Socialist Worker

After Southern drivers reject shoddy deal—unions should turn up the heat on Tories

by Raymie Kiernan
Issue No. 2541

Drivers struck six days across December and January, shutting down the busy south east rail network. More walkouts can beat back the Tories

Drivers struck six days across December and January, shutting down the busy south east rail network. More walkouts can beat back the Tories (Pic: Socialist Worker)


Southern Railway train drivers have rejected the deal cooked up over ten days of talks by the TUC union federation, rail bosses and their Aslef union officials by 54 percent to 46 percent.

The deal was shoddy both in its making and its content.

The TUC-brokered talks excluded the Southern train guards’ RMT union. RMT general secretary Mick Cash described this as an “historic betrayal”. The Aslef-recommended deal agreed the extension of driver only operation (DOO) and undermined safety and the role of the guard.

Southern had already imposed a new on board supervisor (OBS) role on the guards last month.

Southern driver and Aslef member Martin has also worked many years as a guard. He told Socialist Worker, “I didn't like the deal at all.

Sweeteners

“It was nothing better than we had been promised previously and the key 'sweeteners', such as the OBS on every train and new cameras would have been required anyway.”

As RMT guard rep Victor told Socialist Worker, “A driver put it to me like this. It took them ten days to get this agreement but it only took ten minutes to see what was wrong with it.

“We are pleased with the rejection from the majority of drivers. I hope they now return to industrial action and we can get a deal sorted with both unions involved in the process.”

RMT members receive solidarity from disabled passengers during their walkout last month

RMT members receive solidarity from disabled passengers during their walkout last month (Pic: Socialist Worker)


The RMT announced its 29th strike day of this dispute, set for Wednesday next week, after it walked out of talks with Southern’s “pig-headed” bosses this week.

Martin said an overtime ban “would be a good move.

"There should be efforts to get back into negotiations but with the Department for Transport (DfT) involved as they are clearly pulling strings.”

There’s a certain irony in the timing of the Aslef result.

It’s almost exactly a year to the day when a senior government official publicly promised the Tories were going to have “punch ups” with the rail unions on Southern and provoke this dispute.

DfT director of passenger services Peter Wilkinson said that train driver “muppets” either accepted change “or get the hell out of my industry”.

Pressure

But Wilkinson’s “muppets” have just turned the heat back on him and the Tories—the union leaders should now increase the pressure and work together to beat back the attack on safety that DOO represents.

It’s outrageous that this senior civil servant—paid £265,000 a year in public cash—is still in the job. The fact he is shows the Tories wanted to fight the unions on Southern and were happy to employ a man with financial ties to a company he was meant to be regulating.

Passengers have organised protests against the woeful service on Southern. This one in December saw them march from London Victoria station to the Depart for Transport demanding Tory transport minister Chris Graylings resignation

Passengers have organised protests against the woeful service on Southern. This one in December saw them march from London Victoria station to the Depart for Transport demanding Tory transport minister Chris Grayling's resignation (Pic: Socialist Worker)


Govia Thameslink Railway has a special DfT management contract that includes running Southern. It was awarded by Wilkinson. A firm he held a large shareholding in had Govia as a longstanding client and was being paid by Govia for consultancy advice six months before Govia got the contract.

Wilkinson’s firm received over £800,000 from the DfT before he was forced to sell his shares.

But this isn’t the only scandal.

Wilkinson and successive Tory ministers have changed the rules of the contract after Southern breached them. Southern has also been allowed to infringe on the rights of disabled passengers to achieve the Tories’ greater goal of extending DOO, worth hundreds of millions to the fat cats.

And the firm is also guilty of disgraceful bullying and intimidation of trade unionists exercising their right to strike. This is what made the recommendation of the deal by Aslef so shocking.

It was all the more unbelievable as the six days of solid drivers’ strikes were a powerful response to the imposition of new DOO routes. Legal action launched by Govia saw Aslef forced to pay almost £1 million for daring to fight.

Those strikes had the bosses and the Tories on the back foot with the majority of passenger opinion on side. Aslef and RMT should put rivalries aside and set out to win this fight once and for all.


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