GUARDS AND conductors on 12 rail lines could call strikes next week after a two to one vote for action. The dispute to restore the safety role of guards goes right to the heart of the way privatisation has sacrificed safety, services and passengers in the interests of the rail conglomerates.
The 12 companies where workers have returned a vote for strikes are: Arriva Trains Merseyside, Central Trains, Connex South Eastern, Govia South Central, Midland Mainline, Scotrail, Silverlink, Thames Trains, Virgin West Coast, Virgin Cross Country, Wales and Borders, and Wessex Trains. Eight companies have already caved in and agreed to sign up to a document outlining the central safety role of guards.
The RMT union has been battling for three years to stop the job of a guard being turned into one of mainly selling tickets and goods. The union's executive decided this week to delay calling strikes until after further meetings with the companies on Friday.
'The guard plays a vital safety role aboard a train,' one guard on Arriva Trains Northern told Socialist Worker. 'We are responsible for orderly evacuation if something goes wrong. We deal with incidents where passengers need assistance.
'We know the track and the rolling stock and are an extra pair of eyes for the driver. There's only one reason for getting rid of that. That's to put profit before people's safety.' 'The pressure on guards and train crew is increasing all the time,' said a guard on Silverlink.
'You've got to deal with more and more passenger enquiries as services are scrapped and cancellations happen at a moment's notice. 'All the while you look at the hours and the pay, and you realise you can't allow it to get any worse.'
This is one of several issues that could lead to coordinated strikes across most or all of the rail network. Aslef, the train drivers' union, has called for consolidating pay scales nationally and has suggested action if that does not happen by May. The government, through its Strategic Rail Authority, bankrolled Arriva Trains Northern and First North Western when they were faced with industrial action recently.
The government and the companies have yet to be hit by coordinated strikes. The rail privateers may hope to ride out limited strikes, but are in a weak position to deal with hard hitting action.
In a separate dispute over pay, train crews on First Great Eastern are set to strike for one day on Monday of next week.