YESTERDAY’S strike by RMT guards working for the privateer Southern rail network was ‘rock solid’, with RMT general secretary Mick Cash saying: ‘The resilience and solidarity of our members remains undiminished despite the threats and bullying thrown at them.’
The rail operator has indeed thrown everything at the guards, including trying to whip up passengers into a frenzy of hatred against workers whose only crime is to fight to safeguard the health and safety of these same passengers.
This ploy involved Southern launching a social media and press campaign back in October urging rail passengers to tell the union ‘how you feel’. This campaign was to coincide with an ultimatum issued by the company for striking guards to return to work or face the consequences – the consequences being the sack!
Both intimidation and the attempt to stir up commuters to attack trade union members have failed spectacularly. RMT members have refused to back down over the vital health and safety issues surrounding driver only operations, while passengers vented their anger on the rail bosses telling them what they felt was a hatred of Southern rail and what they wanted was re-nationalisation.
So great was this uprising against them that the head of Southern rail, Alex Foulds, was forced to make a humiliating apology yesterday saying that the adverts and twitter campaign were ‘absolutely shocking’ and a ‘mistake’ by the company. What really shocked them was the hatred expressed by the overwhelming majority of rail users directed at the privateers who have, for years, driven up fares out of the reach of travellers and presided over the collapse of the rail network, while all the time making billions in profit.
Now this company is at the forefront of a concerted campaign by the Tory government to introduce de-staffing on the railways, regardless of the threat to passenger safety, in the name of even greater profit. Both the company and the Tories were clearly hoping that sections of the middle class could be mobilised against the unions forcing the leadership to back down.
This old tactic dates back to the 1926 general strike when students and sections of the middle class were organised into the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies and used as a scab strike-breaking force driving buses and trains. Today, however, is not 1926.
The crisis of capitalism has hammered all of society, apart from the bankers and the privateers who leech off working people, and there will never again be students rushing forward to drive trams and buses to keep the profits rolling in for the capitalist class.
Having failed to whip up the public into a campaign to drive rail workers to give up their strike, and in the face of the overwhelming support from the public for the union, the rail companies and the Tories will be forced to use the full might of the anti-union laws to smash the RMT.
The threat to sack guards if they continue to carry out lawful strike action will become not just a threat but an actuality. Already, RMT leaders have stated that if any of their members are sacked there should be a general strike.
Mick Cash correctly pointed out that ‘Southern rail’s threat is part of the attack on working people – an attack on one is an attack on all,’ adding: ‘At the end of the day it’s the government behind this.’ The demand for a political general strike to bring down the Tory government is now being recognised by the working class as the only way in which the rights of workers and every public service can be defended.
The demand now must be for the TUC to stop standing on the sidelines of all these struggles and immediately organise a general strike to kick out the Tories and advance to a workers government that will re-nationalise not just the railways but every public service sold off in the past, along with the nationalisation of all major industries and the banks under the control of and for the benefit of all workers.