By Raymie Kiernan
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2531

Guards strike for safer trains on Southern

This article is over 5 years, 2 months old
Issue 2531
Striking guards on the picket line at London Victoria station
Striking guards on the picket line at London Victoria station (Pic: Guy Smallman)

The grubby relationship at the heart of Britain’s worst rail company was exposed again ahead of a 48-hour walkout by Southern train guards on Tuesday.

Bosses at Govia Thameslink Railway, which runs Southern, are withholding backdated holiday pay from the guards—unless they commit in writing not to strike.

“How can the company be allowed to withhold our money like this? It’s got to be illegal,” striking guard Mel told Socialist Worker.

The RMT union has put in a legal challenge to this blackmail.

But it is not the first time the firm has victimised the strikers for resisting the extension of driver only operation (DOO), which undermines safety on the railway.

It’s also the latest example of how the government ignores Govia’s bullying and incompetence.

The firm is paid a fixed fee by the Department of Transport (DfT) for mismanaging four previously separate rail franchises. It can do no wrong in the DfT’s eyes.

The Tories hired Govia to go to war with the rail unions and, because it doesn’t rely on revenues to make a profit, it has no real incentive to run a decent service.


When Govia breached its contract by cancelling too many trains, the Tories changed the rules to let it cancel even more. This year it has cancelled 83,000—that’s an average 19 trains an hour.

Even though DOO increases the dangers and disadvantages faced by disabled and vulnerable passengers, a breach of equality law, the Tories couldn’t care less.

There is a network of rail bosses at the heart of the plot to drive through DOO. The allegedly “independent” Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) is one vehicle for this.

Eight of its 11 board executives are rail bosses, including Govia CEO Charles Horton. Half its income comes from rail firms with the DfT providing much of the rest.

It argues that heaping sole safety responsibility onto drivers poses “no increased risk”.RSSB argues the most “cost effective” way to extend DOO is by sacking train guards. This is worth £350 million to rail bosses in the long term.

The person in charge of government oversight, DfT director of passenger services Peter Wilkinson, thinks unions should “get the hell out of my industry”.

Wilkinson also worked for Govia to help it win rail franchises from the government.

Every rail boss is watching the outcome of this dispute.

It’s crucial that train drivers—currently balloting to strike—join the walkouts. Action by the drivers’ Aslef union can help turn the tables on the bosses.

That’s why bosses may try to use anti-union laws again to stop them taking action. If workers want to fight they will have no option but to defy the law—and everyone else must back them.

Send a message of solidarity to [email protected]
Donate to the strike fund—send cheques made out to “RMT South East Regional Council” to RMT Head Office, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London NW1 1JD

Scottish transport minister Humza Yousaf

Scottish transport minister Humza Yousaf (Pic: Scottish government)

SNP urged to nationalise Scotrail after one train cuts off Edinburgh

It is not often that Nicola Sturgeon looks under strain. But the Scottish National Party (SNP) leader faces increasing pressure over the performance of Scotrail.

A single broken down train in “probably the worst place in the country”, according to Scotrail, blocked all routes into Edinburgh’s main station last week.

It triggered another wave of outrage from Scotrail’s long-suffering passengers. Its operator Abellio is under fire for poor service that has seen it fined £483,000 by the Scottish government.

It has infuriated people with its practice of allowing late-running trains to skip stops.

That has put the case for bringing Scotland’s rail operator under some form of public control firmly on the agenda.

SNP transport minister Humza Yousaf announced talks on setting up a public sector train operator.

The train drivers’ union Aslef called for him to be sacked. Its affiliation to the Labour Party could have played a part in that.

Yousaf said, “If the Scottish government had to take over the railways tomorrow, we have contingency plans in place to do that.”

Yet the SNP has no plans for public ownership any time soon.

Unless Scotrail misses performance targets so low it would have to be as woeful as Southern, the next opportunity to break the contract is 2020. That coincides with the next general election.

The SNP is vulnerable over Scotrail. The £6 billion ten-year deal it handed to Abellio is the Scottish government’s single biggest contract.

It is trying to balance between being a friend to big business and appearing more progressive than its political opponents.

Any moves to create a public operator must have at their heart the interests of the workers that make the trains run—and the safety of passengers.

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