Socialist Worker

Solid Southern train drivers' strike shuts down routes into London

by Raymie Kiernan
Issue No. 2534

Workers picketing in London during the Southern drivers strike

Workers picketing in London during the Southern drivers' strike (Pic: Socialist Worker)

A powerful train drivers’ strike shut the Southern rail network on Tuesday as the Aslef union members began a two-day walkout. They planned another 24-hour strike this Friday.

Normally busy railway stations were deserted. At Victoria, one of London’s main commuter stations, more than half the departure boards on the main concourse displayed no journey information.

“Please don’t travel,” was Southern’s plea to its 300,000 passengers.

That was the advice even if the company had been successful in its bid to get the strikes banned under Tory anti-union laws. This is because of an ongoing drivers’ overtime ban that’s exposing how understaffed the network is.

The strike was a solid rejection of Southern parent company Govia Thameslink Railway’s plans to extend driver only operation (DOO). Rail unions argue this will undermine safety.

Their “modernising” agenda sees the safety role of the train guard as redundant.

They believe they can run 24 new DOO trains an hour through central London, with 1,750 people, and “just 30 seconds to get people on and off”.

Workers fear the bosses, or rather the Tory Department for Transport (DfT) that has hired Govia to go to war with rail unions, are “living in toy town”.

Signs during the strike

Signs during the strike (Pic: Socialist Worker)

That is Graham’s view, an Aslef member and train driver of over 25 years. He said that “passenger numbers are up 25 percent since DOO has come in and platforms are becoming so overcrowded”.

He said that giving drivers sole safety responsibility was inadequate.


“In the drivers’ cab we’ve got screens that are two inches by two inches to look at severely overcrowded platforms,” explained Graham.

“If anything we should have more guards on the train because trains are getting longer with over 1,000 passengers on them.”

The DfT has at every turn given Govia a helping hand. It is without doubt running the most woeful excuse for a train service in Britain.

When Govia broke the terms of its contract by cancelling too many trains the Tories changed the rules.

When the firm imposed an emergency timetable in the summer that cancelled over 340 trains a day the Tories didn’t bat an eyelid.

Graham said the DfT recently tried to run a pilot of 14 trains an hour as part of the development of London Bridge station.

Signallers told transport bosses it was “impossible to run that many trains” but they pressed on regardless. Predictably the plan failed.

The Southern dispute is more than an industrial battle. The Tories have a political project to keep the gravy train running for private firms.

“The Tories want to privatise everything and shift the responsibility from themselves,” Graham said.

“And it’s all done on the back of a fag packet as cheap as possible.”

RMT union members protested against Chris Grayling last week

RMT union members protested against Chris Grayling last week (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Hated Chris Grayling has a plot to push privatisation

Without even a hint of irony, Tory transport minister Chris Grayling moaned that the rail strike was a “deliberate act of militancy” that was “entirely politically motivated”.

He was sore that two attempts to use anti-union laws to block a democratic 87 percent vote of Aslef members had failed.

And he is under increasing pressure to come out from his bunker and intervene.

Grayling wrote an entirely misleading letter to passengers ahead of the strike.

He said this is “a battle between the unions and the management over whether they will allow new technologies and new ways of working on the railway”.

“I wish we were dealing with reasonable people on the union side,” Grayling said.


Train driver Graham said Grayling “should drop the ‘Right Honourable’ before his name as most of the things he says are inaccurate, if not actually lies”.

In fact his department is guilty of everything the top Tory accuses the unions of.

He employs such “reasonable” people as Peter Wilkinson as head of rail franchising and passenger services on at least £265,000 a year to warn of “punch ups” with the unions.

Wilkinson described drivers as “muppets” who need to “get the hell out of my industry”.

This pro-privatisation ideologue is motivated so he and other train bosses can make more money.

Instead, one of Grayling’s first acts was to bailout Govia with £20 million and keep blaming the workers for the bosses’ mess. He is clear he wants more privatisation.

We need to take the railways back from the fat cats and renationalise to stop the Tories’ rail chaos.

Workers plan more walkouts

Industrial action is set to continue into next year on Southern.

Train guards in the RMT union were set to strike again on Monday and Tuesday next week.

They plan to walk out for three days from 31 December to 2 January.

Drivers were also set to strike from 9 to 14 January.

On Thursday passengers were set to hold a protest in Victoria station over constant delays, disruptions and cancellations.

Some have clubbed together to take legal action against the DfT.

Passengers are sick of their MPs blaming workers and want to see more action.

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