Socialist Worker

Transport shutdown shows the power of workers

by Raymie Kiernan
Issue No. 2536

Solidarity on the London Underground picket line at Brixton station

Solidarity on the London Underground picket line at Brixton station (Pic: Socialist Worker)

The power of the working class was clearly on display this week. Strikes by Southern Rail, London Underground and British Airways cabin crew workers showed their ability to bring the system to a standstill.

Workers stood together united, defying the false divisions bosses push. And unofficial solidarity action strengthened the action on the Tube.

Hundreds of roads were gridlocked by traffic on Monday as a Tube station workers’ strike closed dozens of stations and led to severe disruption on every line.

London’s Labour mayor Sadiq Khan claimed scabs had managed to keep over 60 percent of stations open, congratulating them.

But this looks to be false?as all the key interchange stations had no Tube service. Long queues for buses were seen everywhere.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said, “It does no one any favours for TfL to openly lie about how many Tube services are running.

“It just piles more people into stations that are already dangerously overcrowded.”

Other rail services were also overwhelmed.

Clapham Junction in south London had to be evacuated due to overcrowding.


On the Victoria and Piccadilly lines Tube drivers refused to run trains and cross picket lines. They highlighted the unsafe conditions without proper staffing in stations.

One Brixton station worker said, “This is reasonable and in line with safety. If anything goes wrong on the train the drivers expect station staff to come on and help.”

The 24-hour strike by RMT and TSSA union members is over the impact of nearly 900 job cuts on stations and the closure of all ticket offices.

“In every station now it’s minimum staffing numbers,” RMT rep Phil told Socialist Worker. “It means the safety of staff and passengers is being put in jeopardy by the bosses.

“Other staff that are getting employed are on less money and not getting the safety critical training they should be getting. They’re not allowed to go on platforms and deal with any incident that may occur.

“Bosses said they were offering an additional 500 jobs. However there are already 450 vacancies, so really they’re offering 50 jobs and they are on the lower grade that is not safety critical.”


Mayor Khan condemned the strikes as “causing misery to millions of Londoners” but he is in charge of Transport for London (TfL) and could easily sort the mess out.

As chair of TfL Khan could argue to fund the jobs needed to ensure safer conditions for passengers.

Phil said, “The strike really needs escalating and new dates called as soon as possible if management won’t budge.

“Instead of just 24 hours these need to be 48 or 72-hour strikes and, where possible, coordinated with the Aslef union.”


Aslef workers on the picket line

Aslef workers on the picket line (Pic: Socialist Worker)

New year, new strikes on Southern to defend safety

Train drivers shut down Southern Rail on Tuesday. Aslef union members were holding the first of three days of strikes this week over bosses’ fast and loose attitude to safety.

Nothing moved on the busy south east commuter network. Workers showed their power to fight Southern parent company Govia Thameslink Railway’s imposition of driver only operation (DOO).

“The real issue at the heart of this dispute is that the government—through its agents at Southern—is trying to impose job cuts and safety cuts,” Aslef president Tosh McDonald told Socialist Worker.

Govia has been hired by the Tories to go to war with the unions and set an example to other rail bosses. It has used a combination of lies, victimisation and the Tory anti-union laws to undermine industrial action and get rid of train guards.

DOO means drivers have sole safety responsibility for a train and its passengers.

Tosh said, “Our members have been telling us for years that DOO is getting harder and less safe as more and more technology is brought into the drivers’ cab. There’s too much to do now and it’s getting less safe.”

Bosses argue that 30 percent of trains in Britain are DOO and have been for decades. This is true—but it was introduced for shorter trains with much lower passenger numbers.


And the obvious point to make is the majority, 70 percent, are not DOO and have a second safety critical member of staff on-board. But the Tories are on a mission to change this and hand £350 million to rail fat cats by making driver only operation the default.

Transport officials and rail bosses are in cahoots to push this through.

Last week the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) regulator released a report on DOO. Govia boss Charles Horton claimed it “confirms that our roll-out programme is safe”.

But this was just the latest in a long line of lies from Govia.

HM Chief Inspector of Railways, Ian Prosser, was careful to say that DOO “can be” operated safely “with suitable equipment, proper procedures, and competent staff in place”.

And he certainly did not say DOO is the safest way to run trains.

What they should be doing is listening to the people at the coalface who are saying DOO is getting less and less safe

Tosh McDonald

By accepting ORR’s key recommendations, including better lit platforms and improved CCTV images, Govia effectively admitted its imposition of new DOO routes is unsafe.

This didn’t stop the right wing Evening Standard newspaper declaring it “safe” and arguing that “legislation to prevent strikes should be brought forward as a matter of necessity”.

As station platforms and trains get busier and more overcrowded, deliberately obscuring the real safety issues helps no one but the bosses.

Even Govia’s latest “Train Crew Matters” booklet for staff underlines how dangerous its safety cuts are. It states that across Britain “in the last five years, 19 people have been killed and over 7,000 injured around the edge of station platforms”.

As Tosh argued, “What they should be doing is listening to the people at the coalface who are saying DOO is getting less and less safe and we’re taking more and more risks.”

Rail workers are fighting for everyone who uses the railways—back their fight.

And at the same time we need to redouble the fight to take back the railways from private firms that put profit first.

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