Train guards were defiant as they began a three-day strike on Tuesday against Southern rail bosses’ plans to introduce the dangerous Driver Only Operation (DOO).
Bosses want to make safety the sole responsibility of drivers, replacing guards with a new “onboard supervisor” (OBS) role focused on fining passengers.
The government pays Govia Thameslink Rail (GTR) a flat fee to run the Southern franchise, regardless of the service it delivers.
GTR put forward a legal challenge to the action, but the workers’ RMT union went ahead with it. General secretary Mick Cash hailed a “solid and determined” strike.
Seeking to end the dispute, Southern has offered to increase pay by £2,000 a year if guards take OBS jobs.
But this isn’t the main point, RMT regional organiser Paul Cox told Socialist Worker on the picket line at London Victoria station.
“It’s a dispute about safety,” he said. “People are out here when there is a better pay package on offer for people willing to take the OBS role.”
A striking guard agreed, “This whole thing is not about the money, we’re professionals and we want to do our jobs.”
Guards had already struck for 14 days since April. Tuesday’s walkout was the first in a new round of 14 days running up until December.
As the bitter dispute goes on opinion is increasingly turning against Southern bosses—despite them waging an aggressive media campaign against the union.
One striker told Socialist Worker, “The money they’re wasting on adverts in papers to attack us could have been used to invest in safety and staff.
“It’s all backfired on them, though, which is sweet.”
GTR has tried to use reports from the “independent” Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) to attack the union. But GTR boss Charles Hooton is one of the RSSB non-executive directors, a leaked document revealed.
In an earlier ill-advised attempt to whip up opposition Southern took to Twitter, asking people to tweet criticisms at the RMT.
The replies included, “I’d rather be delayed by a strike than your company’s inability to hire enough staff,” and, “You, Southern Rail, are the issue. Not the union.”
Commuters responded well to pickets handing out leaflets detailing the safety-critical role of guards. One said, “The reality is that every day feels like a strike day. Southern is running a poor service all of the time.”
The government wants GTR to force through DOO so it can be rolled out across Britain as part of an attack on rail workers and their union.
That’s why it keeps paying GTR despite constant delays and cancellations. But if bosses fail to force workers to accept DOO, they could lose the franchise.
The stakes are high. To win, the strikes must be kept on, extended and—if possible—spread to involve other workers.
Previous strikes have coincided with walkouts by Southern station staff before the RMT settled their dispute separately. Others were alongside workers in Scotland who finally stopped Scotrail imposing DOO there.
But strikes are putting bosses under pressure—and a planned walkout around bonfire night could pile more on.
A picket at Selhurst station in south London told Socialist Worker, “It’s a very busy night and they’ve offered to pay half-trained managers extra to work on the night and scab on conductors.
“They’re offering them extra days off as well.”
Workers at Victoria were confident about taking the strike forward.
One said, “It’s been solid here, everyone is furious. There’s a feeling that if they think they can take us down, then they can do their worst.”
Support workers' fight
This week’s action on Southern is part of a new round of 14 strike days
- From Tuesday to Thursday this week, 11 to 13 October
- From Tuesday to Thursday of next week, 18 to 20 October
- Thursday 3 November to Saturday 5 November—Bonfire Night
- Tuesday 22 November, Wednesday 23 November
- From Friday 6 December to Sunday 8 December
The RMT has called a rally and protest in London in support of the strike. Tuesday 1 November. Protest—assemble 12.30 outside Parliament opposite Old Palace Yard, SW1A 0AA. Rally—inside Parliament, Committee room 10, from 2pm. Speakers include RMT general secretary Mick Cash and shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald