DRIVERS ON First North Western trains struck solidly on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, forcing management to seek talks over pay. The action brought services to a standstill across the north west of England. It also boosted drivers on Arriva Trains Merseyside, who have voted overwhelmingly to strike over pay.
Their strikes are due to coincide with those on First North Western on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week. Rail workers other than drivers on Arriva Trains Northern were to strike on Wednesday and Saturday of this week in their longrunning dispute over pay. First North Western driver Steve West told Socialist Worker,
'Last week's strike was by drivers in the Aslef union. But RMT union drivers did not cross picket lines. Our ballot result is due this week, and that should add to pressure on the company. There are two things about the pay offer that are incensing people. The first is that it is over two years. People know we will fall further behind drivers on other lines if we accept a two-year deal.
The second is that it comes with big attacks on conditions. Management want total flexibility. It would mean, for example, being told on a Monday that your planned job on Wednesday was going to be changed, and that you would have to work an extra 1.5 hours. That would ruin social life.
There has been more anger over this at rank and file level than among the union reps who accepted the deal management then reneged on. We coordinated a strike earlier this year over disciplinaries with Arriva Trains Northern. We should be coordinating action between the unions and across the three companies where there are disputes.'
This week saw the 17th one-day strike on Arriva Trains Northern (ATN). The action remains incredibly strong - just 48 out of 700 conductors have accepted management's lousy pay offer. Public support for the strikes is still high too. ATN tried to blame sick leave for increasing cancellations on non-strike days.
Ernie Preston of the Rail Passengers' Committee watchdog says, 'This excuse is a load of rubbish. If their conductors were allowed to work overtime then there would not be a problem.'
ATN has banned rest day working in an attempt to impose further hardship on guards by stopping them making up money lost on strike days. Workers planned mass leafleting in Sheffield on Saturday of this week. There is also pressure for action elsewhere.
Tube workers in London are balloting for strikes over pay. The conference representing train crews in the RMT union was to meet this week. Among the issues the conference was to discuss is action to defend the safety role of guards - which could lead to a dispute with all the passenger train operating companies.