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Striking London Underground worker hails ‘proud history of Jewish trade

A striking London Underground worker has spoken of the “proud history of Jewish trade unionism” after joining colleagues from the RMT union on the picket line at the start of the biggest walk-out in decades

Daniel Randall, a station staff employee on the underground, told Jewish News he was on the picket line “primarily as a worker, and through a class identity that I think crosses distinctions of ethnicity or national origin.”

The Jewish socialist activist said that standing alongside RMT strikers from all backgrounds on a picket line outside Tottenham Court Road underground station on Tuesday showed “what is powerful about the trade union movement.”

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He added: “You will find particularly in London, but not only in London, this very proud history of Jewish workers taking action.

“That’s something I am cognisant of. In the early 20th century, during a period known as the Great Unrest, Jewish tailors and others workers in London were going on strike. There is this tradition of Jewish trade unionism and workers struggle, and that’s a history I feel affinity for.”

The first of three national rail strikes this week began at midnight on Monday disrupting the journeys of millions of commuters across England, Scotland and Wales.

Mick Lynch of the RMT.

Students taking A-level exams were forced to find emergency accommodation in some cases to ensure they were able to be at school on time, with train travel grinding to a halt.

The hospitality industry said it expected to lose £500m of revenue from strikes with businesses shutting early, or not opening in response to the rail strike.

But Randall said those on the picket line were “aware the strikes cause inconvenience”.

But he argued:”I don’t think there are many passengers, who when they thought about it, would think it was a good idea to have 600 fewer frontline station staff on the underground.

“Our strike is not only for our own working conditions, it is also for the quality and safety of the service we provide.”

Labour MP Alex Sobel, who is Jewish, was among those to visit the picket line outside Tottenham Court Road on Monday morning.

Thousands of members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union at Network Rail and 13 train operators walked out in the biggest outbreak of industrial action on the railways for a generation.

Alex Sobel speaking in Parliament.

It coincided with the fourth network-wide strike this year on the London Underground, which is expected to grind the capital to a halt.

Just after 11.30am, the Bakerloo, Circle, Hammersmith and City, Jubilee, Metropolitan, Piccadilly, Victoria and Waterloo and City lines were suspended.

Randall, the author of an influential book on the rise of anti-Jewish racism, Confronting Antisemitism On The Left — Arguments For Socialists, said the train dispute could be resolved in the capital if the government “commits to adequate, no strings, funding of public transport in London.”

He said the current strikes going on this week posed the question of “should workers be made to pay via cuts to staffing levels, or terms and conditions, or a pay rise in relation to our colleagues on National Rail?”

Randall said “for us on London Underground, that is very much the immediate context of the dispute.”

He claimed that prior to the pandemic, the government had abolished Transport for London’s (TFL) operating grant.

Randall said this had left TFL “wholly reliant on fair revenue.”

He said the government had then proceeded to bail TFL out with “punitive strings attached” including the condition there were cuts in staffing levels and changes to pension arrangement.

The RMT union says rail companies want to cut thousands of jobs as part of a £2bn reduction in spending.

It claims workers have been seeing real-terms pay cuts and now face a cost-of-living crisis.

Network Rail says it wants to modernise working practices and increase efficiency, savings from which would allow a better pay deal for railway workers.

The RMT rail union accused the government of preventing employers from freely negotiating on pay.

London Underground workers have also gone on strike in a separate dispute over pensions and job losses.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Tuesday morning the government is not going to get involved in the dispute as it would “make matters worse”.

A Downing Street spokesperson later said the government had been very generous in funding the railways during the pandemic.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged passengers “stay the course” saying proposed reforms are in their interest/

Labour leader Keir Starmer told his frontbench to avoid joining picket lines urging them to “show leadership.”

Source: Jewish News

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