Action threat has the rail bosses on run
TRAIN operating companies retreated last week in the face of threatened strikes called by the rail workers’ RMT union for Monday of this week. The climbdown by 18 of the operators is a major step forward for safety on the railways.
It signals renewed union strength after years of being battered through privatisation. But one company, Midland Mainline, has decided to get an injunction against the strike, and another rail company, c2c, is trying to face down the union. Guards on c2c struck on Monday and were due to do so again next week. This shows that militant action is needed to take on the rail barons.
The safety role of guards is at the heart of the dispute. There has been a two-year campaign by the rail bosses to get rid of guards and reduce their vital safety responsibilities.
Now the threat of action by rail workers has halted that attack. The 18 companies that settled with the RMT have signed up to a ten-point charter. It prevents the extension of driver-only operated trains, and puts guards back in charge of safety in the event of an accident. In the Ladbroke Grove disaster both the drivers were killed and only one train had a guard on duty.
The inquiry into the crash acknowledged the vital role in rescuing passengers played by two off-duty guards who were caught up in the crash. The agreement is a humiliation for the train operating companies, which had tried to claim the RMT was engaged in a “bogus” dispute. Activists need to argue now to build on the success. Several issues remain outstanding.
Not every company has settled. The RMT should be using its full weight to force them into line.
That means being prepared to confront the anti-union laws, which were used to ban the Midland Mainline strike. These laws seek to stop rail workers on different lines standing alongside one another.
A few companies, such as Thames Trains, already have driver-only operation. There should be an immediate ballot for strike action and a big public campaign to force them to reinstate guards. New Labour is refusing to do what 80 percent of the population want-renationalise the railways.
Rail workers’ success this week should spur a political campaign, backed up by industrial action, to force the government to do exactly this.
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