Guards on London Overground trains struck for two days over the bank holiday weekend, against plans to sack them all. Bosses want to run trains with only drivers on board—which the guards’ RMT union says will threaten passenger safety.
All the guards on the North London line could be gone by Christmas, with an onslaught of redundancies between 1 October and 31 December.
Pickets were out at Stratford, Gospel Oak and Willesden Junction stations on Sunday and Monday.
“We need a guarantee of no more redundancies and job security—it’s the only option,” one guard told Socialist Worker. “We’re understaffed, and most platforms and ticket offices are understaffed too.
“This is an important struggle because if we go down then all the train operators on the main lines will be up for a fight to remove guards. That would mean thousands of jobs gone.”
The guards are distinct from the revenue controllers who check tickets and issue fines. They are there to help passengers, give out information and deal with problems from power failures to obstructions on the line.
Guards voted nine to one to strike on a 67 percent turnout. Many are angry at their treatment since the Olympics.
“Last year London Overground was the crown of the Olympics,” said one worker. “Twelve months on it’s, ‘We don’t need you anymore’. We don’t have a social life. We’re either working late or very early. If you have a family there’s no time for them and if you don’t there’s no time to get one.”
Lorol, the firm that runs London Overground, claims it has to save money. But from 2009 to 2012 it hired as many managers as guards.
Bosses have told workers they have a chance to be redeployed elsewhere—but first they will have to reapply for their jobs. And not all the guard positions are open to these workers, as London Overground also uses agency staff on zero-hour contracts.
Train cleaners employed by ISS came to the Stratford picket line to get RMT union membership forms. They are angry at ISS bosses’ plans to introduce biometric finger print scanners to clock in and out of their shifts.
One cleaner, already in the RMT, said, “They’ve already got our passport and National Insurance numbers. We’re saying, ‘Why do you want to treat us like criminals?’”
Across London’s transport system bosses are looking to attack jobs and working conditions. The Overground guards’ fight for their jobs could help turn the tide.