Britain: Proposed Rail Strikes Abandoned by RMT Leadership

By Laurence Humphries, RCIT Britain, 13.6.2015, and


The development of rail unions in Britain has a long history reaching back to the 1880’s and the 1920’s. This also involved the development of the labour aristocracy in Britain. Some craft unions like ASLEF (which is not involved in this dispute at all) are representing the labour aristocracy in the rows of the rail workers.

There are four different unions of rail workers involved in the transport industry: ASLEF, the train rivers union, a craft Union with highly skilled workers who only admit trained train drivers into their union. There is also the RMT, which was formerly the National Union of Railway, a general union which has tube drivers, train managers, technical staff which includes maintenance workers, electricians, pipe fitters and other associated workers. The other rail unions are UNITE – formerly the TGWU and AMICUS. UNITE is balloting its members over another separate pay deal. If the strike by the RMT had gone ahead UNITE members would still have been working as their ballot would have been at different times. The final rail union in the industry is the TSSA, which is the salaried staff section comprising mostly ticket office staff and other clerical workers.

The emergence of the labour aristocracy in Britain at the end of the 19th century originated from the craft unions who were opposed to unskilled workers. This has led to a caste at the top of the trade union hierarchy which has protected its privileges very carefully. Over the years this bureaucracy has enlarged its wealth by working closely with the employers and emulating most of their habits and lifestyle. This bureaucracy represents capitalist’s interests inside the working class. Their role over the years has been to police their members, prevent unofficial strikes at any time, eradicate any independent movement of the working class and carry out its role by doing what its capitalist masters require. Most of this bureaucracy when faced by increasing hostility and conflict from their masters usually cave in and agree.

When Margaret Thatcher gets in power 1979 the working class started facing massive attacks from the new government. In 1980 the government started with its Anti-Union Legislation to outlaw strikes. Although the labour movement mobilized regularly against the attacks, most bureaucratic trade union leaders were not able and not willing to lead what was needed to bring the government down: An indefinite general strike.


Betrayal yesterday and today


The newly elected conservative government of David Cameron with only 24% of the vote amongst the citizens of voting age is already hated by the working class. RMT members employed by Network Rail rejected the latest offer and voted with huge majority to strike against this hated government and bring other workers into the battle against austerity. This is not the role that the labour bureaucracy wants to follow, they prefer to work closely with employers and do what they require. The bureaucracy is closely tied to the capitalists via many privileges they receive. Predictably in June when there were to be rail strikes the RMT leadership called off the strike and accepted a rotten deal with no benefit to their members.

General Secretary of the RMT, Mick Cash, said according to a press release:

Following extensive ACAS talks throughout the weekend RMT has now received a revised offer that enables us to suspend the planned industrial action while we consult in full on the details of the revised package with our Network Rail representatives.” [1].

The centrists meanwhile are always prepared to support those elements in the Bureaucracy that they term as left-wing. Their concept is to reform the labor movement without fighting consequently against its rotten leadership. The Socialist Party in England and Wales (CWI in Britain) has an organization, the National Shop Stewards Network, which is known for giving uncritically support to trade union leaders who have a ‘left face’ and who they hope will fight. In some trade unions like the PCS and NUT Socialist Party members take leading positions and have a very close relationship with this bureaucracy. Their role is in consequence to divide, disorientate and fail to fight for revolutionary leadership in the unions as Trotsky advocated in 1938.

Instead of taking openly issue with Mick Cash, General Secretary of the RMT, the SPEW just stated to be against a stop of strike preparations. No open criticism on the betrayal by the bureaucrats of the RMT, no revolutionary alternatives at all.

One rail worker told the SPEW’s newspaper: “At a time when the company are making big profits, my hope is that workers instruct their reps to insist on a decent pay rise, while keeping an assurance on job security and safety. If needed, we should use the strike mandate which was overwhelmingly voted for and make the bosses listen.” [2].

The last comment from a railway worker shows that they are determined to fight unlike the labour bureaucracy who had decided that when the strike ballots resulted in an overwhelming majority for strike action they were however not going to fight this Tory Government. They want to protect their privileges and are a parasitic caste despite its leading role in the workers movement.

In the last period the RMT leadership has betrayed strike after strike. On the London underground pay and conditions have been destroyed and not one relevant gain for London underground workers has been achieved. Most ticket offices have been closed, staff being made redundant or sacked. The Network has become worse under Tory Boris Johnson as mayor.

Socialist Worker, the paper of the Socialist Workers Party (IST in Britain), while taking a more leftist approach could offer platitudes but no concrete steps in the fight against both the Tory government as well as the bureaucracy of the RMT. “Reject the deal at Network Rail. Workers have the power to force more from the Bosses. They should reject the deal”. [3]

We as revolutionary communists demand the rejection of the deal combined with preparations to continue a strike without the bureaucracy. That means immediate action assemblies at the work places to form strike committees. These committees should organize the strike and should try to enlarge it to other sectors of the working class like the post workers, health workers and also the private sector. The goal must be to start a strike that might spread to a general strike against the government. However, the strike committees must be democratically elected and composed of those workers who are willing to fight consequently and who are trusted by the other workers. They must be under the permanent control of regular strike assemblies. In this whole process we will see that the bureaucracy can’t find a place in this democratic form of leading the trade union work. Every honest worker will fight the bureaucrats in the end via the strike committee actions and get rid of them. To fight for these demands in the rows of our class a revolutionary organization is needed.

The RCIT says that in order to advance the only solution to the crisis of capitalism in Britain – a working class revolution – it is necessary to build a pre-party organisation in Britain and to campaign for communist fractions in the trade unions on a revolutionary programme.

The RCIT advocates a programme of struggle in the coming period. We call on all revolutionaries in Britain to read our programme and Manifesto, and to support us and join the RCIT as the first step in building a pre-party organisation in Britain.

1) For a strike of the RMT workers that should spread towards other sectors of the working class! Get rid of the bureaucracy that is betraying the worker’s interests! Form democratically strike committees during regular assemblies of the workers to lead the strike independent from the bureaucrats!

2) Nationalise all key companies under workers control without paying compensation! Reinstate all public utilities that have been privatised!

3) Repeal the anti-union laws. For a General Strike to bring down the hated Tory Government!

4) For equality of black, Asian and immigrant peoples! For full citizenship rights! Oppose Racism and Islamophobia!

5) Cancel all debts!

6) For a workers’ government based upon councils of action and armed workers’ militias!

7) For a workers’ republic in Britain – For a Socialist United States of Europe! [4]



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