A deal brokered by the TUC trade union federation aimed at ending the Southern Rail dispute has caused uproar among rail workers and passenger groups.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady chaired the talks between Southern and the train drivers’ Aslef union—but not the train guards’ RMT union.
The right wing Telegraph newspaper crowed that Southern had “won its battle”, on behalf of the Tory government, to extend driver only operation (DOO).
RMT general secretary Mick Cash rightly criticised the “appalling” way the TUC excluded his union from the talks.
No amount of weasel words from the TUC can justify the shabby exclusion of the recognised train guards’ union.
Train guard and RMT member Victor described the deal as “far worse than I could have imagined”. He added, “The drivers are not happy. I don’t think it’ll be voted in—I’d be surprised if it was.”
Charlie, an Aslef train driver on Southern, told Socialist Worker he was “not impressed” by the deal and had been expecting a “stormy” Aslef meeting on Monday.
The bottom line is that the deal accepts DOO. It also surely contradicts the joint statement signed by Cash and Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan to “campaign in unity to oppose” DOO.
Hinting that he may not be as proud of the deal as O’Grady, Whelan said, “This is not a template for the industry, it is a resolution to an individual dispute.”
But that resolution accepts what Southern drivers and guards have been fighting for the last year.
And it stokes the fears of disabled passengers that Southern has turned the clock back on accessibility.
The firm admits there is now no guarantee that it will assist disabled people at its stations.
A passenger group taking legal action against the Department for Transport (DfT) said, “There is no way of defending this move as anything but a step back for accessibility.”
The Association of British Commuters (ABC) has applied for a judicial review of DfT’s handling of the management contract handed to Govia Thamelink Railway (GTR), Southern’s owners.
ABC is challenging the DfT’s failure “to determine and announce within a reasonable time” whether GTR has breached its contract and discriminated against disabled passengers.
The Aslef deal came just days before a highly critical MPs’ report on rail franchising.
It “exposed serious deficiencies” in the DfT’s monitoring of the “serially underperforming” GTR.
It found that DfT’s contract “exposes the department financially”—to the tune of £38 million in just the latest financial year.
Passengers suffering the woeful service will be furious to learn that the operator's “performance rewards” were greater than the penalties it had to pay.
The committee has also previously described the department and its ministers as “unacceptably opaque and evasive”.
This is because the Tories have been pulling the strings in this dispute and hired GTR to go to war with the unions. Extending DOO will hand millions to the rail fat cats.
Aslef members are being balloted with a recommendation to accept the deal.
They should reject it and demand their union returns to action, coordinated with the RMT, and push back DOO to give the Tories a bloody nose.