Scotrail Disputes Continue But Falter

Posted in Off The Rails's blog on Sat, 31/07/2021 - 13:56,
Scotrail station

Scotrail conductors and ticket examiners continue to strike for pay justice every Sunday, with RMT naming dates until September. They also continue to refuse to work overtime or higher-grade duties.

But with the ballot’s six-month legal mandate expiring then, there is no news of a re-ballot and workers are less and less sure where this dispute is going.

Other grades are joining the industrial action, albeit in a rather faltering way, largely due to anti-strike ballot thresholds:

  • At the end of July, team managers voted for strike action so that they can not be made to cover the work of other grades when they are taking action.
  • Gateline staff will refuse overtime and rest-day working from 11 August, but can not lawfully strike after falling short of the onerous and unfair ballot thresholds imposed by the 2016 Trade Union Act. A clear majority voted to strike, but at 38.7%, the proportion of those entitled to vote who sent in a Yes-to-strike vote fell 1.3% short of the 40% required by law. The vote for ‘action short of strikes’ did meet the thresholds. (Funnily enough, Scotrail did not have to ballot anyone before deciding to refuse pay enhancements to any grade other than drivers.)
  • Cleaners (traincare) had a similar ballot result, and have been refusing overtime and higher-grade working since June.
  • Engineering staff voted by a sizeable majority for strikes and action short, but with 83 of 167 union members voting, fell just half a vote short of the turnout threshold. It is an indictment of how unfair and ridiculous the law is that if one more member had vote No, the ballot would have got a legal Yes result!

Conductors and ticket examiners remain solid in their action, helped by the fact that it is nice to have Summer Sundays off! Sundays are outside the working week for these grades, and every Sunday strike sees no trains running north of Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Along with the pernicious effects of the anti-union laws, the biggest problem with this dispute is the lack of rank-and-file involvement in driving it. Scotrail workers have been telling Off The Rails of their frustration at the lack of clarity on the union’s strategy. Here at OTR, we reckon that disputes are at their most effective when rank-and-file members decide the strategy – but if that is not happening, then at least they should be told what it is!

There have been no mass meetings (even online), little presence from officers and precious little information from the union. Pickets are not happening any more. As far as rank-and-file workers can see, there seems to be no plan, no talks – just silence.

The dispute is well supported but directionless, mainly due to a lack of rank-and-file involvement in deciding and monitoring the strategy. Reps and activists feel that they are being treated like foot-soldiers rather than being consulted about the strategy.

If RMT wants to win its re-ballot, then it needs to raise its game. Members will continue to fight if they have confidence in the union and its strategy.

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