his laws.
Victory to the rail strikers!