We know that job cuts are coming, thundering down the track towards us like a runaway freight train, loaded with attacks on our pay, conditions and pensions as well.
Wabtec has already announced job cuts at its Doncaster site, Heathrow Express is threatening to cut over a hundred posts, and we can be sure that more will follow. The best way to stem the flow is to fight effectively from the outset.
Most importantly, we need to decide to fight the attacks on our jobs and conditions! In a traumatised world with a damaged economy, it can be difficult to feel confident and belligerent about defending ourselves, but defend ourselves we must.
And we need to fight to win, not just to limit the damage. If our unions respond to redundancies by arguing about the terms, then we have already lost. Instead, let’s unite the whole workforce against any cuts in jobs: those who jobs are under threat, and also those who stand to keep their job but with greater workload and worse conditions because their workmates have been sacked.
We need imaginative and militant industrial action – occupations, strikes, ‘action short of strikes’ – in a coherent strategy drawn up by rank-and-file workers through democratic discussions in the unions.
Our resistance will be more effective if we put forward an alternative. The law allows unions to formally propose alternatives to redundancies. If our unions do this – proposing to save jobs and instead cut bosses’ pay, end outsourcing, and demand government funding – we can win support from the wider labour movement and community by publicising our positive vision for transport services. For example, if post-Covid austerity leads to accessibility improvement projects being scrapped, then disabled people's organisations will support our fight against this, defend our jobs as well as their access rights.
All the localised and company-specific fights will be stronger if we fight them as part of a national campaign. Such a campaign can make the political case against job cuts.
We can make the case for public transport. It is not a service just to passengers, but also to employers. We take their workers to work and their customers to their outlets every day. We literally help deliver their profits – it is only right that those profits be taxed to fund public transport, which in turn must be publicly-owned. In France, employers pay a ‘payroll tax’ towards public transport provision. Why not here?
Whenever there is a crisis, there is a struggle between the capitalist class and the working class as to which will pay for it. We don’t need to start a class war, as it is already brewing and will soon start to boil: we need to fight our side of it. The cost of Coronavirus needs to be borne by the broadest shoulders. The rich and big business can pay.
Instead, if the Tories and employers get their way, rail and transport workers, who they lauded as key workers and heroes at the peak of the pandemic, will be discarded as collateral damage afterwards. And while it is unusual for us to express any sympathy with the rail companies, there is a bitter irony in transport providers now being penalised for doing the right thing and telling people not to travel. If they had refused to do so, they would have drawn more revenue and suffered less financially – but thousands more people would be dead.