“We Don’t Cross Picket Lines” – Rail Strike Interview With RMT Wales

Brendan Kelly, RMT Regional Organiser for South Wales and West, spoke to voice.wales about why union railway workers are on strike later this month in the biggest industrial action the industry has seen in decades.


Source > voice.wales

Welsh rail workers are not involved in the dispute, but the strike will still have an impact here and we asked how RMT members in Wales would be showing their solidarity.

voice.wales: Why are RMT members striking?

Brendan Kelly: The strike is against Network Rail, which covers England and some of Wales and Scotland. It’s a national strike because they’re a national employer, but with the other 13 ballots they are train companies that operate for the Department of Transport in England. In the infrastructure side within the coreValleys lines, that’s owned by the Welsh Government, we’re not balloting. Transport for Wales we’re not balloting either. But consequently because network rail is a national dispute the signallers will be out, so there will be no signalling routes and TfW have taken the decision not to run any trains on those strike days.

vw: The RMT is constantly attacked in the press as defending well paid workers who are already ‘loaded,’ how should we respond to that? 

BK: Are they loaded? I think the wages that are quoted quite freely are false figures, the headline figure you often see is £48,000 which is based around driver’s pay. Train drivers are predominantly, about 85-90%, are in ASLEF who may be balloting at some stage but they’re not part of the current strike days next week. Certainly the workers who are striking next week are nowhere near their salaries, a million miles away. The majority are in the twenty-thousands. So it’s the typical media Tory distortion about what workers are really earning. The higher paid workers aren’t part of this dispute by and large. 

vw: What’s the importance of signallers to the strike action?

BK: Without signals you can’t run a railway. Without signallers there will be issues because I think that in England they’ll be trying to run 20% of the services. I suspect that’s a bit of bravado and they won’t get anywhere near that. Passengers are going to be a bit peeved when they turn up to a station expecting to see a train in England and one doesn’t turn up. That’s probably going to be more than likely. I think the industry is just trying to show they can undermine the strike and I don’t think that will happen. 

vw: How are Welsh RMT workers lending their solidarity to the strikers?

BK: The RMT position is always that we don’t cross picket lines. We also advise our members that they have an equal right not to cross a picket line. When we’re balloting it’s obviously against the law to instruct members how to vote, so it’s an individual choice when members walk up to work and there’s a picket line, those workers will make their own decision. I think there’s a strong position of solidarity among workers in Wales, particularly in the railway industry, so I suspect that many RMT workers if they saw a picket line they probably wouldn’t cross it even though they’re not officially part of that dispute.

vw: Grant Shapps wants attack strike action by laxing restrictions on employers using scab agency labour. What’s your response to that?

BK: It’s an ironic statement really. I’m not sure if they’re going to go ahead with that. In terms of this dispute I don’t think the lack of agency workers is a reason the trains won’t run. It’s not because workers of catering grade or cleaners are out, it’s because the signallers and key infrastructure staff aren’t working. They can’t maintain the track and maintain signalling. You’re not going to use agency to cover those workers in a billion lifetimes. They’re highly qualified, highly technical people on strike. The Trade Union Congress and other trade unions are taking that seriously because it could be used to undermine other forms of industrial action. It’s a bit of nonsense and I think it’s just to get headlines again for the Tories to attack unions.

vw: And Shapps trying to stop overtime for railway workers because of their strikes?

BK: It’s idiocy because overtime is not worked as a gift from the employer. It’s not something they do out of the goodness of their own hearts. It’s just stupidity. If he actually believes that it’s just stupidity. But it’s probably just lies and distortion to confuse people. Overtime is worked because it covers, often, short-staffing and without it the trains wouldn’t run. If he wanted to exacerbate the action he could do that. Effectively if he did that he would bring the industry to a halt, probably much quicker than we’re going to do.

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