“We’re not giving up” was the defiant message from train strikers entering their second week of walkouts on Monday.
Hundreds of workers on the South Western Railway (SWR) are undertaking a mammoth 27 days of strikes this month against vicious attacks on their jobs and the service.
SWR bosses and the Department for Transport want to introduce driver only operated (DOO) trains—and strikers are determined to stop them.
They’ve mounted picket lines at depots across the network, with dozens of workers outside London Waterloo on Monday morning.
Striker George told Socialist Worker, “This isn’t about money, it’s for our jobs and the safety of the public.
“We will carry on fighting however long it takes for the safety of passengers.”
Workers have been battling for over two years against the rollout of DOO on SWR.
It is part of a major assault on the railways, which saw six networks strike together in 2017. After years of strikes, agreements are being worked out on most networks.
Strikers on SWR are “confused” about how a previous agreement, negotiated through the union and management, was reneged on.
Workers think that the Tory government is piling pressure on SWR to pull back from a resolution that would see the safety-critical nature of their role unchanged.
Bosses are arguing that guard-operated doors take around three seconds longer to operate at each station.
Striker Bill said bosses trying to axe seconds off “doesn’t take into account the wide range of people on the train”. “Disabled and elderly people might be getting off,” he said. “But it’s all about performance to the bosses.”
SWR bosses want a system where guards open the doors and drivers close them.
But workers are rightly worried that drivers won’t be able to see all safety issues on the platform and track.
Bill said, “I’ve had people get off the train when drunk, then lean against it. If the train pulls off and they fell I’d probably get taken to court and charged with manslaughter.”
SWR is running a much reduced service staffed by scab managers.
Chris Loder, the Tory hopeful for the West Dorset constituency who works for SWR, took a day off from the campaign to run scab services for the network.
His campaign boasted of his “volunteering” as a guard “as he has often done during previous rail strikes”.
George explained that the company is struggling to retain enough drivers anyway.
“They’re short of drivers in there—people have moved to other regions because of the conditions over morale, money and hours,” he said.
Managers are showered with hundreds of pounds a day, put up in hotels and ferried around by taxis.
But the risks of staffing services with people who aren’t safety trained was highlighted in an incident in the first week of the strike.
Strikers report that a train left a station with a toddler on board, without their parent who was stranded on the platform.
Socialists and everyone who wants a safe railway for all should join workers’ pickets Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for the remainder of the action.
The workers’ RMT union has put forward a “six point road map” to a settlement.
The union planned to table it at upcoming talks with SWR. Talks last week failed to reach an agreement.
The road map is demanding—
1. A safety critical guard on every train.
2. Guards keep their safety critical responsibility including the dispatch of trains.
3. Every station and train is kept 100 percent accessible for passengers.
4. SWR guarantee the role of the guard until the end of the franchise and seek a Department for Transport commitment for a longer promise.
5. Work to create an optimal method of dispatch where the guard has an active role alongside assisting passengers.
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