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National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT)

Labour and Climate Activists Protest Against Anti-union Laws

By staff - Free Our Unions, October 12, 2022

Around 80 activists from a range of campaign groups and unions protested outside the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on 10 October, as part of an action called by Free Our Unions and Earth Strike UK’s Empower the Unions initiative. As far as we know, this is the first piece of direct action called specifically to protest the Truss government’s plans for new anti-union laws since Truss revealed the policy.

BEIS was chosen because it will likely be central to developing the legislation for new restrictions on strikes, and because it is a key department in terms of climate policy. Free Our Unions has sought active coordination with activists from the climate movement, and Earth Strike UK’s Empower the Unions initiative seeks to highlight the specific ways in which anti-union laws constrain workers’ ability to take action in defence of the climate.

Speakers at the protest included Mark Boothroyd (A&E nurse and Unite activist); Sab (Earth Strike UK activist and Industrial Workers of the World organier); Ruth Cashman (Lambeth Unison); Jared Wood (RMT London Transport Regional Organiser); Ria Patel (Green Party Equality and Diversity spokesperson); EC (PCS rep); Andy Warren (firefighter and local rep for the FBU); Hamish (Exctinction Rebellion Trade Unionists); and Benedict Flexen (Earth Strike UK: Empower the Unions).

Speeches were punctuated by chanting, accompanied by drumming from the Extinction Rebellion samba band.

Following the protest, an assembly took place in a venue nearby, discussing various aspects of the politics of anti-union laws, and proposals for campaigning on the issue forward in our workplaces and unions.

Birkenhead RMT members stage 48 hour strike at Ørsted wind farm base

By Helen Wilkie - Birkenhead News, September 26, 2022

On Saturday (24 September) workers at the Ørsted site in Kings Wharf, Birkenhead, completed the first of two 48-hour strikes over a 3.5% pay offer from the Danish company, which in April this year reported profits of £664 million.

The riverfront site employs 19 highly skilled technicians, all of whom completed their apprenticeships locally or with the armed forces. Two crew boats, Braver and Boarder sail from Seacombe to the Burbo Bank wind farms every day to ensure the turbines are maintained and remain operational.

In addition to the pay dispute, the 96 nationwide RMT members are unhappy that management walked away from talks to sign a collective bargaining agreement at the last minute, and instead entered into an agreement with a different union with no workplace presence.

In a separate trade dispute with Ørsted Energy, RMT members have also voted overwhelmingly for industrial action over the victimisation of a fellow worker at the Barrow in Furness site.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said, “The obscene profits being made at Orsted show that this dispute could be settled if the company sat down with the union and negotiated in good faith. 

“Instead, they are trying to shut out the RMT and our members will not stand for it.

“Orsted workers take pride in the vital work they do but they will not be made poorer by a company that could give them a cost of living pay rise tomorrow.”

A second round of strike action will commence on Friday 30 September.

Ørsted have been approached for comment.

Support for rail strikes from Just Transition Partnership

By staff - Just Transition Partnership, August 18, 2022

The Just Transition Partnership sends solidarity to RMT, TSSA and ASLEF members taking industrial action to protect their pay, jobs and working conditions, and in the wider fight for a sustainable public transport system run for people and the planet, not private greed. Billions are being cut from our transport system at a time when increasing investment is vital to ensure a fully public, affordable, integrated and sustainable transport system.

Our railways are already being impacted by the effects of climate change, putting additional demands on a stretched workforce providing an essential public service. We need a well-paid transport workforce with secure conditions and it is indefensible to expect transport and other workers to take an effective pay cut as inflation and the costs of energy rise, especially while the profits of oil companies soar.

The UK government is failing on the climate crisis and the cost of living crisis. It has no integrated transport plans, favouring private companies which make vast profits rather than making transport affordable and our air breathable; in Scotland as well as the rest of the UK train and bus services are being cut. These actions are symptomatic of disregard for the concerns of climate, environment and workers.

The solutions to these crises have the same foundations – public investment into decarbonised and high-quality services using both taxation and legal duties on private companies; all delivered by a well-paid, skilled and secure workforce. These things won’t happen without workers in their trade unions organising to defend their wages, their jobs, their future and their rights through the power of collective bargaining. The workers movement and the climate justice movement need to build our collective power if we are to defend our future, that is why we send our solidarity to the workers on strike.

Mick Lynch on the Rail Strikes and Climate Crisis

A Railroad Worker Strike Could Shake the Economy’s Foundations

By Paul Prescod - Jacobin, August 2, 2022

Once a coveted job, conditions for railroad workers have badly deteriorated. But railroad workers are central to our economy — so central that a current impasse between railroad companies and associated unions has prompted Joe Biden to intervene.

Six months ago, the spouses of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Corporation (BNSF) employees detailed the toll the job was taking on their families. A letter containing twenty-five of their stories portrays a climate where workers find it impossible to maintain a personal life.

Nichole Bischoff, who has taken the lead in organizing railroad worker spouses, said to a local news outlet, “So many parents wanna be at every trick-or-treating event, every school function, baseball game and they just can’t, and our kids learn to live with it.”

“My husband can’t even attend any of his appointments,” one anonymous spouse complained. “He has already gotten dropped from a couple [health care] providers for poor compliance.”

Now conditions for railroad workers are poised to take center stage nationally. On Friday, July 15, President Joe Biden intervened in a labor dispute that could have a dramatic impact on the nation’s economy. Contract negotiations between the major freight railroad companies and their associated unions, representing 115,000 railway workers, have reached an impasse. Utilizing the procedures of the Railway Labor Act, the president stepped in to form a presidential emergency board that will hold hearings and issue recommendations during a thirty-day “cooling-off” period.

But there are no guarantees that this mediation will produce a settlement, as railworkers have been pushed to the brink by decades of brutal corporate cost-cutting measures.

London IWW Statement of Solidarity with UK Rail Workers

By branch - London IWW, August 1, 2022

The London Branch of the IWW stands with the rail workers in their ongoing dispute. They are fighting not just for themselves, but for us all: as well as their livelihoods, the safety standards of the British rail network are under threat. The government-backed rail operators are attempting to reduce staffing levels on platforms, trains, and tracks in order to drive down wages, which they see simply as an overhead cost. Further, they intend to rehire many workers on zero-hours agency contracts in order to circumnavigate labour rights such as paid leave for holiday, sickness, and parenthood as well as allowing them to dismiss workers without notice or redundancy pay.

The transport industry is one of the few remaining industries in Britain with high union membership. This attempt to break it up by dividing the workforce is a direct attempt to weaken the unions, and the labour movement as a whole.

On top of it all, comes a slap in the face: during this period of exaggerated cost of living, and while the shareholders take home millions in profit, they are offering the workers that they aren’t trying to sack a real-terms pay cut.

However, the workers are standing strong: in the face of an endless torrent of vitriol from the British government and press, they are taking every opportunity to expose the inequalities and injustice that they face. Members of our branch have been proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity with these workers on the picket lines, and we will continue to offer our support until the dispute is won. As long as we continue to stand together, we can tip the balance in the favour of workers around the world.

Mutual aid is the currency of solidarity; direct support for the striking worker is crucial to their success. As such, the IWW London branch are setting a budget to allow members to donate food and drinks to workers on the picket lines, and we encourage any members or supporters with the means to make a donation to the strike funds.

The momentum of the union movement is growing once again in Britain after half a century of targeted assault. Public support is on the rise, and workers in unions across the country are balloting to take action and stand up for their rights and their dignity. The doubling-down on anti-union rhetoric by the government and press is evidence that they are aware of the power that a unionised workforce wields, and that they are threatened by it.

The IWW welcomes any and all workers both in and out of employment and of any nation, race, gender, or creed. Together we stand for a fairer world.

Solidarity forever.

What If Rail Workers Struck? A Talk with RWU

U.S. Railroad Workers Inch Closer to a Possible National Strike

By Jeff Schuhrke - In These Times, July 25, 2022

After Biden appointed an emergency board to help resolve the labor dispute, rail workers warn: “We have the ability to stop the trains from moving.”

After waiting over two years to secure a new union contract, and still reeling from the impacts of Wall Street-ordered cost-cutting measures, 115,000 beleaguered workers who operate the nation’s freight railroads are inching closer towards a possible strike, which could come as soon as September. 

In an effort to drive down operating expenses and reward their wealthy shareholders, in recent years railroad companies have implemented ​“precision scheduled railroading,” or PSR — a version of just-in-time, lean production that centers on reducing the workforce and closing facilities. 

“For years, they cut and cut and cut. It didn’t matter which department or terminal, it was indiscriminate,” said Michael Paul Lindsey, an Idaho-based locomotive engineer with Union Pacific.

Over the past six years, the major Class I railroads like BNSF, Union Pacific, CSX and Norfolk Southern have slashed their collective workforce by 29 percent (around 45,000 workers), leaving the industry woefully understaffed and putting extra strain on workers already accustomed to long, irregular hours. 

Lindsey said the severe staffing shortages have resulted in ​“constant chaos and crisis,” with workers being called at all hours, day and night, expected to take on assignments they were not initially scheduled for. 

Cost-cutting has also meant freight trains are running with more cars and more cargo than existing infrastructure is equipped to handle, or else misrouting rail cars just to get them moving. This cost-cutting, along with a labor shortage, have been major contributors to the supply-chain crisis. 

Meanwhile, the railroad companies remain highly profitable, with owners raking in $183 billion in stock buybacks and dividends since 2010.

Wars, Inflation, and Strikes: A Summer of Discontent in Europe?

By Josefina L. Martínez - Left Voice, July 12, 2022

Strikes over wage increases or working conditions are occurring in response to high inflation, aggravated by the aftermath of the war in Ukraine. These labor actions show a change in the mood of the European working class.

Are we heading toward a summer of discontent in Europe? Can we foresee a hot autumn on the Continent? It would be hasty to make such statements, but new strike activity is beginning to unfold among sectors of several countries’ working class. Inflation reached 8.8 percent as a European average in May (with higher rates in countries like the UK and Spain). After years of inflation below 1.5 percent, this is a significant change that is causing a fall in the population’s purchasing power, especially among the working class. Many analysts are already talking about the possibility of stagflation: a combination of recession and inflation.

This is in addition to the political instability of several governments and a widespread dissatisfaction with the traditional parties. The latter was expressed in France in the last elections, with high abstention and the growth of Marine Le Pen’s far-right party and of the center-left coalition grouped around Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Emmanuel Macron lost his absolute majority in the National Assembly and now faces a five-year period of great political uncertainty. Another government in crisis is that of the UK, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson is stepping down.

In this context, recent weeks have seen strikes taking place in key sectors, including transport, steel, ports, and public services, as well as in more precarious sectors. Although there are differences among these countries, the strikes are opening a breach in the climate of “national unity” that governments tried to impose a few months ago, when the war in Ukraine began. In this article we review some of these labor conflicts in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and other countries.

Greens must back striking British Airways workers to build the coalition we need for a just transition

By Matthew Hull - Bright Green, July 3, 2022

A quiet revolution is underway. Across two weeks and through three days of industrial action by the RMT trade union, the British public may have rediscovered what it feels like to take the side of organised workers against a recalcitrant UK government.

Amid soaring bills and prices, and with the Tory government steadfastly refusing to put people’s lives before profits, it is easy to understand why sympathy for striking workers is growing.

Of course it would be easy to overstate this case. Trade unionism never left these shores, and the power of militant unions like the RMT has been built up over years of hard organising work.

Equally, it would be presumptuous in the extreme to argue that one still-ongoing dispute could undo decades of neoliberal policies designed to mute and muzzle trade unions.

Nevertheless, something is taking hold. Polls revealed that striking railway workers have the undisputed support of a majority of people in the UK, should they opt for further industrial action. What’s more, that support has grown with every media performance by the RMT’s general secretary Mick Lynch, whose directness and refusal to pander to the nonsense so typical of broadcast media has proved a winning combination.

This progress is precious, and it is our responsibility as trade unionists and the broader Left to preserve and expand it.

For Greens and environmentalists, the response to the RMT strikes so far has an additional, special resonance.

In June, hundreds of environmental justice campaigners joined RMT members on picket lines, raised money for their national dispute fund, and made their public support for the strikes impossible to ignore. This included many Greens across England and Wales, led by the party’s Trade Union Group. The Greens were the only UK parliamentary party to be unambiguously supportive of the RMT’s actions.

Defending and expanding national and municipal railway networks is centrally important to winning a just transition to a zero-carbon economy. Without massively increasing our capacity to move around using collective and sustainable modes of transport, the work of the environmental justice movement is over before it has begun.

In this process, protecting jobs and improving the pay, conditions and security of workers on our railways is key. There can be no just and fair transition to a zero-carbon world without worker empowerment.

Environmental justice campaigners and Greens should take this insight and apply it to workers’ struggles across all
sectors.

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