Diane Abbott MP: Of course RMT members deserve our support

'It seems surprising to me that anyone in the labour movement should see it any other way, when the RMT’s case is so clear-cut.'

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It’s not that long ago that Boris Johnson was dismissing any criticism from a TV interviewer of the enormous Covid deaths and abysmal cancer survival rates by saying he should be judged on high pay. How times have changed.

It is clear that Boris Johnson understands little and cares less about the economy or the economic well-being of the vast majority of the population.

Instead, he should be seen as a mouthpiece for wider interests. Wider here meaning stretching as far as the 1%. How else can anyone explain that he and all his ministers are preaching pay restraint and the dangers of a ‘wage-price spiral’ to ordinary people clobbered by rising prices, but is simultaneously lifting the cap on City bonuses? 

And this is not a one-off. In the Spring Statement the Chancellor raised National Insurance Contributions including on some of the lowest paid workers while simultaneously extending a tax cut to bankers. He was cheered to the rafters by the Tory backbenchers, who seem as ignorant as their leader about the economic consequences of their policies.

This is the context in which the government have launched an all-out propaganda assault on the RMT union and other potential strikers. This government is brazen in its financial support for the 1% and blatant in its vilification of anyone from the 99% who steps forward in an attempt to defend their jobs, their (and our safety) and resist huge cuts in real terms pay.

This is all that the RMT members are doing, and I fully support them in it. The entire labour movement should support them too and anyone else who takes the brave decision to begin industrial action. It seems surprising to me that anyone in the labour movement should see it any other way, when the RMT’s case is so clear-cut.

Essentially, RMT members are finally being offered a 2% pay increase after years of wage freezes. This is at a time when CPI inflation has reached 9.1%, with no sign that this is definitively the peak. They are also supposed to accept 2,000 redundancies and worse, less safe conditions and are told to feel grateful. Network Rail alone made profits of £1.6 billion in the last financial year, so there is no question of a decent pay rise being ‘unaffordable’.

This is clearly an ‘offer’ designed to provoke industrial action, along with the absence of meaningful negotiations. Ministers’ refusal to attend negotiations, too busy demonising rail workers, simply underscores that it is the government that wants this fight for political and strategic reasons.

Politically it believes its campaign of misinformation (ASLEF, not RMT organises most train drivers, for one) will win supporters, because of the genuine inconvenience any rail strike can cause.  But it is not so straight-forward and public opinion is firmly against the closure of ticket offices, part of the ‘reforms’ package.

Strategically, ever since austerity began in earnest in 2010, Tory governments have carried out policies such as those outlined above, transferring incomes and wealth from poor to rich and from workers to business. Robin Hood in reverse.

But none of this has worked. The economy continues to crawl along at a snail’s pace and living standards are plummeting. Rather than reverse course, this government is doubling down on a failed strategy. Bankers, landlords, chief executives and shareholders can all enjoy inflation of incomes. Workers, pensioners and the poor must accept big real cuts.

This is why the RMT’s fight is so important. It is the first big, determined anti-austerity fightback. Of course, they have a right to expect all our support.

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