Socialist Alternative

Where now for the national rail dispute? Interview with an RMT activist

Here we carry an interview with a rail worker in the North West of England about the ballot and upcoming strike of the Railway, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT). To read Socialist Alternative’s statement and programme to win the dispute with coordinated and escalating action, click here!

What’s the dispute about?

The dispute is about jobs, pay and conditions. We have demanded from 15 train operating companies and network rail a guarantee of no compulsory  redundancies and no detrimental changes to our working practices/terms and conditions. They have declined to meet these demands.

Haven’t these attacks on jobs and safety been attempted before by the employers? Why do you think this time they are carrying through with the attacks?

These attacks have been attempted before but the bosses and government are using the Covid crisis as a cover to drive through these attacks, they believe it’s given them the perfect opportunity to do so. In the Conservative manifesto for the 2019 election they included a pledge to introduce “minimum service” laws where they would force workers on strike to run a set amount of services this was designed to break the industrial power of workers in critical industries like the railway so it’s clear the government has been set on a battle with the RMT for a long time. The Department for Transport has said that they want train guards to be more customer service focused and not involved in door operation; this is another attempt to introduce driver only operation. 

What will the impact of these cuts be on passengers?

The impact on passengers will be huge, almost every ticket office on the network is at threat of closure, it will make the railways less safe and less accessible. Also planned are enormous cuts to track maintenance which if allowed to go ahead will take us back to the dark days of Railtrack with trains flying off the tracks and fatal accidents a regular occurrence. It’s worth pointing out that with all of this cost saving it’s unlikely that any of it will ever be passed onto passengers. Fares went up by 3.9% in 2022 and yet rail staff haven’t had a pay rise for over two years, the money certainly isn’t going back in fare discounts, it’s being leached out in dividends to shareholders 

How do you think the union can win against these attacks? 

How we will win is through co-ordinated national action from all grades, not an isolated day here and there but clear sustained escalation to bring the country to a halt. This is a make or break moment for us either we win here and now or we are smashed to pieces