by Richie Venton, SSP national workplace organiser
· As the RMT union ballots 2,500 ScotRail workers for action in pursuit of an extremely reasonable pay claim, ScotRail bosses have come out all guns blazing with bloodcurdling threats to their staff if they dare pass comment on the issue.
RMT reps are angry and frustrated at the complete lack of movement by the bosses during extremely prolonged pay talks—which are actually seeking a pay rise for 2020, not for the future!
Abellio-ScotRail plead poverty in response, at the same time as they have been raking in public funding under the Emergency Measures Agreement (EMA) to deal with the impact of the Coronavirus.
Contrary to this Dutch state-owned company’s declarations of penury, research for the RMT has exposed the fact that a clutch of private rail companies have made a total of £28.5million profit under the EMA handouts.
£13million of the profits have been grabbed by train operating companies (TOCs) and £15million by those that supply the rolling stock (ROSCOs).
Bosses’ dirty methods
I’ve been contacted by a ScotRail worker who had just been subjected to a lecture from management as the entire workforce clocked on, warning them that any comments on the RMT pay dispute on social media could threaten them with severe disciplinary action.
ScotRail management are clearly determined to apply the ancient, dirty method of divide and conquer.
In their hectoring address to drivers and train crews, management tried to incite ASLEF members against those in the RMT, because many ASLEF drivers wish to give support to their RMT colleagues as they fight for a pay rise.
In a letter to every ScotRail worker, Chief Operating Officer Alex White went further by trying to divide TSSA members from the RMT, and denounce RMT members compared to nurses, doctors and care workers.
He tried to demoralise the 2,500 workers in the RMT by painting a picture of absolutely no public support in the event of a strike, and then proceeded to openly interfere in the vote declaring “if you are a member of the RMT please vote no to any strike or industrial action short of a strike.”
To round off the bosses’ intervention, he pronounced himself “happy to have individual or group discussions about this”, thereby trying to bypass the collectivism of the Union.
This whole episode also however highlights the role of the Scottish government. Abellio ScotRail bosses in their letter hide behind claims that the Scottish government has not given permission for pay talks with the RMT.
Furthermore, his threats about “doubts over the long-term sustainability of ScotRail” come just two months before the current lease expires in January 2021.
Yet the Scottish government has still said nothing about their plans for January. As the RMT rightly demands, this expiry should be used to bring the railway system into public ownership.
Of course, public ownership must be accompanied by proper public funding. But the profiteering during the pandemic—as highlighted by the RMT research—reinforces the case for democratic public ownership. They’ve shown the £28.5million profit is equivalent to a 7.4 per cent cut to passenger fares!
By removing the profiteering from the railway system—either for private companies or overseas state-owned outfits like Abellio—democratic re-nationalisation could fund an immediate cut to fares and cost of living pay rises for staff who have been on the frontline throughout the pandemic.
But if accompanied by taxation of the rich, this could lay the foundations of an expanded, integrated public transport network free at the point of use, to combat poverty, pollution and social isolation.