Understanding UK Rail Workers’ Strike

Amidst hostile media coverage against rail workers striking, Lowkey highlights why they must be defended and how, amidst rising poverty, the fight led by RMT general secretary Mike Lynch is one we all have an interest in winning.

Mike Lynch

General Secretary Mick Lynch visits the picket line at Euston station to speak with striking RMT members. [GETTY]

When the RMT Union, which represents 80,000 workers, sought to reach a deal with the rail companies, the level of inflation according to the Retail Price Index had increased by 7.1%. Having had no pay rise in at least 3 years, railway workers were offered a 2% rise, with the possibility of 3% on condition that they accepted thousands of statutory redundancies.

The RMT asked for a 7% increase so as to be in line with the rise in cost of living. In real terms, a pay cut and redundancies were being imposed on railway workers.

Today, after weeks of media war against the RMT, the level of inflation, as tracked by the RPI, stands at 11.7%.

50,000 RMT members are communicating clearly that they will not accept a real terms pay cut and neither should the rest of us.

At a time when 7 of the 10 children in poverty are in a household with a working parent, and the government is toying with lifting the limits on banker bonuses, this strike represents a warning shot for an inevitable summer of discontent.

”The return of Mick Lynch as a representative of the RMT is a testament to his strength of spirit and stands in contrast to the synthetic cancellation claims from Piers Morgan and others. Morgan pompously barked questions at Lynch, asking a blacklisted worker whether he was a millionaire in a naked attempt to infantilise the debate around this dispute. When Lynch turned the question of earnings back on Morgan, he replied with signature arrogance “I should hope more than you!””

Much focus of this strike has been on Network Rail, the “arms length” semi public company where the CEO Andrew Haines is paid £585,000 a year. That is 20 times more than many of those striking this week. However, this disparity is symptomatic of the arrangement of our railway system since privatisation. It is a tool through which public funds are siphoned upwards and outwards.

The 13 train operating firms, that workers are in dispute with, are owned by seven companies which are mostly foreign state-owned enterprises. For example, Abellio, which operates Greater Anglia, East Midlands Railway, West Midlands Railway and partly operates Northern Trains is the “international arm” of Nederlandse Spoorwegan, a Dutch State owned rail company. In 2019, Abellio extracted £2.95 billion from this country.

Chiltern Railways and Cross Country trains are operated by Arriva, a subsidiary of the German state-owned Deutsche Bahn AG. The CEO of Arriva, Manfred Rudhart, is paid £1.34 million yearly.

Avanti West Coast is operated by Italian state company Trenitalia. The Hong Kong based MTR Corporation operates South Western trains and the wage of the managing director is £1.18 million.

These companies operate trains they do not own.

John Major’s privatisation of the British rail system gave birth to what are known as rolling stock companies, which lease the trains at a fixed rate. Again, the rolling stock companies, which rent the trains for workers to operate, are an assortment of vehicles through which profits are transported elsewhere.

Porterbrook, which claims to have “been at the heart of Britain’s rail network for 25 years” is owned by German, Canadian, French and Australian companies. Angel Trains owns more than 4,000 trains operated on our rail system and is a subsidiary of Willow Topco Ltd which is based in the tax haven of Jersey. Eversholt Rail Group is owned by the Hong Kong based CK Infrastructure Holdings.

These three companies, Porterbrook, Angel Trains and Eversholt, own 87% of the rolling stock on Britain’s railways. Other companies involved are GE Transportation which was sold off to WabTec Corporation based in Pittsburgh, USA. Macquarie European Rail is owned the French company Akiem and Beacon Rail is owned by JP Morgan.

These are the material beneficiaries of a rail sector which has seen the average ticket increase by 23.5% since privatisation.

In 2021, the rail workers and government funding generated an income of £20.7 billion for these companies. The rail industry can afford to give a rise in wages to railway workers in line with inflation.

Piers Morgan’s new show on the Murdoch-owned Talk TV promised to “cancel cancel culture”. Morgan hosted general secretary of the RMT Mick Lynch on his show at the outset of the strike. Lynch only entered engineering work on the railways because he had been blacklisted out of the construction industry for joining a trade union. He was alongside thousands of others who were victims of really existing cancel culture, which entailed Spy Cops gathering information on workers and feeding it into a corporate database.

The return of Mick Lynch as a representative of the RMT is a testament to his strength of spirit and stands in contrast to the synthetic cancellation claims from Morgan and others. Morgan pompously barked questions at Lynch, asking a blacklisted worker whether he was a millionaire in a naked attempt to infantilise the debate around this dispute. When Lynch turned the question of earnings back on Morgan, he replied with signature arrogance “I should hope more than you!”

Talk TV is an archipelago in Murdoch’s NewsCorp empire. Murdoch’s NewsCorp “effectively avoided paying any corporation tax in the UK for eleven years” despite extracting astronomical profits. It was believed by the Washington Post, to reduce tax by channelling profits through a complex web of subsidiaries in “low tax locations.”

Emperor Murdoch honed his skills at strike breaking in the dispute with workers at the Wapping in 1986, where almost 6,000 workers went on strike and were instantly fired. It has been revealed that “Special Branch subjected the dispute to intense surveillance.” It is also now known that infamous spy cop Bob Lambert infiltrated the picket lines outside the Wapping

Keir Starmer has characteristically scuttled under a rock somewhere and is yet to emerge with the new lines of sweet nothings from his handlers. Mick Lynch pointed out the irrelevance of the Labour Party: “It is not a problem that we can’t get Labour onside, Labour’s problem is it can’t get working people onside.”

When Transport Minister Grant Shapps implores striking rail workers not to “risk striking yourself out of a job” it should be read as a veiled threat of the blacklisting which Mick Lynch is “sure still continues.”

As the psychological warfare deepened, Tory MP Tobias Elwood, who simultaneous to being an MP, is a lieutenant in the British Army’s psychological warfare unit, the 77th Brigade, made the claim that the RMT are “friends of Putin.”

Former chancellor Ken Clarke stated that the rail strikes “cannot be allowed to look successful” because if they do “vast amounts of the public sector will be induced to go in for the same strike action.”

That is why the rail strike must succeed, because when they win we all win.

According to a Savanta ComRes opinion poll, 58% of those asked believe the RMT strike is justified. The rail strike is a harbinger of things to come.

The National Education Union is set to ballot their members on industrial action. UNISON, which represents health workers, is also set to ballot the 1.3 million members on taking strike action. The Communication Workers Union is also balloting on a postal strike.

From the ending of child labour to sick leave and the 8 hour working day, these rights were won through collective bargaining. Wages in line with inflation for RMT establishes the same principle for the rest of us. The railway workers are striking for all of us.

Lowkey is a British-Iraqi hip hop artist, academic and political campaigner. He is a patron of Stop The War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Racial Justice Network and The Peace and Justice Project founded by Jeremy Corbyn. His latest album Soundtrack To The Struggle 2 featured Noam Chomsky, Frankie Boyle and Ken Loach and has been streamed millions of times.

Follow him on Twitter: @Lowkey0nline

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