The class struggle is heating up in Britain, as striking RMT members bring the railways to a standstill, and the Tories and bosses attempt to crush the unions. The gutter press is screaming about ‘class war’. And – for once – they’re correct. We republish this article from 22 June, originally published at socialist.net.
Yesterday, rail workers in the RMT (Rail, Maritime, and Transport) union undertook the first of three days of strike action planned for this week. This saw stations closed and trains halted across the country.
In London, striking railway workers were also joined by RMT members on the Tube, shutting down the Underground and bringing the capital to a standstill.
This is the largest railway strike for decades, and is shaping up to be a monumental fight for the whole labour movement, as RMT members struggle to defend their jobs, pay, and conditions.
It is also shaping up to be the first of many big strikes set to come in the months ahead, as the working class fights to protect its living standards in the face of inflation and wage squeezes.
A victory in this rail strike will therefore be vital in emboldening the whole class: from teachers and posties, to doctors and cleaners.
Of course, even this single day of action has considerably frightened the ruling class, who have gone into overdrive to attack and smear the union.
The bosses’ media have launched a vicious offensive against the RMT: attempting to label the union as ‘extremist’; its general secretary Mick Lynch a ‘Marxist’; and it’s ‘overpaid’ members as being ‘blackmailed’ by their leaders to ‘cripple’ the country.
Such lies and hysteria are to be expected, as the organised working class increasingly moves into action and fights for its own interests.
For once, however, the gutter press has told tell the truth, with this morning’s cover of the S*n declaring: “It’s class war!” – as Murdoch’s rag warned of the potential for a summer of strikes by other workers.
To his credit, Mick Lynch has run rings around the capitalists’ attackdogs – whether these be sensationalist TV presenters, Tory MPs, or industry leaders; consistently cutting through their nonsense, and putting forward the real reasons behind these strikes in numerous media appearances.
And despite the barrage of reactionary propaganda, one recent poll showed that a majority of ordinary people – 58% – think the rail strikes are justified. Meanwhile, in spite of the bosses’ best efforts to demonise the RMT, the same poll found that those surveyed believed that the Tory government is more to blame for industrial action going ahead than the union.
Indeed, the RMT’s demands – to defend jobs, and for a real pay rise – are clearly gaining an echo, with workers across Britain sympathetic to the strikers, as inflation increases to a four-decade high of 9.1%, and the cost-of-living crisis bites ever harder.
Disgracefully, in his mission to prove himself a reliable representative of big business, establishment champion ‘Sir’ Keir Starmer has advised Labour MPs on the frontbench not to attend RMT picket lines.
Such shameful behaviour has done nothing to appease the capitalists, however. Despite the Labour leadership’s efforts to distance the party from the strikes, the Tories and the right-wing press have continually attempted to link the two – even though the RMT is not affiliated to Labour!
At the same time, Starmer’s refusal to support the strike has disgusted workers and activists across the labour movement.
Nevertheless, a number of Labour MPs have disobeyed their leader’s orders, and have visited picket lines to offer their solidarity.
This defiance is welcome. Support for workers taking action should be the bare minimum expected of any ‘Labour’ representative.
Socialist Appeal supporters also showed solidarity with striking RMT workers yesterday, visiting picket lines up-and-down the country.
Members from other unions – including the CWU, Unison, NEU, and Unite – were also there to offer support.
Our comrades spoke to local RMT members, who correctly pointed out that the Tories are trying to make a spectacle out of this dispute, in order to attack the whole labour movement. But this is backfiring, as most workers are also facing attacks on their real wages and conditions, and are in support of this strike action.
One striker boldly pointed out that the only way forward is to mobilise the entire trade union movement, with the aim of a general strike to bring down the Tories. This is exactly the perspective that the labour movement should arm itself with.
Comrades attending the Liverpool Street picket line interviewed the secretary of East London Rail Branch, Walé Agunbiadé, who also highlighted the strength of public support, as well as rising inequality.
Socialist Appeal supporters in London also joined the picket at Kings Cross station, helping give out RMT leaflets and talking to people about the strike.
The comrades reported an optimistic mood on the picket line. Only 30% of services on the East Coast Mainline were operating – far below the management’s hopes of running 80%. Lots of cars honked their horns in support, and passers-by gave their thumbs up.
Darren, one of the striking rail workers, told Socialist Appeal: “There can be no room for apathy when your jobs, terms and conditions, and pensions are at risk. But there will be no room for sympathy when you have no job left to fight for.”
Our comrades also visited the picket line in Newcastle. Support here was overwhelmingly positive, with one passerby stating: “It’s about time we stood up to these bosses thinking they can get away with treating staff like this!”
One striker told us: “Support from the public has been great. The public realise that we don’t earn £41,000. They haven’t fallen for the Tory attacks and lies.”
A colleague of this worker then responded: “Why would we be on strike if we earned over £40,000 a year? It’s rubbish what they are coming out with.”
In Leeds, the picket line was also rock solid. Workers spoke of safety as a major concern, even before pay, with various cuts potentially leading to heightened risks – and even deaths.
RMT members understood clearly their role as the first wave of strikers in a tsunami of militant action. Many mentioned not just being out on strike for themselves, but for the entire working class.
Our comrades also supported picket lines in Sheffield, Norwich, Ipswich, Cardiff, Clacton-on-Sea, Cambridge, Morpeth, Acton, and many more locations across the country.
This strike has the potential to be a turning point in the class struggle in Britain. All eyes are on the RMT.
A win in this battle will be a huge spur for the entire trade union movement, which has been steadily and surely gaining momentum over the past year, with strikes and disputes spreading across industries and regions.
Indeed, this fact is recognised by the Tories, with deputy PM Dominic Raab stating in one interview that “we [read: the ruling class] can’t allow the unions to win this argument”
As such, it is vital that the whole labour movement gets behind the RMT.
Already, a national strike of teachers is on the cards, with the NEU warning the government that the union will move to ballot members if their demands for a proper pay rise are not met.
And more than 115,000 postal workers at Royal Mail – organised in the CWU – are also set to vote on potential strike action over pay.
Similar national industrial action looms in the civil service, courts, and telecoms industry. And no doubt victories for these workers would encourage NHS staff and local government workers to mobilise also.
The trade union leaders must provide a fighting strategy: organising co-ordinated action across the movement – not only to strengthen these struggles, and to win for their members, but to bring down this government of the billionaires and bosses.
As Nick Oung, RMT member and Socialist Appeal activist, correctly states: “The bigger our strike, the better our victory will be!”