Over half of Northern rail services and 80 percent of Merseyrail services were cancelled today, Monday, as both firms became the latest to see walkouts by train guards. The action is over passenger safety, jobs and workers' conditions.
Northern and Merseyrail RMT union members joined their Southern counterparts for a day of coordinated strikes against driver only operation (DOO). Around one million journeys were hit by the action of 2,000 guards and drivers from the north east of England to the south coast.
Merseyrail bosses were also hit by a great show of solidarity from Aslef union drivers who refused to cross picket lines—it came after bosses’ failed attempt to get the strike banned by a judge.
In Leeds more than 20 RMT pickets were joined by some Aslef drivers from 4am. Passengers were receptive to the strikers’ leaflets explaining the case for keeping guards on the train.
Leeds TUC brought their banner to show solidarity. There was a confident mood as just one scab crossed the picket line and up to 8am no trains ran.
The picture was mirrored in Hull with a large picket buoyed by support from other workers at the station, including drivers. Local Labour MP for East Hull, Karl Turner, visited the picket line.
RMT branch secretary Peter March said members were angry that Northern had refused to guarantee a guard on every train and that public support was high.
Pickets were also out at Wigan Wallgate where supporters included the trades council and Momentum.
The walkouts are an important development in the fight against DOO.
Rail bosses are looking to boost profits by getting rid of safety critical guards and piling all safety responsibility on to drivers’ shoulders. It could be worth as much as £350 million to the fat cats but trade unionists don’t just see it as a battle for jobs—this is about safety.
Guards are trained in dozens of areas of safety, and trains generally cannot move without them. Their importance was underlined when several people were injured after a fire broke out on board a rush hour train in east London last month.
The Evening Standard newspaper wrote, “Witnesses described scenes of ‘sheer terror and panic’ and said people were forced to ‘jump on the tracks’ after smoke started filling an Overground train at Dalston Kingsland station.”
The train was DOO. A guard would have ensured the train was evacuated in a controlled and orderly way.
Victor, an RMT guard on Southern, was pleased that action against DOO was spreading as Southern guards held their 30th strike day.
But he also said the union should have opened new fronts against the bosses earlier. He told Socialist Worker, “We should have done this a long time ago, we know bosses want DOO everywhere.”
Increasing the political pressure with wider mobilisations is now crucial. Victor argued, “The unions should call a national march—it could pull people together. We just had one for the NHS and look how big that was.”
He’s right. More strikes backed by public protests can roll back DOO and strengthen the case to renationalise the railways.
It's official—privatisation is a con
The transport select committee’s latest report into rail privatisation admits “it has not yielded all the competitive benefits initially envisaged by the government in the early 1990s”.
In fact it has failed on every level. Journeys are slower and more overcrowded than publicly owned services in Europe.
Fares have risen by an average of 117 percent and subsidies by 300 percent since privatisation in 1995.
Big firms have milked this scam for over two decades.
The top five companies took £3 billion from us between 2007 and 2011, made profits of £504 million and gave 90 percent of it to shareholders. Last year alone the rail fat cats grabbed nearly £5 billion.