As Off The Rails went to press, RMT members on Network Rail were balloting on whether to accept the company’s latest pay offer.
Strikes, involving RMT and TSSA, were initially planned for 24-25 May, but both unions suspended the strikes after Network Rail made a revised pay offer.
Consultation with reps and members in RMT returned overwhelming opposition to the new deal, and the union named new strike dates, for 4-5 and 9-11 June.
The company’s second improved offer involved a 2% increase in year one, RPI in year two, and some very ambiguous language about whether the pay increase would be tied to (i.e., funded) by “efficiencies” such as potential job cuts.
Off The Rails supporters on Network Rail will be voting against the deal. With such a solid initial mandate for action, more could have been won.
We spoke to a Network Rail worker about the dispute:
“There's a lot of dissatisfaction at the decision to suspend the strikes. There was a feeling from many in RMT that the leadership had failed to lead by suspending the strike for such a paltry offer. I feel the leadership misread the situation and missed the chance to have a big impact by affecting Bank Holiday engineering works. The second offer is not much of an improvement. 2% is still not a substantial increase, and pegging the increase in year two to RPI is very risky. Hopefully we can reinstate action and push for a better deal, but it may now be difficult to remobilise people after strikes have been suspended twice.
“The leadership's claim is that they were acting democratically and accountably by suspending the strike in order to consult members on the new offer, but there's no reason why the strike had to be suspended for that consultation to take place. The democratic mandate for strikes has already been provided by the overwhelming votes, on large turnouts, to reject the first offer and then to strike.
“Part of the problem is that we don't have a specific demand that we're fighting for. There's a problem with demanding a “substantial increase in the rates of pay”, rather than a specific flat-rate increase, as it's vague and leaves a lot open to interpretation. If we had a specific demand, we'd know that any improved offer would have to come up to that for us to consider suspending strikes. There are problems and limitations with making specific demands too, but it's an approach that needs to be considered.
“The dissatisfaction needs to be channelled into union structures and we need a productive debate about how disputes are conducted.”