Once again, Stoke has become the site of another important workers' dispute. Workers at Axiom, a railway maintenance firm in Fenton have been on strike two days a week since mid-November over pay. The background of the dispute from the perspective of our local newspaper, The Sentinel, is here. The article below by Andy Bentley of Stoke Socialist Party is taken from this week's Socialist. It goes into more depth than the mainstream piece above and reports that resolve on the picket line is stiffening. Readers are also urged to send messages of solidarity the strikers, which can be done via Andy's email at AndyBentley3 at hotmail.com.
Stoke Axiom workers escalate the action
The strike action being taken by Axiom Rail workers in Stoke for a pay increase has rocked the management. They thought workers would just accept being treated like second class citizens for ever - being paid £4 an hour less than workers doing the same jobs at other Axiom sites.
Bosses are bringing in scabs in an attempt to break the strike but the first 'casualty' has been a top manager who is now taking voluntary redundancy. The fact that this comes just days after a visit to the Stoke site by top bosses of parent company DB Shenker has got workers asking if he jumped or was he pushed. Striking every Monday and Friday, the action is already into its fifth week with the mood on the picket line becoming even more determined.
The fact that Axiom are paying different wage rates to workers who do the same work at different sites is an attack not just on workers at Stoke but on all Axiom workers.
How long before they try to drive down the wages of higher paid workers to the level of lower paid workers in a 'race to the bottom'? Therefore, it's in the interest of all Axiom workers that pay parity is achieved, taking all workers up to the highest levels.
Axiom bosses have already demonstrated their intention to attack all Axiom Rail workers by imposing a pay freeze this year (in effect a pay cut). Like many other bosses across Britain in both public and private sectors they are trying to use the economic crisis and the fear created by growing mass unemployment as an opportunity to drive down pay and conditions and attack the rights of union reps to represent their members. Management bullying is also on the increase over things like sick pay.
It's for these reasons that the strike at Stoke should not be left isolated and should be fought nationally by their union Unite. This struggle represents a fight for equal pay rates for all Axiom Rail workers doing the same jobs.
In an important step forward, Stoke Axiom workers are now escalating their action by visiting other Axiom sites to build support for their strike.
Axiom is part of DB Schenker Rail (UK) which in turn is part of the state owned German company Deutsche Bahn which operates at over 2,000 sites in about 130 countries, including now running the Tyne and Wear Metro (see above).
In the six months to June 2009 Deutsche Bahn had earnings (before income tax) of $946 million and $1.99 billion over the year-earlier period. Despite these staggering profits, Axiom management claim they can't afford a pay increase!
We say that they should open their books so that union reps and workers can examine where all the profits have gone in recent years and where they are still going. This would show if they can 'afford' a pay increase or not!
New Labour's failure to renationalise our railway network has allowed private firms and even foreign state owned companies like DB Shenker to buy up parts of it to make massive profits for their shareholders and the bosses. This is despite a Mori poll in 2001 which revealed 72% of people in Britain supported the re-nationalisation of the railway system.
We think renationalisation should include all the allied companies like Axiom Rail in a fully integrated rail network that should be run under accountable, democratic committees that include representatives of rail service workers and users.
There are Axiom plants all over the country including in Stafford, Doncaster, Immingham, Cambridge and Nottingham
Open the books - Let's see where the profits are going.
Equal pay for equal work for all Axiom Rail workers up to the highest level - no 'race to the bottom'.
End management bullying in the workplace.
Defend the right of union reps to represent their members.
Renationalise the rail industry to include companies like Axiom.