by Richie Venton, SSP national workplace organiser
All the worst enemies of working class people and their organisations have combined in a vitriolic onslaught against the RMT union and its members – rail-workers in particular. Tory Minister Chris Grayling arrogantly accused the RMT of “looking for excuses to be militant”.
Filthy rags like the Sun (of Hillsborough infamy) and Daily Mail (which supported Hitler in the 1930s) hunted down RMT leaders on their family holidays, and branded strikes by RMT members “needless” and “over minor issues”.
Back in January, senior Tory Transport official Peter Wilkinson declared war unambiguously, at a public meeting in London: “union members on Southern GTR can’t afford to spend too long on strike and I will push them into that place. They will have to decide if they want to give a good service or get the hell out of my industry”!
Not to be outdone by his Tory co-thinkers, Labour’s John McTernan – former adviser and spin doctor to Tony Blair, Jim Murphy and now Owen Smith – last week spewed out the opinion that “The Tories should crush the rail unions once and for all – voters would thank them for it.”
The vicious smear campaign against RMT members who dare exercise their democratic right to withdraw their labour – paying the personal price in lost wages – is one of the worst and most coordinated since that against the miners and their union during Maggie Thatcher’s 1980s class warfare.
Why this concerted demonisation?
We live in a society where it’s apparently alright for profiteering big businesses and their hired politicians to consciously coordinate their assaults on public safety, public services, workers’ jobs and wages. But if the same workers take collective action to defend train passenger safety they are denounced as – in the poisoned phrase of Thatcher – “the enemy within”.
The Tories privatised the railways in the 1990s. Labour did absolutely nothing to reverse that license to print money for a rich cabal of train companies during 13 years in government. Instead, they commissioned the McNulty Report on the industry, which was published by the Westminster Tories in 2011 – in which Driver Only trains, savage job losses, ticket office and station closures were just part of the cost-cutting butchery advocated.
Now the profit-crazed train operators who’ve won privatised franchises are gleefully pursuing this agenda, backed up to the hilt by the Tories as they unleash a scorched earth policy which leaves stations un-staffed, ticket offices closed, track maintenance slashed, passenger safety endangered, and safety critical guards removed from trains throughout the UK – as passenger numbers rocket.
The railway workers’ unions stand in the path of this government-sponsored corporate vandalism. So the bosses of the privatised train companies bypass the unions, bombard and bully staff via social media and letters to their home addresses, trying to intimidate workers into accepting this slaughter of safety and staff. And when this fails to cow workers, they deploy the millionaire-owned media and thuggish anti-union laws invented by the Tories and retained by Labour in government.
Bullyboy Bosses Use Secondary Scabs!
The government boasts that strikes are at their lowest level for workers involved and days on strike since records began in 1893. So when railworkers have the passion for safety and courage to take industrial action, they are assaulted with all the ferocity the employing class, their state and media can muster.
When ASLEF fought the safety slashing measures of French-owned Govia on Southern railways, they plundered the union’s funds under anti-union legislation, seized the mobile phones of union activists and removed staff travel allowances.
If workers doing the very same job in different train companies tried to coordinate their industrial action to protect public safety – to keep the guards, for instance – they’d be legally and financially crucified for so-called secondary action, under laws designed to decimate workers’ solidarity and ability to resist.
But when Scotrail Abellio bosses provoked strikes against unsafe Driver Only Operated trains they tried to hire scabs from Merseyrail. As Virgin Trains East Coast RMT members decide by 84% to strike in defence of guards, safety, working conditions and against 200 job losses, their capitalist, financially incompetent bosses are ‘training’ a ramshackle army of scab managers from East Midlands Railways, commandeering trains to ‘train’ them!
It’s blatantly, starkly obvious the train companies are coordinating their crusade to scrap guards, slash safety, and boost profits at the expense of passengers and rail-workers alike. But the same bosses have the gall to accuse the unions – in the case of Abellio ScotRail – of “wanting to import a dispute from England”.
Privateers Leech off Public Funds
As the hired liars of the capitalist editorial brigade demonise rail-workers and their unions, and train companies enlist untrained scab managers alongside the most repressive anti-union laws in the western world, perhaps the most appalling aspect of this battle is that the profit-seeking train companies are leeching off the public.
Train fares are amongst the most crucifyingly expensive in Europe. Public subsidies to the privatised railways are a full four times greater than the state investment in railways prior to privatisation. And in a vicious twist of state ownership, 75% of all the trains previously owned by the UK government are now run by companies wholly of mostly owned by overseas governments! UK taxpayers are subsiding the profits of companies owned by the state in Germany, Hong Kong, France – and in Scotland’s case, Holland. In 2014/15 taxpayers in this country forked out a mind-boggling £3.5billion in subsidies to these overseas outfits.
The case for democratic public ownership of our railways and transport in general, with working class control, has never been more compelling or urgent. That’s one of many policies the SSP shares with the rail-workers’ unions. It’s one the Tories, Labour and SNP have outright opposed in government, preferring to subsidise the profits of big business and overseas state rail companies. And in the case of Scotland, both Labour and SNP Holyrood governments have issued franchises that allow these profiteers to be compensated from public funds – ‘indemnified’ for losses incurred – when rail-workers are driven to strike action in defence of public safety and jobs.
The RMT’s campaign for Safe Trains screams out for public ownership and an end to this criminal ripoff. The SSP stands solidly alongside rail-workers and their unions in pursuit of this socialist aim, in keeping with the RMT Rule Book, which declares as an Object of the union: “to work for the supercession of the capitalist system by a socialistic order of society”. Join us!