Socialist Worker

Southern strikes are on the right track as bosses feel the heat

by Raymie Kiernan
Issue No. 2518

Workers and passengers protesting over fares earlier this month

Workers and passengers protesting over fares earlier this month (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Bosses at Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) face fresh strikes in their battle with rail workers’ unions to undermine safety and slash services.

RMT union train guards on GTR’s Southern franchise have announced a new 48-hour strike, set for 7 and 8 September. The guards have struck for several days over the last six months. 

They could soon be joined by station staff. An RMT stations ballot returned a 70 percent strike vote last week and other unions are preparing to join the fight.

The TSSA union is balloting more than 250 GTR station staff over plans to close or partially close over 80 ticket offices and axe over 40 staff. The ballot closes on 2 September.

Drivers in the Aslef union at GTR’s Southern and Gatwick Express services are expected to announce a strike vote on 31 August.

Station cuts or axing train guards and extending driver only operated (DOO) trains are the specific issues. They have huge safety implications for the public. But this dispute is also intensely political.

The Tories are pulling the strings. They want to extend DOO, slash jobs and boost profits while pushing through attacks across the board to weaken the unions.


The Department for Transport (DfT) has essentially hired GTR for a set fee to intimidate and bully staff and tell lies about the reasons for its shocking service.

It has no incentive to run a decent service as, unlike other franchises, bosses don’t rely on revenues for profit.

Cancellations and delays are blamed on workers. This has seen a rise in abuse towards staff.

Bosses have also used existing anti-union laws to block strikes while attempting to create the impression that new ballot thresholds are not being met in the most recent vote.

The Tories’ new Trade Union Act dictates that ballots of transport workers must see 40 percent of all those eligible to vote opt for strikes for it to be legal.

Right wingers may think that RMT’s recent stations ballot did not meet this threshold, but the simple fact is that this new legal requirement is not yet in place.

The Tories’ friends in the boardrooms and the press whine that only one in four eligible voters backed strikes. But the government they support got the same backing of eligible voters.

Some 274 out of 330 Tory MPs also fell short of 40 percent of the vote.

This is a battle over whether companies are able to step up their profiteering on the railways or not. Southern is the biggest network in Britain—if the bosses and Tories’ win there they will push to roll out DOO everywhere.

Every trade unionist and every train passenger should back the unions’ fight for safety and back the strikes 100 percent.

Racists play fast and loose with the truth about Paddington crash

The Sun newspaper went into full Islamophobic mode last week over a train accident. Rail accident experts released a report on a train derailment at Paddington in London two months ago.

No passengers were involved but the train hit a mast carrying overhead cables bringing them down and causing extensive delays.

The driver happened to be a Muslim and it was during Ramadan.

The Sun was quick to claim “his fast caused the rush-hour derailment”, headlining it “Ramadan train wreck”.

However, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) said it was “unable to determine” whether fasting was a factor in what happened.

It suggested instead that inexperience could be a factor.

The driver had only driven on the track section once during his training, and on one further occasion since qualifying.

What’s really worrying is that RAIB went on to note that managers thought “strict compliance” with some safety instructions “is not possible at Paddington”. That’s “because the station is very busy”.

But why let facts get in the way of a good Islamophobic story?

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