Socialist Worker

Bonanza at top, low pay at bottom

by Kevin Ovenden
Issue No. 1784

A REVOLT over pay and the disastrous impact of privatisation is spreading across the rail industry. Everyone who wants to see a better transport system should get behind the rail workers and their unions as they stand up to the private rail companies. Over 600 guards and conductors on Arriva Northern were set to strike on Thursday and Friday of this week.

Drivers on ScotRail are continuing to refuse to work overtime to cover for staff shortages. Non-driving staff on South West Trains were due to strike on Monday and Tuesday of next week. They are having to fight for last year's pay rise and to defend union organisation.

There are ballots for strike action over pay on Virgin Trains and Connex South East. Workers in other companies are also pushing for action. 'They should never have privatised in the first place. It has been bad for passengers and has led to huge variations in pay and conditions between rail workers,' an Arriva Northern guard told Socialist Worker. 'No one should believe the press lies that this is down to a small number of militant trade union officials. The vote for action on Arriva was 17 to one on a 73 percent turnout. People have just had enough, and not only over pay. Everyone says we deserve respect but are treated with contempt. The people who are angriest are those who you might think of as least union minded. It's the lowest paid who are driving this dispute.'

'That's true on South West Trains too,' a platform worker told Socialist Worker. 'We've got platform staff on £194 a week before stoppages. Cleaners are on even less. They can't afford to live in London. More and more people have to spend well over an hour travelling in to work. We use the trains too. Since our strike earlier this month management have banned people from taking annual leave and want doctors' certificates for just two days off sick. And they are going for our union reps just like they did over Greg Tucker. It's just got people's backs up. We are just after fairness. But we have to go on strike to get it.'

A guard on Virgin Trains said, 'It's the same message in every company. Huge bonuses at the top, low pay and aggravation at the bottom.' 'There is public support for us taking action,' says the Arriva guard. 'Other workers will get a boost if our union, the RMT, shows it's possible to get results. But we are not getting any support from New Labour. We've had government ministers attacking us. Now we've got it from a Labour councillor, Marlene Lyons, in Leeds. I used to support the union link with Labour and spoke up for it in the union two years ago. Now I just think they come begging for money from us before elections and then slag us off when they're in power.'


Union members revolt against being squeezed

ARROGANT managers have left rail workers with no option but to strike. Union officials at Arriva Northern requested talks with management last October. It was nearly three weeks before they got a reply. Arriva first started talking about a 3.5 percent basic pay increase. After the overwhelming vote for strike action it cut that to 3 percent. It wants any increase to come from worsening conditions for staff. They include:

  • Cuts to sick pay, which will mean forcing people to work when ill.
  • Changing rosters to increase the time spent at the company's beck and call.
  • Compulsory overtime at the normal rate of pay.
  • Cutting the time allowed for conductors to pick up equipment and to cash in at the end of a shift. That means forcing people to do those jobs in their own time.

Union officials pointed out last year that there has been a 22 percent increase in assaults on rail workers across Britain as passenger frustration at the decrepit service boils over. Arriva management dismissed those concerns.

When union officials offered productivity gains for the company, on top of those already conceded, one senior manager said he still wouldn't pay workers more because 'you're just not worth it.' Arriva workers lobbied parliament on behalf of the company when it looked like losing the Transpennine franchise. Some travelled to London in their own time. Now the same company calls those workers greedy.

South West Trains imposed a pay deal on workers earlier this month that was worse than the one on offer before the strike. It has picked up a trick from New Labour and has added pay rises for last year and this to come up with an 'offer' which is twice the true figure. It has victimised driver Greg Tucker and other union activists. It refers to guards, whose role in safety is vital, as 'non-essential staff'. All the train operating companies claim they are the victims of 'union power', especially among drivers.

But the companies created a shortage of drivers by getting rid of 3,000 of them just after privatisation. All that rail workers are trying to do now is to get a decent pay rise (paid for by the profits of the rail companies) for a job that has got far harder as the network has disintegrated. The rail unions are also campaigning for renationalisation and an end to the transport chaos.

Back them or see the bosses who brought us the Southall, Ladbroke Grove and Hatfield disasters laugh all the way to the bank.

Send messages of support and donations to Arriva strikers, c/o RMT, Unity House, 39 Charlton Street, London NW1 1JB; and to SWT strikers at Waterloo RMT, 3 Blacks House, London SE11 5TW.

Where strikes will hit

ARRIVA Northern runs the Transpennine route and other services across the north of England. Its main hubs are Sheffield and Leeds. But strike action affects the whole of the north of England and even two services from Glasgow on which Arriva provides conductors.

South West Trains runs the busiest commuter services in Britain out of London Waterloo. Connex South East provides services into Kent. Its latest scheme is to rip out seats and toilets from its carriages and squeeze seven standing passengers into every square metre.

It has had to delay the introduction of promised new trains because the madness of privatisation means the necessary overhead electric cabling will not be ready on time.

Who's greedy?

THIS MAN takes home about £200 for a 37-hour week. He works shifts for South West Trains. He's been working in the rail industry for 13 years. He has to deal daily with passengers driven to distraction by the rail chaos.

THIS MAN is Brian Souter. He is the boss of Stagecoach, which owns South West Trains (£1 million a week profits). He is a multimillionaire whose directorship alone brought him £481,000 last year. Other directors include: Mark Kinski, £485,000; Keith Cochrane, £338,000; Barry Hinkley, £281,000; and Brian Cox, £248,000.

The disappearing cash

INVESTMENT ON the railways will be £7.5 billion less than the figure announced by transport secretary Stephen Byers, government officials now admit. New Labour has counted the same money twice. Byers said last week there would be £33.5 billion of public investment in rail over the next ten years.

Some £7.5 billion of that is a 'lever' to attract private sector cash. But that same £7.5 billion is counted again in £34 billion of private sector investment he says will come in.

There is no certainty that private companies will stump up any money. They are demanding the government takes on any risk so that they are guaranteed a profit. George Cox, director general of the Institute of Directors, threatened at the weekend that the government's refusal to continue bailing out Railtrack means privateers will be reluctant to invest. Yet these are the people New Labour is relying on to deliver public services.

Rank and file paper

The LATEST issue of Across the Tracks, the rank and file paper for rail and tube workers, is just out. It has already proved a great success.

This edition includes articles by the candidates for RMT union general secretary, full coverage of the transport crisis and an interview with director Ken Loach on his film The Navigators.

Order your copy from 07904 157 779 or write to Across the Tracks, 109 Evelyn Court, Amhurst Road, London E8 2BQ.

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Article information

Sat 26 Jan 2002, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1784
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