THE EXECUTIVE committee of the Aslef rail union has suspended further planned 48-hour strikes by drivers on First North Western (FNW) while members ballot on an offer from the company. 'The problem is none of us know what the offer is,' says Steve West, a First North Western driver. The details were to be revealed when people got their ballot papers this week. There's been no sign of any movement from management. Aslef is not recommending acceptance of the deal. So all we can assume is that it contains the same unacceptable attacks on conditions that we have already rejected.'
Activists in both the RMT and Aslef unions were preparing to organise to reject the offer if it turns out to be as bad as they expect. FNW has, like neighbouring Arriva Trains Northern (ATN), become a test case for the rail unions. ATN has faced 20 one-day strikes, and FNW over a month of weekend 48-hour strikes.
That action has hurt both companies, but it has not been enough to break them. FNW management is trying to face down drivers, who have been able to win pay increases through limited action from many companies. 'We have had weekend strikes in order not to inconvenience the public too much,' says Steve West. 'But it is clear that harder action is needed to make the company back down.'
RMT member Alex Holden told Socialist Worker, 'The drivers on FNW have got public support. Mass leafleting and a rally at Oxford Road station in Manchester last week went really well. Steve West says, 'The Liverpool branch of Aslef has passed a motion calling for a one-week strike. But the executive suspended further action before that was discussed at national level.'
RMT members on Arriva were due to strike for 24 hours this Saturday and join a demonstration called by the Public Sector Alliance in Newcastle. That follows a further insult from management at talks held at ACAS last week. Management stuck to its 4 percent offer and insisted that any increase would not be backdated to the 1 April anniversary date, effectively reducing the offer to only 2 percent.
Outrageously, management suggested the pay award could be backdated for the 50 or so workers who have broken the strike. The Arriva strike committee has requested three days of strike action in December in the run-up to Christmas. 'It's a signal that we are not going away,' one striker told Socialist Worker. 'But we need support, particularly at this time of year, to sustain the strike. 'And we need to hit Arriva hard.' The same is true on FNW.
Donations to the Arriva strike fund are urgently needed. Send c/o RMT, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London NW1 1JD.