Workers on three rail networks walked out in a coordinated day of strikes today, Monday. Meanwhile bosses’ arguments for the changes that will undermine safety were unravelling.
RMT union members at Southern, Northern and Merseyrail all struck. It was the latest walkouts of their disputes over the extension of driver only operation (DOO), a less safe operating mode.
DOO is a profit-driven plan to scrap safety critical train guards, turn them into glorified ticket inspectors and heap sole responsibility for safety onto drivers. It also cuts accessible travel for all.
Just ahead of the strikes industry bosses’ Rail Delivery Group (RDG) released a suppressed report from 2015.
It is a huge embarrassment for the bosses and the Tory government. It states that if DOO is extended “there will inevitably be considerable implications for the general confidence of older and disabled people to travel by train and for the provision of assisted travel”.
It recommends, “There should always be on-board staff available to assist passengers at unstaffed stations.” But bosses are cutting staff on trains and in stations, and closing ticket offices.
Rail fat cats suppressed the report because the conclusions didn’t fit with their plans. But it was leaked by a passenger group currently challenging the Tories in the courts.
On the picket line at London Victoria station several Disabled People Against Cuts (Dpac) activists joined Southern train guards’ picket line and leafleted passengers.
Keith, a Dpac activist, told Socialist Worker, “We need guards on trains not just for disabled people but for all of our safety. So many stations are not accessible but every station should be.
"It’s all about solidarity, that’s why I’m here. We can’t let them divide and rule.”
Officials at the Tory Department for Transport (DfT) have orchestrated the Southern dispute for around 18 months.
The ABC passenger group last month argued at the High Court that the 14 months the DfT has spent deliberating on Southern’s contractual breaches is an “unreasonable delay”.
The judge agreed. He ordered transport minister Chris Grayling to release by 13 July the DfT’s decision on Southern’s claim that its poor service is out of its control. Bosses have tried to blame workers for constant delays and cancellations.
Govia Thameslink Railway owns Southern. It claims that imposing an “on-board supervisor” (OBS) role on guards will provide “excellent customer service”. This has also been exposed as a lie.
At least 158 trains a week are running without a second worker on board. And training for the OBS role is shifting the focus from safety to “penalty fare training”.
It’s clear what the direction of travel is. Northern and Merseyrail workers have walked out several times this year but Monday was the 33rd strike day on Southern.
Guards there such as Bob think “it’s time to up the ante” after the general election has weakened the Tories. He said the union needs to consider more financial support and extend the strikes.
He asked, “Why not go out for a week across the companies? While you’ve got them on the floor, kick them in the head.