Unions gather to support striking train workers at Wolverhampton pickets
Representatives from a wide array of trade unions gathered at Wolverhampton Railway Station in solidarity with striking train workers.
Members of the The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) at 14 train operating companies took to the pickets nationwide on Thursday in a long-running row over pay, jobs and conditions.
In particular, strikers were protesting over pay proposals falling below inflation and the proposed move towards driver-only trains.
RMT and ASLEF members were joined by striking workers from various sectors, including teachers, bus drivers, and lecturers.
Representatives from the NEU, UCU, TUC, FBU, Unite, and the Wolverhampton, Bilston and District Trades Council showed their support to striking train workers on the picket line.
Neal Cooper from ASLEF, Britain's trade union for train drivers, addressed the crowd at the rally and said: "Good afternoon brothers and sisters from the famously overpaid train drivers of ASLEF.
"What we are seeing in this country today is a failure of privatisation in action. What we have on the railway is an attempt to bolster profits at the expense of the workers who work in the industry.
"We have been asked to take a pay cut again, with inflation going through the roof, and our colleagues in the RMT are fighting for their very existence in places like ticket offices and the role of a guard on the trains.
"Many drivers want to keep the guards on the train. We have long trains full of people who have been out enjoying themselves, many of whom on their way home don't always share the enjoyment they've had that evening with the train crew that are trying to get them home.
"We want to fight against the dangerous move towards driver-only operation."
He went on to say: "We as train drivers have seen what is being done to fire fighters, to the police, to teachers, to many other workers who have seen their pensions attacked and their terms and conditions made worse, because they and their friends want to make profits out of us at our expense.
"With inflation as it is, we are now being asked to pay for the mistakes that the Conservative governments have made over the last 13 years. The last Prime Minister we had nearly bankrupted the country within 48 hours.
"And here we are being asked to put outside our demands for the good of the country. We are the people that don't put the money we get in the Cayman Islands and abroad.
"We spend it in the hospitality industry and on day-to-day living. If our economy is ever going to pick up, we need to fight for the pay rise we deserve.
"One message always stands through years and years of trade unions - Unity. We will win if we stay united, we will win if we don't turn against each other, we will win if we don't listen to the likes of the newspapers who tell us someone else is robbing us, and that it's not the Tory bankers who put all their money offshore. Those are the people we should have our eye on."
A representative of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), Adam Joyce, also addressed the crowd, saying: "The Government are hellbent on watering down and removing our right to strike.
"And let's be honest, they have got a cheek criticising people who take strike action because this Government are the experts on being on strike. Because if strike means not turning up for work and doing what you normally get paid to do, then these lot have been on strike for 13 years.
"When it comes to working to protect the most vulnerable in society, these lot have been on strike. When it comes to ensuring dignity and inclusion for disabled people, they have been on strike. When it comes to ensuring decent and safe homes for all, these lot have been on strike.
"And now when it comes to doing the grown-up thing and negotiating, once again, they are on strike.
"We've got a Government who don't want to govern, they are public servants that do not want to serve. The only difference between them and us is when we walk out the doors, we lose our wages.
"During the pandemic, they carried suitcases full of wine back over to the disco, but fair play to them, they did take the occasional break from the partying to stand outside Downing Street to clap for you and I.
"But now we know the clapping is well and truly over. It seems it's time now to try to turn the country against us as we fight for a better future and we have the audacity to take strike action, then they threaten that they will sack us."
He added: "Under their proposals when we have been sacked, we will not have a right to claim unfair dismissal. The Minimum Services Level Bill is nothing more than the Tories's latest attempt to suppress our wages and to hamper the progress of the organised working class, harping on about some rubbish about public safety.
"The irony will not be lost on any of you here. Of course, we would have loved to have had the Minimum Services Level day to day for the last decade. Fire engines every day sit idle unused in fire stations due to no-one being able to staff them.
"The Government have no interest in public safety. They couldn't care less about providing safe levels of service. This is not complicated. So let's be clear, this is their attempt having sniffed an opportunity to push down our wages and limit our ability to defend ourselves.
"The right to strike has always been and always will be the only real tool the working people have to affect real change. Nothing we have ever won has been gifted to us. We never improve our pay, our terms and conditions by keeping our heads down, sitting quietly and just hoping for the best, and we never make progress by hoping politicians might one day rise up to our rescue.
"Turning up like you have done today in the freezing cold, representing your unions and your fellow workers is something you should be proud of.
"We should not and will not sit in the shadows hoping for that better day.
"Members of the unions here in Wolverhampton today are the hardworking, undervalued, underpaid backbone of our country. We have a collective voice that simply cannot be silenced and cannot be ignored. In unity, there is strength.
"As proud trade union members we should continue to organise and struggle, and as a last resort, be willing to take strike action. That is the only way that we can make ourselves heard.
"For some of you here today, this may be the first time you have ever taken industrial action and that will have been an incredibly difficult decision, and for that, I personally applaud you.
"Tell your colleagues, tell your friends, tell your family, explain to them what your trade union is doing for you and for the working people.
"And finally, I've got to send a resounding message from the Fire Brigades Union to you all today. We stand with you side by side. Total respect to you all."
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the RMT, told the PA news agency that the industrial dispute was "stuck in a deadlock" and that the latest offer aimed at stopping the strikes was "underfunded".
Mr Lynch said: "The Government backs up the train operating companies and gives them their mandate.
"They've offered a pay proposal that's 5 per cent for last year and 4 per cent for the coming year, which is way below the rate of inflation.
"But they've said all of those pay increases such as they are - which amount to pay cuts - have got to be funded by changes to our members' working conditions.
"So it's a self-funded pay rise really, and that's very difficult for us because the conditions they're putting on that deal are just not acceptable to our people.
"So we're stuck in a deadlock really where the offer is underfunded, the conditions are not acceptable and we haven't got a way forward."
Passengers have also been warned to expect disruption on future strike dates - Saturday, March 18, Thursday, March 30 and Saturday, April 1.