A fresh 48-hour strike by Southern train guards that began today, Friday, saw strikers furious at bullying and victimisation of trade unionists from bosses.
On the eve of the strike Southern owners, Govia Thameslink Railway, were withholding backdated holiday pay from the striking guards.
It’s punishment for daring to fight their “modernisation plans”. Other Govia workers received the money.
RMT union member and striking guard Ali told Socialist Worker the move was just a continuation of the company’s “dirty tricks”.
He said, “How can they withhold our holiday pay? That money doesn’t belong to Govia. If that’s not discrimination, I don’t know what is.”
Many guards have also recently had hundreds of pounds taken from their monthly pay. The firm said this was due to an overpayment of commission but it was done without any agreement.
The dispute over the extension of driver only operation (DOO) and getting rid of guards’ safety role is growing increasingly bitter. These are not the first attempts to intimidate workers.
Govia bosses have been vindictive right from the first walkout over six months ago.
Car parking permits and travel passes were revoked from strikers—and even the guards’ families. Guards were also docked two days’ pay for a one-day strike.
Bosses have encouraged passengers to abuse their own staff on social media with infamous full page adverts in the press, although this spectacularly backfired.
The guards feel they have faced so much bullying, intimidation and vindictive moves by the company that many want to escalate.
Ali said, “Enough is enough. We should just walk out the door and not go back until 1 January. We’ve got nothing to lose.”
At the heart of the dispute is having a second safety trained worker on the train but bosses want drivers to have sole responsibility for safety.
RMT South East Region national executive member Jeff Slee told Socialist Worker that recent incidents had underlined the problems with Govia’s DOO plans.
In Clapham a person fell between the train and the platform but was not visible to the driver. The passenger was only saved from serious injury or death because of the action of platform staff.
But bosses pushing DOO have no answer to what would happen at unstaffed stations.
Jeff said, “The actions of the guard on a derailed train near Watford in September showed why we need guards on trains.
“She carried out her duties to protect the train, liaised with emergency services and organised the safe evacuation. All while the driver was trapped in their cab.”
Southern train despatcher Ricky joined the guards’ picket line in solidarity at London Victoria. He said, “The guards are crucial—I believe in their struggle 100 percent. We have to support this fight. Bosses are not interested in safety like we are—it’s all about profits for them.”
Govia has a special management contract for the Department for Transport. It’s got its eyes on the bonuses it stands to collect from reducing ticketless travel and turning guards in to ticket inspectors. Pushing through DOO is an integral part of this plan.
But train unions are opposed to extending DOO. Drivers in the Aslef union and the RMT began a new ballot for strikes as the guards started their fresh walkout.
Ricky said a walkout by drivers could be “a game changer”. That is why Govia bosses are so desperate to stop that happening. They are attempting to bribe drivers with £1,000 to vote against strikes.
Charlie, a Southern driver and Aslef member told Socialist Worker, “It’s an insult. How can any driver take the bribe when it’s guards’ jobs on the line? Every driver should vote to strike.”
The drivers’ ballot ends on 18 November. The next guards’ strike is set for 22 and 23 November, to be followed by another three 72-hour strikes next month.
Send a message of solidarity to the guards to firstname.lastname@example.org
Make a donation to the strike fund to “RMT South East Regional Council” through RMT Head Office, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London NW1 1JD. For bank transfers contact email@example.com