Canadian rail workers express support for British rail strike

Rail workers across Canada are closely following the strike by 50,000 rail workers in Britain, which is developing into an open political confrontation with the Conservative government and the entire ruling elite. The strikers, who walked off the job for a day Tuesday and will do so again June 23, are being demonized by the Tory government and Labor Party opposition for demanding a living wage and decent working conditions.

A Canadian Pacific Railway locomotive in Calgary, Alberta. [Photo by Jason Corbett) / CC BY 4.0]

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has led the way among the European powers in funnelling vast amounts of weaponry to Ukraine to fuel the US-NATO war with Russia, has made clear his government’s determination to slash thousands of jobs, gut terms and conditions, and cut wages. Working people increasingly recognize that the ruling elite’s onslaught on rail workers is merely the beginning of a planned assault on the wages and conditions of all workers to foot the bill for war abroad and the enrichment of the financial oligarchy at home. As one striking British rail worker told the World Socialist Web Site, “The government wants to walk all over everybody. I think it needs a general strike. It’s been so obvious for a while now because it’s an attack on the working class. The rich are getting richer and there has never been so many millionaires and billionaires. It’s scandalous.”

Canadian rail workers know from first-hand experience the desperate conditions facing their British colleagues. Around 750 signals and communications workers at CN Rail have been on strike since Saturday to demand pay increases and improvements to work schedules. They are fighting a scheduling regime that sees them sent for weeks at a time to different regions away from their families.

A series of determined strikes in Canada for improved working conditions, an end to brutal scheduling regimes, and wage increases have been sold out over recent years through the combined efforts of the trade unions and threats of government intervention to criminalize job action.

In 2019, the Teamsters sabotaged a strike at CN Rail by bullying workers into accepting a concessions-filled contract whose terms they only learned weeks after returning to work. Earlier this year, the Teamsters ignored an overwhelming strike vote at CP Rail, allowing the company to lock out 3,000 conductors and engineers. The Teamsters then accepted binding arbitration to settle the dispute, an anti-democratic process that involves a government-appointed official imposing employment terms on the workers, who have no right to vote on or take collective action against them.

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