Britain’s biggest rail union is the National Union of Rail Maritime and Transport Workers [RMT] that represents close to 50,000 rail workers. Despite coming under frequent media attack the organisation has, through its defence of workers terms and conditions, increasingly attracted more workers into becoming members, with levels up by nearly a third in the last decade.
Andy Boyack, a Scotsman with a passion for Dundee FC, works in the unions Liverpool headquarters and was good enough to answer some questions outlining the RMT’s views on current developments on the railways.
|Newcastle Central Station in 1974|
How concerned is the RMT that the safety levels on Britain’s railways are not as good as they might be?
Very concerned, as the widespread use of poorly regulated Contractors continues on the Infrastructure and the drive for shareholders’ profit dominates the policy of the Train Operating Companies.
Wouldn’t an integrated publicly owned railway only be of benefit to railway workers and not passengers and taxpayers?
The answer is largely within the question; in the organisation of transport, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that Integrated out performs non integrated every time. As does publicly owned and accountable as opposed to a system that is designed to take public money out of the railways and into the pockets of shareholders who don’t actually contribute anything.
How damaging do you feel the break up of Network Rail might be?
It will leave an already fragmented railway in pieces and even less able to meet the needs of business and the travelling public. Furthermore, it will take us back to the days and dangers of Hatfield [*] and other avoidable rail disasters.
Largely because a significant percentage of taxpayer’s investment ends up being siphoned off by the fat cats, with rail passengers being used as share dividend cash cows. Clearly the road lobby is running Britain’ transport policy and the benefits of proper rail investment as demonstrated in France, Spain and Germany, for example, is ignored by successive governments.
Would the RMT accept that in these straightened economic times the forgoing of an annual wage increase by railworker’s is necessary to help with Britain’s economic recovery? Wouldn’t holding back on a wage increase also help protect people’s jobs?
The nature of this question is insulting to working people whether they work on the railway, or in schools, hospitals or factories; it also ignores economic reality; When RPI is in excess of 5% a 4% pay deal is in fact a reduction in earnings. Why should workers pay for the Iraq war and Banker’s bonuses? Amongst our members are cleaners, catering and security staff whose pay is often little more than the minimum wage and getting a pay increase is absolutely vital to them and their families.
What needs to be done to get more freight off the roads and onto the rail network?
The political will would be a start.
Some people might argue that the RMT should stick to representing workers and keep its noses out of political affairs, how might you respond to such a point?
Ah so we shouldn’t be negotiating “wage increases” for our members, nor seeking to represent their political interests? The vast majority of our members support and respect the role the RMT plays as a democratic, campaigning and fighting trade union.
How concerned is the RMT about the political direction of the coalition government?
The Condem Coalition is driven solely by right wing political dogma and a hatred of working people, organised labour and education. Wouldn’t you be concerned?
The Government intends spending billions on a new high speed rail link between London and the Midlands - is this something the RMT welcomes or does it feel the money might be more wisely invested elsewhere?
Our worry is that this line is being constructed not for the benefit of the travelling public or industry, but to further enhance the profits of the Train Operating Companies.
Why is the RMT supporting rail workers who want to go on strike?
The right to collectively withdraw one’s labour is enshrined in international law and human rights; the RMT has a record second to none in pursuing the aspirations of members and in improving their pay and conditions – we are NOT one of the corporate unions.
Why did the union recently mount a legal challenge to the laws on striking?
We not only mounted the challenge, but also won on all three counts, also securing costs from the employer (Serco) who had sought to deny RMT members the basic right to strike. We will support our members every time in this type of situation.
For more on this see http://www.newlawjournal.co.uk/nlj/content/unions-strike-back
[*] The Hatfield disaster occurred on October 17th 2000 and resulted in the deaths of four passengers when a GNER Intercity 225 bound for Leeds was derailed at Hatfield by a broken track. Infrastructure operator Railtrack, the company founded under the privatisation policies of the Conservative Government of 1979-1997, had previously been heavily criticised after fatal accidents at Southall in 1997 and Ladbroke Grove in 1999.
Having allowed multiple maintenance contractors onto the tracks Railtrack’s rail maintenance records were shown to be inadequate or non-existent. With the company unable to say whether similar disasters were just around the corner the result was a speed restriction on many parts of the rail network. With its share price falling and, with compensation claims to settle, Railtrack recorded massive losses and was placed into administration by Transport Secretary Stephen Byers in October 2001.
A year later Network Rail was established, a ‘not for dividend’ private company limited by guarantee. According to Andy the RMT’s relationship with the company is “an uneasy one”, because whilst the union would prefer the railways to be re-taken into public ownership they prefer Network Rail to a “fully privatised company.”
Network Rail has since its formation steadily taken on more maintenance duties itself, a move the RMT supports and one it hopes the newly elected coalition government will not tamper with in the near future.