Over one thousand angry RMT rail union members and their supporters marched from the Department of Transport offices to Downing Street on Thursday evening determined to stop the Tory government’s onslaught to close all station ticket offices in the country.
Behind the RMT national banner, demonstrators shouted slogans and carried banners from RMT branches including Liverpool 5, South East regional Council, Wigan, Surrey Hants, Medway and District General Trades and the Manchester and North West Region.
Other banners included Stop the Silvertown Tunnel coalition, Watford Trades council, Clapham Labour Party and the Young Socialists who shouted ‘TUC get off your knees, Call a general strike, kick the Tories out!’
Addressing the post-march rally, RMT leader Mick Lynch attacked the Tory government. He said that the government was going to ‘chop up this industry, chop up your contracts of employment and you won’t get a pay rise for the foreseeable future.
‘We’ve been fighting this for the last three years. We’re not having it, a poxy nine per cent. We’ll keep fighting until we get an agreement.
‘They use words like profit, modernisation and reform but all we get is cuts, cuts, cuts.
‘It is a political decision by Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt.’
Lynch continued: ‘We are united as a working class and will fight these cuts with all our might.
‘If the Labour Party wants our vote in the next election it means getting rid of the anti-trade union laws and giving us the right to strike.
‘We’ll protest and take industrial action. We want the anti-trade union laws repealed immediately.
‘Trade unions must commit to defy the minimum service levels with non-compliance and non-co-operation with the anti-trade union laws and do whatever it takes to turn over this injustice,’ he concluded.
Ivor Ridell, branch secretary of Medway & District General Grades Branch RMT, spoke to News Line.
‘At the end of the day the public support us, not the government. The Tories are waging an ideological war on the trade union movement.
‘They want to crush us to discourage other people taking strike action.
‘We have to win it. If not, everything else is up for grabs.
‘I’d have a general strike but I don’t think the TUC has the political will to do that.’
Sarah Church, RMT member from Manchester South branch, said: ‘I’ve worked for 20 years in a ticket office in Manchester and I’m here today with my two daughters to stop the ticket office closures.
‘I’ll fight this to my last breath.
‘I’m a single mum with two school-age children and I’m finding it very hard.
‘We’ve not had a pay rise for four years. I’m absolutely for a general strike.’
Billy Kimm, secretary, RMT Liverpool 5 branch, said: ‘Twenty of us came down today trying to keep our ticket offices open. They’re part of our community.
‘They help pensioners, the community and people who can’t buy tickets online.
‘Our society needs to get together because today it’s ticket offices; tomorrow it’s something else.
‘I think we should have had a general strike two or three years ago.
‘We need to wake up. The Tories are not on our side and never will be.’
Frank Leach, RMT Liverpool 5 branch, said: ‘I think we need more demos like this, with teachers, doctors and everybody. We all have the same issues, basically a general strike.’
Hugh Chambers, an RMT train cleaner from Reading, spoke to News Line. He said: ‘I’ve worked on the railway for 25 years and I know a lot of staff will be losing their jobs.
‘I’ve got autism so I understand how confusing things can be for disabled passengers.
‘My theory is they’re trying to make the railways unprofitable to get rid of it.’
News Line also spoke to Sam Veale, a primary school teacher from SW London. He said: ‘It’s a travesty. I’m a teacher out today as their fight is our fight.
‘There is no reason to take ticket offices away from ordinary people unless you want to make a profit by cutting staff.
‘The way out is – we need to stand together. The TUC has a part to play. I would be in favour of a general strike.’
‘We’ve had a year of marches and words. Action needs to escalate, so we can save our jobs and services.
‘The 6.5% offered to us was only half funded. 3% came from the Department for Education, the other 3.5% was supposed to come from school budgets. I work 10 hours a week for free. The only future is socialism.’
Deputy secretary of the RMT, Eddie Dempsey, chaired the open air meeting in Whitehall.
The first speaker was Sarah Leadbetter of the National Federation of the Blind. She said: ‘Today we sent a petition to the Prime Minister, that all ticket offices should remain open with safe staffing, and all trains should have a guard. 180 organisations across the UK have signed it.’
The Labour MP for Slough, Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, said: ‘We have a government which is hell bent on running the railways into the ground through “managed decline”. 19,000 rail services have been cut.
‘We have to fight hard to keep our ticket offices and have an affordable accessible rail system, not one which excludes people.’
There were shouts from the audience of ‘Starmer out’.
The political editor of the Daily Mirror spoke briefly to say: ‘The Mirror is behind you in this fight. We do not want out ticket offices closed and the heart of our communities ripped out and we will not let it happen.’
Zara Sultana, Labour MP for Coventry, said: ‘It’s an outrageous attack on the rail service and mainly affects the elderly and disabled.
‘It is an extension of the Tory’s austerity agenda.
‘I am committed that the railways should be brought back into public ownership.’
Jan Short, the national Secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, said: ‘The consultation proposed serious breaches in the equality laws.
‘The ticket offices do more than selling tickets.
‘They say that 12% of passengers need them. But that adds up to 180 million transactions. Machines can’t answer passengers’ queries.’
Mick Whelan, secretary of ASLEF, said: ‘We need a visible presence in ticket offices and on trains.
‘There are going to be thousands of jobs lost.
‘It’s not our job to fund the private companies and their dividends to share-holders, while cutting jobs, wages and conditions of rail-workers.’
Fran Heathcote, president of the PCS union said: ‘We are all fighting to save services. I value ticket offices, as someone who travels in rural and urban areas.
‘We’ve seen them close post offices, and job centres and banks. In closing these ticket offices, they are ignoring the vast majority of those who use the railways.
‘Profit is the bottom line. They have very little chance of being re-elected, so they have decided to press ahead with a scorched-earth policy.
‘If we don’t fight, the ticket offices will close, the libraries will go and the NHS be privatised.
‘People are fighting back. The trade unions have never been so important.
‘It’s deliberate policy of this government to take back every single gain, in the interest of profit.
‘They want us all on temporary contracts – the gig economy to become the norm in every industry. They are our class enemies.
‘There is a deepening crisis. We must build alternatives. We have to have socialism.’
Jeremy Corbyn, Independent MP for Islington North congratulated the RMT. He said: ‘There must be a decent and safe public transport system.
‘Ticket offices do an important job. At Finsbury Park station 30 million journeys come through the station.
‘We’ll campaign for that human interaction… We must have a decent, fair and just society.’