Socialist Worker

Battles over safety are at the heart of rail disputes

by Matthew Cookson
Issue No. 2190

Workers from National Rail protesting outside the transport department this week

Workers from National Rail protesting outside the transport department this week


Crucial struggles over safety are taking place across Britain’s rail and tube networks.

The rail regulator has told Network Rail, the company responsible for maintaining Britain’s railways, to make “efficiency savings” of 21 percent over the next five years.

“Privatisation has led to repeated attempts to cut maintenance,” said Dave Barnes, a Network Rail worker and member of the TSSA union.

“If this continues then the railways will no longer be safe. These cuts risk more disasters, such as Potters Bar, Grayrigg or Hatfield.”

Bosses are planning to begin their huge programme of cuts by slashing 1,500 rail maintenance jobs.

Safety has already been compromised by previous cuts. The RMT union has produced a report with information from hundreds of maintenance workers.

It shows that there are reduced track safety inspections, delays in the repair of faulty level crossings and reduced safety checks on railway signals.

And the cuts are taking place while Network Rail bosses pocket huge bonuses.

Chief executive Iain Coucher got £300,000 in bonuses last year on top of his £600,000 salary.

But they are facing resistance. More than 15,000 rail workers in both the RMT and TSSA unions at Network Rail will begin balloting this week for strikes against the job cuts.

“It is going to be necessary to close down the rail network using strike action,” said Dave.

The ballot will end in mid-March. A yes vote would see hard-hitting strikes in the run-up to the general election.

They could potentially shut down the rail network. Workers’ resistance to the crisis will then become central to political discussion.

Dave said, “With the ­election coming up, it will be a good time to hold all MPs accountable—are they prepared to see rail workers sacked or will they oppose the plans?”

Leaked

London Underground bosses are planning to sack hundreds of station workers, threatening passenger safety.

This is what a leaked document, obtained by the RMT, has revealed. The “Minimum staffing levels” report relates to stations below street level.

It looks at a comparison between London Bridge and Victoria stations to show what management could do to reduce staffing levels.

London Bridge is being run with a minimum of four workers all day, while Victoria has a minimum of 12 staff on duty during morning peak hours.

Management propose this could be reduced to four, with a loss of eight jobs. This “formula” is to be ­generalised across 116 stations, with 70 run with a minimum of two staff.

This will mean up to two thirds of workers in these

stations face the dole. The minimum staffing levels were introduced after the King’s Cross fire in 1987, in which 31 people died.

Adequate levels of staff mean that workers can respond quickly to emergencies, such as fires or the 2005 London bombings, and save lives.

The new attacks come on top of management’s plans to close 144 ticket offices, at a cost of 1,200 jobs.

At both Network Rail and London Underground it will be the union that must fight to defend safety against management’s drive to cut costs in order to boost profits.


1,500 TSSA members at Network Rail are being balloted for action over pay from next week. Bosses have offered only an 0.8 percent increase.


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Tue 23 Feb 2010, 19:25 GMT
Issue No. 2190
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