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A rail strike looms?

by In Wales Mon May 12th, 2008 at 08:04:17 AM EST

Working in the trade union movement, my tailored news bulletins could easily give me the impression that everybody is striking everywhere at the moment.  We've had the teachers strike very recently, plenty of public sector upheaval over pensions and pay, an oil refinery getting shut down by strikes, media headlines bleating about a Spring of Discontent (oh witty) and now for a potential biggie:

Rail staff threaten national strike - Yahoo! News UK

The threat of the first national rail strike for 14 years was raised when the industry's biggest union announced that it was balloting 17,000 workers for industrial action.

The action would cripple train services across Britain.

Upon DoDo's request I said I'd diary this.

Rail staff threaten national strike - Yahoo! News UK

The Rail Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) said maintenance and signalling staff will vote over the next week on whether to launch a campaign of industrial action in two separate disputes.

The result of both ballots will be known on May 22 and strikes could start a week later, right at the beginning of the holiday season.

The union warned that if the strikes go ahead the railway system would be paralysed.

How incredibly inconvenient.  What's so important for them to be striking about?

As usual, pay and conditions following 'harmonisation' - which never results in harmony in any organisation I've dealt with.

Ballot papers will be sent to more than 12,000 infrastructure workers after they rejected an "unacceptable" offer from Network Rail on harmonising terms and conditions.

In another row, 5,000 signal workers and other operational staff will be asked if they want to strike over pay and conditions after turning down an improved offer the union said was worth just 0.1% in the first year of a two-year pay deal.

The harmonisation dispute follows months of talks aimed at achieving a single set of terms and conditions for maintenance staff, many of whom have transferred to Network Rail from private firms.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT, said: "The company has been using the talks to drive down our members' conditions and they can hardly be surprised that their pathetic offer was thrown out by a margin of more than 100 to one.

"The company is now saying that our members can stay on their existing terms but they are already moving to sneak inferior conditions in through the back door. We know that means an attack on everyone's terms and conditions, not least because the company is looking to cut its maintenance budget by up to 12% year on year."

And as usual, organisations cutting costs looking at how they can slice away at the salary expenditure first.  I wonder how much the bosses get paid for this? The Guardian seeks out the view of Network Rail.

Rail workers to vote on pay strike | UK news | guardian.co.uk

NR said maintenance workers had no reason to strike and talks about terms and conditions were continuing.

Peter Bennett, NR's director of human resources, said the company had made a "fair and reasonable" pay offer to signalling workers worth 4.8% this year and the rate of inflation plus 0.5% next year.

"People in any walk of life would recognise this as a good deal and one that other unions have already accepted as fair. But the RMT wants even more. Their demands are unreasonable."

NR said it was in the middle of talks with unions about standardising more than 50 sets of terms and conditions for maintenance workers which the company inherited several years ago when maintenance work was brought back in-house.

"This work continues and no agreement has been reached, nothing proposed, and nothing is on the table about which to strike," said Bennett.

"We would ask all our employees to carefully consider the issues on the table. On the one hand we have a very fair offer that compares very favourably with wage settlements across the country and on the other there is nothing across the table on which to protest or strike about.

"We would ask employees to use their vote to turn away from damaging industrial action."

The last national strike by signal workers was in 1994 when rail services were disrupted for three months.

The RMT tell us that their ideal win for members would be the terms and conditions below:

National Union of Rail, Maritime & Transport Workers (RMT): 17,000 Network Rail workers balloting for industrial action

RMT's aspirations for Network Rail harmonisation include:

Working week

* 35 hour week without loss of pay
* Move towards a 34 hour week and where possible a maximum four-day rostered week over a 13 week cycle

Annual Leave

* 28 days on entry plus Bank Holidays
* 30 days after ten years' service plus bank holidays
* No compulsory working on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day
* Agreed enhancements for all the above working

Sick Pay

* 39 weeks' full pay


* One grading system
* One set of job descriptions
* Highest possible basic rates with allowances but recognising allowances can be reduced to increase the basic pay
* 100 per cent pensionable pay

Another strike going on - which will mess up my plans for travelling to London...
BBC NEWS | England | Rail staff to strike in pay row

Rail maintenance workers and cleaners have agreed to stage a one-day strike in a row over hours and overtime.

The Rail Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) said 400 of its members at First Great Western will walk out on 18 May.

The union claims the company has refused to pay an enhanced overtime rate or agree a set 35-hour week.

The Union's general secretary Bob Crow said: "The vast majority of First Great Western engineering and cleaning staff are still paid the flat hourly rate for overtime rather than the time-and-a-quarter enjoyed by other staff including train crews."

And First Great Western say they have no idea why the strike is going ahead...

Regional or local strikes have occurred every so often over the last few years but if the ballot finds in favour of a national strike, this could be a very big hit on train services across the UK.
I don't think I find it symbolic of any Spring of Discontent. New Labour haven't done anything to reverse the damage that Thatcher did to the strength of the unions.  

Maybe the RMT and it's members are being greedy as Network Rail claim. Or perhaps it is symbolic of the need for unions to be a strong as they can be in the face of a continued attack on workers pay and conditions in the face of the forever bulldozing 'modernisation' and privatisation agenda.

The inflation figures the government uses are a lie, I saw some estimates that real inflation last year in London was of the order of 8 - 9% and that was before council tax, gas prices, petrol prices and food prices all had inflation in the region of 8 - 15 %. Let alone the price of mortgages.

These are all top dollar items, they're not the optional penny-hapenny things. People are getting poorer, even with wage rises. I used to get 2 - 3 % at the BBC and each and every year of my employment I could afford less and less. It's getting worse and NuLab and NuCon are in a pact to screw the overwhelming majority of hte population into the ground.

It's about time somebody stood up for working people, even the totemic hard-working families that Brown is always wittering on about. Summer of discontent I say, remind those knobless plastic NuLab careerist wankers that they work for us, not just the City.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon May 12th, 2008 at 11:57:16 AM EST
From the RMT website:

The ballot of signalling and other operational staff follows the rejection of a pay-and-conditions offer that holds the prospect of a real-terms cut in living standards.

"We told the company quite clearly that the second-year element of their pay offer to operational staff, of RPI plus 0.5 per cent, would not protect our members against costs that are rising way ahead of the official inflation rate," Bob Crow said.

If the Retail Price Index is so clearly behind 'real' inflation, doesn't it benefit employers? They can offer 'inflation-busting' pay deals to their employees, and appear in a good light for doing so, while actually slowly impoverishing their workers. Who controls or defines the RPI, and why is it so out of whack?

Member of the Anti-Fabulousness League since 1987.

by Ephemera on Mon May 12th, 2008 at 12:43:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The government, or rather the Bank of England (in collusion with the macro-economic objectives of govt economic policy) sets the RPI.

It has long been a fix, considering that the price of mortgages is specifically excluded. However, it also ignores fuel prices, house prices, community charges, all the items that are significant parts of the average persons monthly bills, all of which are increasing considerably above the official RPI.

so the RPI is a useless indicator of the change in  people's financial needs. But, as you say, employers, including the govt, like it cos it keeps their costs down.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon May 12th, 2008 at 12:55:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for this.

I haven't yet found anything on it in railway media.

What I wonder about is whether a sympathy strike by locomotive drivers is (1) legal, (2) something that happened before.

If signal workers strike, but there is a significant number of non-striking workers (say those aligned with other unions), then after the initial chaos, management has it relatively easy to organise and rely on strikebreakers.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon May 12th, 2008 at 12:06:56 PM EST
Most of the links I found stem from the RMT press release without much further commentary. The Guardian was the only one to dig a little more.

They do state that they are striking on separate issues, do you see it as a sympathy strike?

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Mon May 12th, 2008 at 12:28:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It can be clearly argued that both strikes are well founded and against genuine grievances, and separately would go ahead. I think arguing that one is a sympathy strike for the other would not get very far. However, what would the legality be of deliberately organising the strikes as to cause maximum disruption? That is, to take two separate actions and combine into one protest?

I'm guessing that there is some kind of rulebook for strikes out there, whether written or no. But using a pair of two-day strikes (or whatever) at different ends of a week would allow them to disrupt services for the entire week.

Member of the Anti-Fabulousness League since 1987.

by Ephemera on Mon May 12th, 2008 at 01:18:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, there are two separate strikes by infrastructure and engine shop maintenance workers, and I was asking a theoretical question about a sympathy strike by a third group, locomotive drivers. I asked because that would make the strike more potent.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon May 12th, 2008 at 01:32:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh I see. No, that would be illegal.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Mon May 12th, 2008 at 01:39:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sympathy strikes are unlawful in the UK, and seemingly have been for a long time.

Member of the Anti-Fabulousness League since 1987.
by Ephemera on Mon May 12th, 2008 at 12:30:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That was Thatcher, I think.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Mon May 12th, 2008 at 12:51:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Can't you get around that by discovering some new grievances and calling a strike which just happens to coincide with another one?

Or is that what's happening here?

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon May 12th, 2008 at 02:17:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have no insider knowledge on this issue so I assume these are both entirely legitimate and separate grievances.  The fact that they are being balloted simultaneously would lead me to think the action will take place at the same time.

I'm trying to remember where I read fairly recently one union taking action that coincided with a strike of another union, because they supported the cause even though they were not directly involved.  I have no idea how they achieved that but it must have been within legal limits.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Mon May 12th, 2008 at 03:26:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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