Yes, harper u-turned on ticket offices: but rail workers’ victory is still to come

Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials
1 November 2023

The railway strikes against the proposed cutting of jobs and conditions by 14 train operators - and for a pay rise which covers the cost of living - have been dragging on for 16 months, since the summer of 2022. But there is still no victory...

    So when Harper backed down on Tuesday and said that the ticket office closures wouldn't go ahead, the RMT union tweeted happily that "this was a massive victory for all passengers, community groups and rail workers!" adding "It's a direct result of months of campaigning and the biggest public consultation ever!".

    This is true. Transport Secretary Harper suddenly discovered that the train companies' closure "proposals do not meet the high thresholds set by Ministers and so the Government ... asked train operators to withdraw [them]"... Which only exposes the fact that before the campaign took off, he was ready to go ahead without worrying about any kind of ministerial "threshold"!

    The government wants to spend less money on the railway. Now that most franchises are management contracts, it has re-centralised the overall control of the railway in its hands, keeping some of the arrangements brought in during Covid. But this also implies that huge government subsidies will have to increase (a large part handed over to private operators!). However, looking ahead to elections, Harper says that he wants to reduce the cost of the railway to taxpayers. Labour's shadow Transport Minister echoes him exactly. And the main cost is, of course, the cost of the workforce...

    This is no doubt why the Rail Delivery Group (which represents the 14 rail companies still in dispute with the rail unions), refuses to back down on its attacks on workers' conditions. And refuses to give workers a decent pay rise - which is now 4 years overdue!

    Moreover, while cutting the workforce, they are all lying about passenger numbers, claiming these will continue to fall - when quite the opposite is true. And by the way, nobody mentions that "green agenda" anymore, to move from road to rail!

    For railway workers (and by that we mean drivers and all others, in Aslef and the RMT), there is no option except to renew their strike action. But the dispute will continue to "drag on" unless they organise real strikes and this time they do it together: all out until they win.