Zarah Sultana accuses the Tories of being on a ‘mission of cruelty’ at RMT ticket office closure demo

RMT demo marching past parliament over ticket office closures
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The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) descended on Downing Street on Thursday 31 August. It was joined by activists and campaigners from across multiple groups. The protest was over the Tories and train operators’ closure of ticket offices on the rail network. People made their feelings very clear – including Labour MP Zarah Sultana, who accused the Tories of a “mission of cruelty” against disabled and older people.

The protest came as there were just hours left for people submit their views in a public consultation.

Ticket office closures: the thin end of the wedge

The Canary has been documenting the ongoing scandal of the plans to close ticket offices. The Tories and train operators have been in cahoots to close them across the country. However, people have hit back furiously – including chronically ill and disabled people. This is because, as we previously wrote:

23% of disabled people are internet non-users. Ticket vending machines are often inaccessible. Plus, wheelchair users can only get their 50% discount on tickets from an office.

Train operators are counter-claiming that they’ll redeploy ticket office staff on stations. However, research by the Association of British Commuters (ABC) has shown this not to be true.

Then, there was the issue of the consultation itself. Previously, it was set to last only 21 days, and was due to close on Wednesday 26 July. However, two disabled people started one legal challenge, and five Mayors started another. The end result was the government and train operators caving in and extending the consultation. People now have until 1 September (that is today, on the date of publication) to submit their objections. The list of train operators’ consultations can be found here.

Meanwhile, the RMT has been taking the fight up and down the country, holding days of action. On 31 August it took the fight right to Rishi Sunak’s door – having organised a march to Downing Street.

Read on...

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Knock knock. Who’s there? The RMT…

Prior to the demo, campaign groups and charities handed in five separate petitions against ticket office closures to Downing Street:

Then, the RMT and others gathered at the Department for Transport (DfT):

They marched from there, past parliament, and on to Downing Street:

Speakers included Labour MP Zarah Sultana, former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, disabled rights activist Paula Peters, and RMT general secretary Mick Lynch:

Sultana told the hundreds people assembled:

the Tories, who have governed since 2010 with a mission of cruelty, this is only an extension of that austerity agenda which disproportionately hit elderly people and disabled people. They are not committed to building a railway service in the interests of the many that is fit for purpose. Instead, they want to neglect some of the most marginalised people in our country.

‘There’s a storm coming’

As the Mirror reported, the RMT’s Lynch said at the demo:

There’s a storm coming, let’s make sure the Tories feel it… Everywhere we go, from Edinburgh to Penzance, the communities are coming out along with our disabled brothers and sisters.

He also slammed the train operators, saying:

They will sell you the tickets they want you to have, not the tickets you need or the best value ones.

Summing up, Lynch said:

These are national assets and we will protect them with all our might.

With the consultation closing on Friday 1 September, it will still be some time before we know whether the Tories and train operators will push ahead with their plans. However, as the RMT’s Downing Street demo showed, there is clear and strong opposition from activists, politicians, and the public. Whether or not the corporate capitalists in both government and the rail companies will listen is another matter entirely.

Featured image via the RMT

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