DETERMINED strike action by more than 3,000 train guards has won significant concessions from hard-nosed train operating companies over safety. The success by the RMT union is a blow not only against 12 profit-hungry train companies (and behind them three transport conglomerates), but also against the government.
Labour ministers, acting through their Strategic Rail Authority, gave £10 million to the companies' strikebreaking effort. 'People feel we've got somewhere,' said one Central Trains guard. 'We've stood up for ourselves and done something positive to protect passenger safety. That feels good and I hope that feeling becomes infectious.'
Pat Sikorski, assistant general secretary of the RMT, told Socialist Worker, 'The RMT and Aslef have won a direct input into the industry committee drafting the safety rules. The train operating companies will be bound to consult before going back to the Rail Standards and Safety Board, which will draw up any rule changes. We have an undertaking that the train operating companies will not undermine the proposals 'gratuitously'. We will have foreknowledge of what they propose so they will not be able to spring surprises at the last minute. These are significant steps forward.'
Guards took several days of solid strike action and had announced two 48-hour strikes for this month, which are now cancelled. Action forced the train operators to back down. RMT members in many companies report heavy intimidation from management.
South West Trains was not affected by the strike. It hired out managers to other firms to scab on strike days. One Virgin West Coast guard said, 'We've shown that despite the fragmentation of the industry under privatisation we are in a position to hit back with effectively national action.'
No one who spoke to Socialist Worker thought the companies would stick to their word without continued pressure from the union. There is greater confidence now among guards to do that and to strengthen their organisation as other battles loom, most notably over the developing crisis over pensions.
AN ARRIVA Trains Northern guard who was downgraded and transferred from his job in Leeds during the year-long dispute has won his employment tribunal case. Lee Dickinson, an RMT union activist, was disciplined by management. He has now got his original job back. 'It's a testament to his strength and the union standing by him,' says one Arriva guard. It was an employment tribunal decision, but management could have chosen to ignore it. They didn't. That shows that despite us losing the pay fight there is still some resilience in the union.'
RMT MEMBERS on London Underground are organising to defend Glenroy Watson, a driver and union activist who has been downgraded and disciplined.