Coordinated action needed to fight public sector cuts

By Albert Perks, railworker

RMT, the railworkers’ union, is preparing for battles ahead to defend its members’ jobs, pay, and conditions, and rail safety standards. The rail industry, like the whole public sector, is being made to pay for spending on the pandemic by Tory Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s November 2020 spending review.   

Network Rail, which has been in the public sector since 2014, and Train Operating Companies, which are now classified as public sector because only government funding has kept them going over the last year, have told union negotiators at pay meetings that the Department of Transport has instructed them not to give any pay rises this year or next. This is in line with the Tories’ public sector pay freeze.

There seems to be less determination among railworkers to take on bosses over pay. Two recent RMT ballots for industrial action both failed to give Yes votes that pass the anti-union laws’ legal threshold. So the RMT, recognising that the pay freeze must be tackled on an industry-wide basis, is preparing a national campaign and strategy to combat this pay freeze. It hopes to run it in conjunction with the other rail unions ASLEF and TSSA.

On top of the pay freeze, RMT is expecting Network Rail to follow Government demands to cut costs by proposing cuts to thousands of jobs, attacks on its workers’ conditions, a fifty per cent cut in rail safety maintenance work and dilution of maintenance standards. The RMT has declared it is moving to a “national dispute” footing with Network Rail, and organising for a possible industrial action ballot.

Train Operating Companiesare expected to propose cost-cutting measures such as ticket office cuts or closures, and cuts to station staff and guards.  One TOC, Southeastern, has already announced a ‘review’ of ticket offices – we can all guess where that is heading.

London Transport members face cuts to their Transport for London (TfL) Pension Scheme and cuts in London Underground off-peak services and station staffing levels, proposed by a December 2020 report commissioned by Mayor Sadiq Khan.

The RMT has called on the Mayor to give an assurance that the recommendations of the report will not be acted on, and instead to lead a campaign working with unions, passenger groups and others to fight for full government funding of TfL/London Underground Limited.  And RMT has told TfL that any attempt to attack members’ jobs or conditions will be met with industrial action.

The pay freeze, the attacks by Network Rail and the attacks on LU members’ pensions and staffing are all part of the Tory government’s policy of making workers pay for the Covid borrowing. The RMT has recognised that co-ordinated campaigns and action are needed in response.

What workers need from the TUC is far more than the reports and press releases which appear to be their only response to the Tories’ latest attacks on public sector workers and users of public services. The TUC, and the bigger trade unions, should be organizing a campaign across the public sector against the pay freeze and further cuts – including co-ordinated industrial action.

Image: Central Line stock. Source: https://tfl.gov.uk/, licensed for reuse.

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