Socialist Worker

Rail strikes bring lines to a standstill in a battle to defend safe, accessible travel

by Sarah Bates
Issue No. 2587

Strikers in Fratton, near Portsmouth

Strikers in Fratton, near Portsmouth (Picture: Jon Woods)

Train workers brought networks to a standstill this week as they resisted bosses’ plans to take guards off trains.

Thousands of RMT union members walked out in the latest action in the fight to stop driver only operation (DOO) trains.

Workers from Northern, Merseyrail, Greater Anglia, South Western and Island Line struck on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. RMT members from Southern also walked out on Monday.

One striker from South Western spoke to Socialist Worker on the picket line. “What we’re doing is pushing the government back,” they said. “There’s been lots of cancellations today, managers pretend they can run the service but they can’t.”

On Monday strikers at Wigan station persuaded drivers—who are members of the Aslef union—to respect the picket line.

Picket lines have been solid, with some appearing for the first time at stations.

At Manchester Victoria around 20 strikers picketed—and 100 percent of union members came out on strike. Of 120 workers, only one non-union member went into work that day.

Bosses have gone to extraordinary lengths to keep some services running. They have put scab managers up in expensive hotels and used an extensive network of rail replacement buses.

Some companies claimed their services were running normally. But on the Northern network journeys were split into four different parts—so that management could claim they were running four journeys instead of one.

Some companies only ran services 12 hours a day.


Greater Anglia was able to run the most comprehensive strike timetable—because it insists on staffing trains with scab managers.

Safety-critical staff usually have nine months of safety training, but some scabs undergo just two days of training.

Some 90 percent of stations in Greater Manchester are unstaffed—which makes the role of the guard essential to ensure safe and accessible travel.

Today RMT general secretary Mick Cash said the action was “rock solid”.

“We continue to fight to put public safety, security and access before the profits of the train operating companies,” he said.

The strikes come as the National Audit Office (NAO) said that Govia Thameslink (GTR), which runs Southern Rail, has not provided “value for money”.

A critical report said that since GTR started running Southern Rail in July 2015, 7.7 percent of services had been cancelled or delayed by over 30 minutes.

Of these, a third were caused by train crew shortages. But GTR receives money—to the tune of £20 million—from the Tories whether the trains run or not.

Tory transport secretary Chris Grayling is determined to push through the Tories’ vision of privatisation and deregulation.

But determined train workers this week have shown that they are ready to fight back.

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