Supporters of the rank and file railworkers’ bulletin Off The Rails (OTR) met in Birmingham on May 5th. Under the title “Making our unions fit to fight”, the meeting brought together activists from various disputes to share experiences and discuss how what we learned from each other could be used to make the unions more effective and membership led.
First up was a report from the recent Metronet engineering workers’ victory on LUL. This highlighted the advantage for workers in having an elected strike committee that could organise propaganda, demand solidarity from other grades and counter pressure from union HQ to accept poor deals.
From action taken at Central Trains we learnt why unions need a change of tack so that strike days are held on working week days to increase their effectiveness, and why in general it is not a good idea to have two disputes running at the same time.
We also had reports from last year’s Network Rail operational dispute, LUL Service Control and Shorter Working Week. A common theme throughout all the contributions was the necessity for better communication between the union and its members and the union and the public.
We also looked ahead to up and coming disputes including that over Railway pensions and a warning was given that unions must not sacrifice the benefits of new starters to save those of long serving workers. This has happened recently with public sector pensions, and similarly on One Railway, where the union agreed that less experienced drivers would get reduced pay to fund bigger increases for longer serving drivers.
With our focus on solidarity and rank and file organising, we also discussed the merits of the unions’ international campaigns which we found concentrated too much on leaders and not enough on solidarity with workers in struggle.
In the last session we examined ways of generalising our experience and here the role of motions to union AGMs was brought up. And finally a lot of the previous discussion was distilled into a useful list of dispute “dos and don’ts” which will be available in the next edition of OTR.