Socialist Worker

Coordinated strikes hit six train lines across England as workers fight attack on safety

by Sarah Bates
Issue No. 2586

Workers on the picket line

Workers on the picket line at Waterloo (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Workers on six train lines are continuing the fight for safe and accessible train travel.

RMT members on Northern, Merseyrail, Greater Anglia, South Western Railways and Island Line walked out on Monday, with further strikes planned for Wednesday and Friday of this week. Southern workers also struck on Monday.

It’s the latest action in the long-running dispute over the implementation of driver-only operation (DOO) trains, which company bosses are desperate to roll out across the networks.

This week’s coordinated strikes are what’s needed to beat DOO. The strikes now hit companies covering large parts of England’s rail network.

On the Northern line workers said the strike was absolutely solid, with 100 percent of RMT members out on strike at some stations.

At the last strike in November only 15 out of 1,500 conductors at Northern went to work.

Ned from Wigan explained that on Monday more people joined the picket line than ever before, and they persuaded some drivers not to cross their picket line.

“We turned some Aslef drivers away from work. We’re encouraging them to tell their union to stop sitting on their hands. Some drivers went in, but you could tell it pricked their conscience.”

And Ned said the dispute had had a transformative effect on his workplace.

“We’ve recruited people to the union on the basis of this dispute. People often come from industries that are not as well unionised and when they fight back they understand how we’ve got these terms and conditions.

“They begin to understand not just the benefits of a trade union, but the absolute necessity of it.”

RMT union members picketing at Victoria

RMT union members picketing at Victoria (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The question of drivers’ union Aslef is central to the dispute.

Principle

Aslef recently accepted a deal on Southern that accepted the principle of running trains without a second safety-trained member of staff on board all trains.

RMT members at Southern have been fighting for over two years. RMT South East regional organiser Paul said they were waiting for “a reasonable discussion” with GTR bosses, who own Southern.

Southern bosses have cynically used a European Union (EU) court ruling to get workers back on the trains. The ruling says workers should be paid holiday pay based on their total numbers of hours worked—this would include overtime.

But bosses are withholding this extra pay that workers are entitled to—unless they promise not to join any more strikes.

Paul said, “They are hoping to gradually erode the number of people on strike. This dispute is a matter of principle, not of financial gain.”

South Western bosses claimed that 70 percent of its services were running. But strikers think that is a gross exaggeration and some say only about 40 percent of a normal service was leaving the station.

Ricky is branch secretary of RMT Waterloo. “On our last strike we only had 17 out of 220 staff go in—so we’re solid,” he told Socialist Worker. “But we’re not doing this for ourselves, we’re doing it for the future.”

On the day of the cabinet reshuffle strikers were keen to see the back of Tory transport secretary Chris Grayling, who has been instrumental in pushing through DOO.

Ricky said, “Without a doubt the Tories are involved in keeping this dispute going—I’d put money on it.”

RMT general secretary Mick Cash told Socialist Worker, “We’re calling for a summit with the Department for Transport and train companies. This dispute is having a big impact and we can win.”

And strikers on the Waterloo picket line were clear that “unity” was needed. “If you stick together you can win,” said one picket. “To the company this dispute is about boosting profits but for us its safety.”


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