Socialist Worker

Upbeat mood as rail guards strike across four networks to stop attack on safety

by Sarah Bates
Issue No. 2575

Pickets at Victoria station in London

Pickets at Victoria station in London (Pic: Ivor Riddell)


Train guards struck on four networks this week over the implementation of driver only operation (DOO) trains.

RMT union members on Merseyrail, Southern, Arriva Rail North and Greater Anglia held their second strike today following a walkout on Tuesday.

It’s the latest strike in a long-running dispute, with safety issues at its core.

Train bosses are trying to remove the safety-critical role of guards from trains. This make train travel unsafe and inaccessible.

Southern Rail workers have been in dispute for 18 months while those at Greater Anglia are on strike for the first time. There were picket lines at stations served by all four of the networks.

One RMT member on the Northern Rail network told Socialist Worker, “We’ve got to keep up this fight.

“When we go for talks, the train companies don’t send directors. They send senior managers who don’t have the power to decide these things.

“There are going to be more strikes. The company says it’s not going to settle, but what it’s proposing is not safe, so we have to keep going.”

Workers at South Western trains were the latest to join the fight. They voted overwhelmingly for strikes in a ballot that closed last week.

Ivor, an RMT member who works at a different train network, visited pickets at Victoria to show solidarity. “We can win this because the government position is unsustainable,” he told Socialist Worker.

RMT members on strike in Leeds

RMT members on strike in Leeds (Pic: Christian Hogsbjerg)


“We need to get everyone going out. No company could sustain a dispute like that and maintain a franchise.”

Dangerous

Bosses will go to dangerous lengths to undermine the strikes.

Greater Anglia is running trains with strike breaking management acting as “Person Utilised as a Guard” (Pug). The managers try and run the service, but with only a fraction of the training that guards have.

On Tuesday a Pug tried to direct a train through a red signal. In another incident, a Pug didn’t know where the door switches were—and the driver refused to run the service.

In both cases, the actions of the driver prevented an accident. But they highlight the importance of thorough safety training and of having a second safety critical staff member on board.

The dispute is politically motivated and part of the Tories’ desire for deregulation.

Ivor thinks it’s part of a wider attack on the labour movement. “This government has a pathological hatred of the trade unions and wants to crush the RMT,” he said. “The Tories would love to make us a part-time casual workforce.”

Today’s strike was due to coincide with a planned action by members of the train drivers’ union Aslef on the London Underground. The drivers had been due to strike over Night Tube working hours.

But the strike was called off earlier this week. Aslef Tube organiser Finn Brennan said that “sufficient progress” had been made to call off the action.

But Ivor was among others who felt upbeat. “Every strike vote we have smashes the threshold,” he said. “I think we need national strikes. We have massive industrial power and we can win.”


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