Defying anti-worker policies, UK unions call for more strike actions

The Tory-controlled House of Commons has passed a series of regulations which penalize workers that take industrial action and allow agency workers to replace strikers

July 18, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
An RMT Picket from the Rail Strike in June (Image via the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers)

Amid an intensification of workers struggle in the United Kingdom, the Tory-majority House of Commons on July 11 passed a series of regulations that increase fines against unions for industrial actions deemed “illegal” and allows for agency workers to replace workers on strike. The Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses (Amendment) Regulations 2022 has been widely condemned by the trade unions and progressive sections across the UK for its anti-worker, anti-strike character and in turn has been dubbed the “Scabs’ Charter”.

However, the intimidation tactics of the Tory government have not succeeded in discouraging unions from taking action and continuing their fight against austerity. On July 13, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) announced its decision to go on strike on July 27, as well as August 18 and 20. These massive industrial actions will see the participation of over 40,000 workers across Network Rail and 14 train operating companies. On July 14, the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF), the train drivers’ union, also announced a day of strike action on July 30. 

Last month, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) organized a massive strike action, protesting rail bosses’ insensitivity towards their demand for an increase in wages, as well as their plans to implement austerity measures that will lead to forced redundancies.

Rail workers and other parts of the working class, already distressed by the COVID-19 crisis, are now being pushed to the brink by the ongoing cost of living crisis, marked by skyrocketing fuel and food prices. On top of that, the Tory government has decided to cut £4 billion (USD $4.89 billion) of funding from transport systems – £2 billion (USD $2.44 billion) from the national rail system and £2 billion from Transport for London – which is likely to add to the precarity of rail workers’ jobs. 

Such austerity-driven policies are likely to result in forced redundancies, which will also affect necessary services such as security, sanitation, catering and ticketing in the rail networks. In addition, the Tories and the pro-corporate media houses have run a slander campaign against the RMT union and its leadership, lambasting them as pro-Putin saboteurs.

On July 12, in response to the approval of the anti-worker regulations passed by the Tory-controlled House of Commons, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch stated, “this is the latest step in a clampdown on democratic dissent which every trades unionist and democrat must oppose. The use of agency labor to break strikes is not only unethical and morally reprehensible; it is totally impracticable. Agency workers will not have the skill, training, or relevant competences to drive a train, to do complex maintenance work on the track, to signal trains or to do a whole host of safety critical work on the network.”

“Instead of trying to reduce trade union rights which are already the worst in western Europe, the government should be unshackling Network Rail and the train operating companies so we can secure a negotiated settlement on the railways,” Lynch added. 

On July 13, the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) stated that strikes and pickets “will always be a focus of the class struggle.” 

“Capitalists and Government have been seeking to restrict the right of workers to withdraw their labor since the Combination Acts of the 1820s. It’s a real reminder that the Scab’s Charter comes in the same week as we mark the 50th anniversary of the imprisonment, and liberation through mass action, of the Pentonville Five [five trade unionists],” the party added.