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RMT is preparing for an extensive campaign

In an exclusive article, RMT general secretary MICK LYNCH explains the reasons behind the strike, why rail workers will be continuing their action – and why the upsurge in union activity makes him optimistic they will win

I MUST start by congratulating members working on London Underground, Network Rail and the train operating companies for the magnificent show of unity and solidarity that you all displayed during our first phase of industrial action in the current national rail dispute.

This has also been met with an outpouring of public support, reflecting the just nature of our campaign.

While workers face pay and job cuts, the employers have been engaging in rampant profiteering, taking money out of the network which could have been used to develop rail in this country in a planned manner.

RMT research has revealed that the government’s emergency funding agreements and its new rail contracts have taken all the financial risk out of train operating and rescued the profits of companies that were struggling before the pandemic.

According to Department of Transport data, the train operating companies will have received around £300 million in management fees between March 2020 and April 2022, which are the basis of their profits.

Dividend payments have also remained healthy, with £73.5m declared so far for 2020-21, while the train operating companies are forecasting that they are well-placed for future dividend payments over 2022.

We have been involved in detailed discussions with employers on the issues involved in this dispute.

The union’s position has been based on our demands: a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies, no detrimental changes to working practices and terms and conditions imposed and a substantial increase in pay.

Disappointingly, the employers have taken an extremely hard line which is clearly at the behest of this Tory government in order to push through its agenda — in the case of Network Rail it means £2 billion in cuts and what it calls “workforce reform.”

In short, the employers are challenging all of our agreements, proposing mass job cuts and we have rejected their pay proposals which have thus far amounted to a staged 3 per cent conditional offer based on accepting their whole change agenda.

The train operating companies are demanding the mass closure of ticket offices across the country and the combination of retail, customer services and operational roles at stations and revising the role and responsibility of the guard/conductor/train manager along with revisions to catering grades’ role as well as mandatory seven-day working.

They are also seeking lower pay, longer hours contracts, new grading structures, salaries and roles and diluting the value of the railway pension scheme that will change retirement age, contributions and benefits, while workers pay more into it.

Network Rail is demanding a complete restructure of the maintenance function, with fundamental changes to working practices, rostering, competency, organisation and other measures as well as productivity and technology measures for signallers.

All of this is underpinned by an unstated number of job cuts across the industry and employers are adamant that in order to make the railways run, terms and conditions must be diluted across the board.

Further to this, the value of any pay proposals that may be proposed will be tiny compared to the levels of price inflation transport workers have been experiencing in the recent years of pay freezes and going forwards.

We face a very tough period of negotiations and it is clear that the RMT’s campaign will be an extended one and that we will all have to dig in and be resolute.

The RMT will negotiate but is prepared to take sustained industrial action in a controlled way to deliver a square deal for railway workers, whatever grade or sector they may be.  

The media has painted us as being against change — but myself and other RMT officials have been negotiating modernisation plans and the use of new technology for decades.

All those changes need to be in a framework of agreement and not imposed at the cost of highly detrimental changes to conditions and the continual shrinkage of wages.

It would be a dereliction of the duty of any trade union not to defend workers from a Tory government and employers who appear to be more interested in rampant profiteering rather than investing in the railway.

So the RMT is preparing for an extensive campaign. However there is clearly strong public support for transport workers over pay and jobs — and other rail unions are likely to be taking action alongside us.

I sense that in the country as a whole there is a groundswell of renewed union activity that will continue to mount increasing pressure for a fair deal for all workers.

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