For united strike action by London Underground, bus and rail workers to defeat the Tory-Labour cuts! Money for transport and essential services, not war!

This month’s strikes in the London Underground have shown the social power of the working class, bringing much of London to a standstill. London tube workers are battling £400million in job cuts, conditions and pensions, with services on which millions depend at risk of decimation.

London Underground sign next to Big Ben in Westminster, London. (Wikimedia Commons)

Just two days of strikes on March 1 and 3 by station staff, drivers, track and signal crews from the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union suspended services across the network, the number of passengers having fallen by more than 95%. The strikes have won widespread sympathy, including from drivers covered by the ASLEF union and tens of thousands of London bus drivers, railway, DLR and ferry crews.

Commuters hit by a new round of fare increases on March 2 have common cause with transport workers. London has one of the most unaffordable transport systems in the world and the latest 4.8% hike will hit the poor the hardest. The week of the strike, bus and rail workers left messages on social media supporting the position of their colleagues and demanding joint action to fight the biggest cuts in transport services in the history of the city.

The Conservative government has seized on Transport for London’s (TfL) financial crisis, triggered by a collapse in fare revenue during the pandemic, to impose savage cuts and privatisation. Its emergency ‘bailout’ plans are an exercise in Thatcherite economics, used to extract new ‘efficiencies’. Since 2015, central government subsidies to TfL have been reduced, making TfL dependent on passenger revenue to cover operating costs. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is doling out billions of dollars to private rail and bus companies, while demanding that London’s transport authority be fully “autonomous”.

On the London Underground, 600 job cuts have already begun among station staff, while a pensions review commissioned by Labor Mayor of London Sadiq Khan aims to cut £100m a year the program, ending any prospect of a secure retirement for subway drivers. .

Last December, RMT’s Mick Lynch, ASLEF’s Mick Whelan and Unite’s Peter Kavanagh pledged joint strikes to counter government cuts. But, as usual, the unions agree to block any fight. ASLEF, which represents most metro drivers, has not even officially joined this month’s two-day strike despite a 99% vote by its members. The TSSA did not vote for office staff. Unite’s refusal to hold a London-wide ballot for its more than 20,000 bus drivers and ferry workers will surprise no one.

foot of war

The struggles of transport workers unfold amid a global pandemic and a war in Ukraine that have transformed class relations in every country. This is why the Johnson government and the press responded with hysterical denunciations of the tube strike. the Telegraph, Daily mail and evening standard launched a witch hunt denouncing RMT members as “Putin’s stooges” and “the enemy underground”, reviving Margaret Thatcher’s designation of British miners as “the enemy within”.

Overnight, transport workers have gone from “frontline heroes” to ungrateful traitors “holding capital to ransom”. More than 103 TfL workers have lost their lives to COVID-19 over the past two years. After sacrificing their security to advance London, they are now being forced to foot the bill for trillions in bailout funds pumped into the financial markets and to pay for an arms race against Russia and China that threatens World War III.

War abroad means war against the working class at home. The same week as the tube strike, the FinancialTimes said British participation in the NATO war against Russia would mean “economic pain”, while Sunday Telegraph editor Allister Heath said NATO expansion would mean “significant spending cuts” for the national health service, social care, pensions and “many other unnecessary subsidies”.

In times of war, the ruling class appears strong because it concentrates all its economic, social and ideological resources against a foreign threat. But the need for war arises from a deep weakness, above all from the rise of class conflict at home, rooted in a malignant growth of social inequality that has reached the breaking point. The working class wants to fight but is grappling with organizations that oppose the necessary struggle against financial and corporate interests and against the state.

Private property

The RMT, ASLEF, TSSA and Unite are focusing their unnecessary appeals on Mayor Khan, urging him to take a stand against the Tory government. Khan looks wistfully at Johnson, hoping for a reprieve while asking his own finance executives and bankers to make the necessary cuts.

Nationally, the Tories are following the same playbook, plotting billions in cuts through the Rail Industry Recovery Group the government set up in December 2020, and which has been joined by rail unions who help prepare cuts.

Johnson, Khan and Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer all say the ‘sacrifice’ and ‘pain’ are necessary because there is ‘no money’ for transport and other essential services. But their war measures against the property of Russian oligarchs are instructive. Overnight, mansions, super yachts, football clubs and other assets were seized. Why stop there? Russia does not have a monopoly on the oligarchs.

Last year, Forbes reported that 56 British billionaires had increased their wealth by £46.5billion from the previous year and were worth around £163billion. The ‘top 10’ British oligarchs, James Ratcliffe, the Hinduja brothers, Michael Platt, James Dyson, Ian and Richard Livingstone, Anthony Bamford and his family, David and Simon Reuben, Denise Coates and Christopher Hohn, have a combined wealth of 76 billion pounds sterling—enough to fund the modernization of London transport over the next decade, including affordable fares and better pay and conditions for the entire workforce.

Britain’s defense spending is another massive drain on social resources. Last year, the UK’s defense budget was £162 billion according to a report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The UK has overtaken India to become the world’s third biggest defense spender, after the US and China, with the Johnson government announcing an extra £16.5billion for the military budget over the past four coming years. This money is urgently needed for the NHS and to end homelessness and poverty.

Create rank-and-file committees

Unions are tied to business, Labor and the Conservative government by a thousand threads. To defeat the agenda of the Johnson government, workers must establish complete political independence from Khan and the pro-capitalist unions and devise a strategy to win. The needs of the working class must come before those of the London Stock Exchange and the financial oligarchy!

London Underground workers on strike this month. (RMT Piccadilly & District West Branch Twitter)

Rank and file committees should be elected in each workplace, led by trusted colleagues, to formulate the main demands of workers and organize united action for their realization. Applications must include:

  • Reject all cuts! Boycott all negotiations aimed at their application, including participation in the Johnson government’s Rail Industry Recovery Group!
  • Hands off workers’ pensions! All transport workers should receive a guaranteed living income in retirement.
  • No price increase! Fares must be made affordable because public transport is a basic human right.
  • The pandemic is not over! COVID-19 protections for all TfL workers and passengers must be mandatory, including face masks, transparent reporting of workplace infections, effective track and trace, and full pay for all sick or sick workers. self-isolated.
  • A 25% pay rise for all London transport workers to make up for decades of wage cuts and runaway inflation.

To win their fight, rank-and-file committees will need to forge links beyond transport, with workers in the NHS, warehouses and logistics, telecoms and other sectors in the UK, Europe and the UK. international. This struggle requires a new revolutionary leadership in the working class. We urge transport workers who agree to contact the Socialist Equality Party and provide feedback. All information will be treated confidentially.

Bonny J. Streater