RMT has accepted the lousy offer from Network Rail, as the majority of reps went along with the leadership's line that it was all that could be achieved for now, and that the union could break an offer it had signed up to at a later stage.
So Network Rail workers are now saddled with an RPI-only pay rise for the next two years, in other words a pay freeze in real terms. There are no significant improvements in working conditions, and an explicit statement that while there will be no compulsory redundancies for the next two years, this guarantee will end and not be renewed in 2021. Apparently, the union's plan is to fight compulsory redundancies once the policy barring them has expired.
The biggest disappointment is the lack of consideration of what could have been won by fighting for more. It is as though the extent of our ambitions is what we can persuade management of in talks. But management's job is to give us as little as possible, so if we limit ourselves to what they willingly offer, we will never get much!
RMT did not even put the offer out to a referendum of its members, feeling that because the reps had discussed and agreed it, the members did not need a direct say. Many members were preparing to vote No in a referendum, and are now shocked that their reps accepted the deal.
Alarmingly, RMT declared this result to be an 'inflation-busting' pay deal. It is not. The pay rise is exactly the RPI rate for the relevant month in each year. It is no higher. Yes, it 'busts' Grayling's pathetic attempt to link pay rises to CPI rather than RPI, but fighting off a real-terms pay cut in order to stand still is hardly 'inflation-busting'. It is dishonest to dress up this deal in this way.
There is no point denying that the acceptance of this is a major setback for Network Rail workers. We now have two years to turn this around. Although in our view, the strategy of agreeing to the end of the 'no compulsory redundancies' policy with the intention of reneging on two years' time is pretty daft, now the deal is done we will have no choice but to do this.
If we are to have any chance of defeating the job cuts that Network Rail is clearly preparing for 2021 onwards, we have to build union strength now. We can become strong enough to fight if we develop a belligerent attitude now, pushing for improvements in our working conditions locally as well as nationally, signing everyone up to the union, and developing activists and reps. This includes encouraging debate and discussion about strategies, learning from past mistakes, and not just going along with everything that union leaders say.
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