By Sarah Bates
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New attack on right to strike, but workers can derail the Tories

This article is over 4 years, 6 months old
Issue 2685
Strikers on the picket line in Portsmouth
Strikers on the picket line in Portsmouth (Pic: Jon Woods)

Privateering prime ­minister Boris Johnson was set to announce plans to attack workers’ rights in the queen’s speech this week.

At the same time defiant rail workers are marching and striking.

Johnson plans to ban “all out” strikes on public transport. He called for ­“minimum service requirement” for public transport, which would likely make it illegal to shut down an entire service.

Every trade union and the TUC union federation must fight to stop this assault on the right to strike. Words and token gestures will not be enough.


It ought to be a chance to block Johnson and give the left the confidence to fight.

The attacks come in the middle of a huge battle over the future of the railway.

Hundreds of workers across the South Western Railway (SWR) network are now in their third week of strikes to defend their jobs and passenger safety. The RMT union members are battling the implementation of driver-only operation (DOO)—a new procedure on the railways that would compromise existing safety measures.

SWR bosses want drivers to open and close doors—but workers are fighting for guards to remain on trains and continue to close the doors.

Striker Bob told Socialist Worker that bosses say they want to implement the new DOO system to save a few seconds at each station.

“Originally SWR wanted to trains to go without guards—but we’re very important.

“We do a good job. Now they’re worried about saving time, but say there is going to be a guard on every train.

“The main sticking point is whether our members close the doors.

“Really, that’s the issue—whether it’s the guard or the driver, who won’t be able to see everything.”

It’s a battle that’s raged for over two years at SWR, with the latest phase of action amounting to a month-long strike during one of the network’s busiest periods. The firm is still being paid by the Department for Transport to run services, despite the solid action shutting down much of the network.

Figures from the RMT suggest that by the end of this wave of action, SWR would have been paid £86 million to run services during strikes.

“The Tory election is not going to help with this dispute,” said Bob. “At the beginning it was between SWR and the RMT—I wished it had stayed like that. Now the DfT is using public money to fight against the public.

“All this money saving goes to private companies and to shareholders.

“SWR are being ­supplemented, as long as it shows it’s trying to solve the dispute, its compensated by the government.”

At Fratton station, near Portsmouth, strikers have been regularly picketing during the latest phase of action.

On Saturday, members of the Portsmouth Trade Union Council staged a rally at their picket line.

Jon Woods said it was important to “stand with our sisters and brothers”.

“Guards on SWR are ­fighting for our safety and we must support them. Fifty of us marched through the town singing ‘solidarity for ever’.

“We got a good response from the public and we showed that the election of Johnson’s government will not stop us fighting back.”

Industrial action takes place in a wider picture of public transport battered by privatisation and the pursuit of profit.

Passengers were stranded for long periods on icy platforms from Sunday, as Network Rail rolled out new timetables.


Cancellations and delays ­battered services, which were also affected by staff ­shortages, train faults, ­signalling problems and a landslip.

On SWR, strikers are ­feeling the pinch, with some prevented from attending picket lines because of chest infections.

Others are facing hugely reduced payslips for December and January.

“We’ve been coming to picket lines for two weeks and standing in the cold weather,” said Bob.

“We’re not fighting for more pay, we’re fighting for the safety of our passengers and the importance of our role on the railway.”

Workers’ names have been changed. Support picket lines at SWR depots—held Mondays until 2 January, 6am-10am. DEFEND THE RIGHT TO STRIKE, PROTEST AGAINSY THE TORY PLANS IN THE QUEEN’S SPEECH – Emergency demonstration outside parliament – supported by @RMTunion, Thursday 19 December, 12.30pm, Old Palace Yard Westminster. Supported by Trade Union Coordinating Group. Details here

Strike would be just the ticket to stop station cuts

Workers on London Overground train lines were this week set to release the results of their ballot over the future of ticket offices.

Rail bosses want to unleash a raft of ticket offices closures, slashing most station’s opening hours.

The proposals equal a 65 percent cut in hours across the Overground network, with some stations facing an over 80 percent cut in hours.

The RMT union, which represents workers in ticket offices, says the stations will become less safe, secure and accessible.

The ballot ended amid revelations from the RMT about how train bosses paid out over £4 million to shareholders last year.

Arriva Rail London, which operates the Overground, more than doubled its profits last year and its income increased by £25 million.

The London Overground contract should be publicly?run and properly staffed.

Rail workers patience is wearing thin

Workers on the Tyne and Wear Metro are preparing to give the bosses a bloody nose as they plan to shut down the service for 48 hours this week.

Members of the RMT union, they are fighting over pay and staffing issues, and voted 80 percent for action on a 100 percent turnout.

The drivers have planned their action for “Black Eye Friday”—a time where the city’s transport system is packed with festive revellers.

Take back Northern fail

TSSA union general secretary Manuel Cortes has called for the Northern rail franchise to be nationalised after rail commuters were hit by a series of cancellations as new timetables came into effect on Monday morning.

By 10am nearly 20 trains had been cancelled and more than 30 delayed. Cortes said. “The company said the timetable changes would bring reliability—but as usual what we get is chaos.”

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