As government cuts proceed unabated, and employers tighten the screw to make us pay and drive up their profits, rail workers find ourselves fighting more and more disputes.
And those disputes are for higher and higher stakes, fought with seriousness and determination by both sides.
Just as a snapshot, we currently have disputes on (at least) First Great Western, Heathrow Express/Connect, several cleaning companies, Northern Rail, London Underground, London Midland, Balfour Beatty, and probably several more.
In many of these, the employer is fighting for keeps, throwing its whole weight into riding out strike action and refusing our demands. So we have to fight fire with fire. We have to throw our whole weight into our side too.
That means imaginative campaigning, appealing for support and solidarity to passengers and to the workers' movement, political pressure, resolute negotiation, and rank-and-file workers being informed and in control. It also means solid, sustained industrial action – and that will mean providing financial support to strikers so that we can keep going longer than the bosses can.
However committed workers are to a particular dispute, we can genuinely struggle financially. Unions often find themselves calling strikes for fewer days than they know would be effective because members have told reps that they can not afford more. Payments to alleviate hardship would enable longer, more effective action – and would send an important message to strikers that the union recognises the financial hardship of taking action.
There has long been a reluctance in our unions to provide strike pay. The argument tends to be that 'striking is all about sacrifice' and 'we don't pay people to go on strike'. But actually, striking should be all about winning, and we can pay people to strike if we choose to. A more credible argument is that there is a risk in having people rely on strike pay and therefore vulnerable to backing out if the money runs out. But we can combine building support for our strikes with raising funds for them, which should keep the money coming in. And the more solid the strike, the quicker it will win.
All our unions have funds that they can use to support strikers. If they pursue a serious strategy to build those funds, then they will have enough available when it is needed. Alongside this, branches can run their own funds, less formally if necessary.
Strike pay is part of our arsenal of weapons in industrial battles. Let's use it.