UK rail workers overwhelmingly vote to strike

Rail workers from 15 railroad and Network Rail infrastructure companies have voted for an industrial strike to defend their jobs, wages and conditions.

About 40,000 members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union voted, 89 percent of whom voted to strike, with a turnout of 71 percent. Keepers, platform staff, ticket offices, track officials and signal crews were expected to vote.

Rail workers face a historic attack on jobs, working conditions and wages, with cuts of £2.5 billion. 2,500 jobs have already been cut through a ‘voluntary’ layoff scheme, and thousands more are set to be destroyed as the Johnson government presses ahead with its plans for the ‘Great British Railways’.

Despite an apparent strike by railway workers – the largest since the privatization of the railways in 1994 – the RMT once again handed over the political initiative to the government, calling for negotiations.

In a statement issued Tuesday evening, RMT said: “The union will now demand urgent talks with Network Rail and the 15 rail operators put to the vote in order to find a negotiated solution to the dispute over wages, jobs and security.”

Mick Lynch (WSWS Media)

“We sincerely hope that ministers will encourage employers to return to the negotiating table and reach a reasonable deal with RMT,” said Mick Lynch, RMT’s general secretary. Tasked with scheduling the strike, the RMT’s National Executive Committee (NEC) postponed any decision on the limited strike until its next meeting on May 31.

The RMT uses the vote to strike as a bargaining chip, aiming to pressure the government and employers to resume work with rail unions. The NEC announced: “We note that prior to the vote, regular industry-wide meetings were held. We are therefore calling for an industry forum that brings together employers, the Rail Industry Recovery Group (RIRG), the Employer Coordination Group, the Department of Transport and the rail industry associations to address the issues of this conflict.

This should serve as a serious warning to railway workers. Secretary of Transportation Grant Shapps initiated the founding of RIRG in December 2020 to begin a comprehensive pro-market restructuring. Capitalizing on the collapse in price revenues during the pandemic, the government has unveiled a massive “efficiency gain” program as a prelude to revitalizing nationalized railway companies in 2020.

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