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Courtesy RMT Young Members / Twitter

‘We don’t want chaos’: The real reasons young RMT workers are striking

‘Some of the cleaners are homeless, they’re working six days a week, full time, and sleeping at a bus shelter at night’

This week, thousands of members of RMT (the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport workers) will go on strike. 

The strike is an expression of the democratic will of RMT’s members: 89 per cent of whom voted in favour of the action. This is a resounding mandate, which exceeds even the deliberately high threshold the Tories brought in with the 2016 Trade Union Act, in an obvious attempt to thwart the labour movement.

Since the strike was announced, there has been a huge media effort to delegitimize the action (such as the focus on train drivers’ salaries, which is specifically not what this is about). Just today, for example, the BBC published an article about the “life events” people were being forced to miss, which included a woman being unable to attend a concert by a prog-rock band and a man worried that he might miss his stag do. It’s true that some people will be inconvenienced by the strike (the government, by allegedly preventing train companies from negotiating freely, bears ultimate responsibility for this), but it’s worth looking at the bigger picture: as well as improving the lives of workers, this campaign is also concerned with ensuring a safer passenger experience for everyone. The strike also demonstrates that people have the power to act collectively for better pay and working conditions, which will hopefully serve as a catalyst for workers elsewhere to do the same thing. When you look at the terrible state of the UK at present, it’s clear that a resurgent labour movement which fights for the rights of ordinary people can only be a good thing. 

Because of the patchwork and privatised nature of Britain’s railway system, the strike involves several different companies, meaning that many of the people striking face different challenges at work and have different demands, involving pay, pensions, working conditions and more.  But in coming together as a collective, they are supporting one another in their struggles. Below, four young RMT members share their own reasons for striking, and explain why this is such an important cause.


“I’ve worked on the railway just shy of five years now. In terms of the job I do, there have been a lot of problems regarding rosters. People are having to work extremely long days where they might work four trips in total, which can last over 12 hours. There have been a lot of rosters imposed on us, without any opportunities for them to be risk assessed or agreed upon by the union. They have simply stripped us of rest days and put the bare minimum amount of rest period in between shifts, which has left people extremely fatigued. The railway relies heavily on overtime and people being prepared to do work outside of their hours, and be as flexible as possible. This national campaign isn’t just about pay – it’s about workers not caving into being exploited by big bosses earning six-figure salaries. It’s about workers fighting for what they deserve.

“There is a huge amount of regret about the fact that people have had to cancel plans. But we’re looking at the long term: if the government goes ahead and uses COVID as a smokescreen to get rid of hundreds of workers, it will ultimately make the rail service less safe for passengers. I’m also hoping a lot of public sector workers will be inspired by the RMT, because nurses, teachers, doctors, police officers, and firefighters deserve a better payroll and better quality working conditions – just as much as railway workers. Collectively, as a public sector workforce, we’ve got to stand up to these bullies who want to make the poor even poorer, while transferring even more wealth to the rich.” 


“I clean the Southern trains, but I’m out-sourced to a private company called the Churchill group. We’ve been in dispute with them since January. We had about three or four demos before we actually balloted for strike action. We have also organised a petition, which anyone can sign.

“It’s much harder to organise strike action when you’re working for an outsourced company. Signing people up to RMT is about standing together and waking up to the realisation we’re all in the same boat. We’ve all got to fight this fight, because we can’t keep going on like this. Some of the cleaners are homeless, they’re working six days a week, full time, and sleeping at a bus shelter at night. 

“At the moment, we don’t get subsidized travel, and I’ve heard of cleaners paying 500 pounds a month to get to work on a train that they’re going to be cleaning when they arrive. If you’re only taking home about £1200 a month, that’s a massive chunk of your income. Most train staff have full travel facilities, meaning free travel, whereas the cleaners don’t get anything at all. Many cleaners actually travel to work by bus because it’s cheaper, even though it takes them about two hours to get to their station.

“I became active in the Union during the pandemic. I had to take time off work because my mum was diagnosed with cancer and I had to look after her. Despite working for the company for three years at that point, they only offered me “unpaid sabbatical leave” for six months. The union was very supportive, they would check in on me more than my line manager would, ask how my mum was doing, and offer me support. But I got nothing at all from the company. 

“We want company sick pay, £15 pound an hour or at least a roadmap to that within a reasonable timeframe, and obviously some form of travel facilities. And I think one of our main goals is to end outsourcing, because it has no place anywhere. All it does is create a race to the bottom for these private firms to get the contract and squeeze as much out of people as possible.”


“I work at the maintenance depot as a train maintainer, fixing trains. I’ve worked for London Underground for five years and I’ve been doing this job for a year. I became involved in the trade union when I was doing my apprenticeship, and we were told that we would lose our jobs as apprentices due to a lack of funding. So I got quite heavily involved to make sure everyone in my year was looked after. In the end, everyone got a job thanks to the union.

As for this strike, we fell into dispute when we heard the company might be coming for our pensions, restructuring our organisation, changing our terms and conditions, and also potentially making job cuts. This is to cover the bailouts during the COVID period, when we had a lack of passengers, but it’s also an ideological battle between the Tory government and the unions. We just re-balloted, and we’ll be getting the results at the end of the month. The government’s waiting to see if we lose, and if we do, then I guarantee you the company will be taking our pensions. The RMT has demanded that we have some insight on what their plans are for the pensions and they’re refusing to tell us. That’s partly why we are going on strike.”


“I work at Birmingham New Street Station as a train dispatcher, ensuring the safety of passengers and the trains coming into the station. I’ve been there for around five years. My dad worked for the railways for 25 years and as soon as I started the job he recommended that I join the union. Within the last few years, I’ve been more heavily involved in the RMT Young Members, where I’m the vice-chair.

“The main thing for myself is pay. Because of the cost of living crisis and inflation being so high, to be denied a pay rise for the third year in a row has really made people think, what are we doing wrong? Why are we not being treated as well as we were before COVID? And how are they still using this as an excuse when passenger numbers are back up to nearly normal?  

“We’ve always been on a good wage – and we’re not saying that we’re not. However, now, thanks to this pay freeze, we’ve got people at our work having to go to food banks. We also want to make sure that no redundancies come in. We’ve seen what happened with P&O Ferries at the beginning of this year with them just sacking 800 people. Not a lot of people in our industry would take redundancy. For a lot of us, our railway careers are just beginning. I don’t want to be forced out just because they don’t want to pay.

“We don't want to cause chaos. We don’t want to bring this country to a halt. That is not our intention. We’re not there to cause trouble. We just want to stand in solidarity for better terms and conditions, no compulsory redundancies, and better pay. That’s all we want. If other unions can do that for their members, I think it's the best way to go about it.”