Socialist Worker

Train strikers force a retreat

by Sarah Bates
Issue No. 2620

Merseyrail workers have staged several strikes to keep the guard on the train—and have forced bosses to back off

Merseyrail workers have staged several strikes to keep the guard on the train—and have forced bosses to back off (Pic: RMT)


Merseyrail workers were celebrating last week after bosses backed off from a plan to slash their jobs.

Transport fat cats want to roll out more driver only operated (DOO) trains. The RMT union members at Merseyrail are the latest group of workers to secure a deal with transport bosses over DOO.

On DOO trains the driver, rather than a conductor or guard, is responsible for onboard safety.

Bosses have used the new trains as a pretext for axing the role of the guard from services, making train travel unsafe and inaccessible.

The DOO dispute has rumbled on for over two years. Up to six networks coordinate strikes in January.

Meanwhile, workers at South Western Railway (SWR) struck last Friday and Saturday.

And RMT members on Northern—owned by Arriva Rail North—joined the action last Saturday.

Mick Cash, RMT general secretary, called the Merseyrail news “an important and‎ significant development in respect of RMT’s long running campaign to retain a guaranteed second, safety-critical member of staff on Merseyrail trains.”

A joint statement by the RMT, Merseyrail and Liverpool local authority agreed the principle of having a second member of staff on the new stock of trains.

They are set to be introduced in 2021.

Funding

But the statement said that “additional funding” would need to be generated to pay for a second member of staff.

It said that “productivity proposals” would cover some of the extra cost.

It added that “additional means will also need to be considered by all parties, which could include an enhanced crackdown on fare evasion and increased fares”.It is a disgrace that train bosses want to palm the cost of having safe trains onto ordinary people through fare hikes.

Fares already rise every year—this year by an average of 3.4 percent—far faster than most wages.

Although the bosses have accepted the principle of having a second worker on services, they will still need to negotiate the level of safety training and responsibility.Workers on Northern are set to walk out for a further four consecutive Saturdays.

The last action saw Northern only able to run about 30 percent of its services, with few trains running before 9am or after 6pm.

SWR workers are also planning to strike for the next two Saturdays.

Cancelled

During strike days, many services are cancelled, delayed or curtailed.

But research by the RMT revealed that train bosses have applied to the Tory government to reimburse them for lost revenue during strike days.

An average day on Northern and SWR would see £3.5 million generated in passenger revenues.

So, the money-grabbing fat cats could end up getting tens of millions in bailouts paid for by public money.

Cash called the pay claims a “national scandal when guards are taking action to defend safety, access and security on our railways”.

“This is truly shocking in itself but also an absolute kick in the teeth for passengers when these eye watering sums could instead be spent on improving services and cutting fares”, he said.

The Tories are happy to prop up the rail bosses because the mass rollout of DOO fits with their ethos of privatisation and deregulation.

Victories such as Merseyside are only happening because of consistently solid strikes that have shut down large parts of England’s transport network.

The fight for safe and accessible train travel is at a critical moment.

A return to coordinated action could finish off bosses’ DOO plans for good.


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