Today and tomorrow (8-9th November) will see a new wave of rail strikes taking place across Britain, as the RMT union takes further action over such ongoing concerns as safe operation and the use of guards on trains and implementation of driver-only operation.
Workers on South Western Railway, Southern, Greater Anglia and Island Line will walk out on a 48-hour strike, whereas Merseyrail and Arriva Rail North will see a 24-hour strike just on November 8th.
The union has correctly identified the “dead hand” of the Tory government as being behind the failure to get a resolution to these disputes.
As RMT General Secretary Mick Cash outlined:
“It is outrageous that prime minister Theresa May and transport secretary Chris Grayling are happy to stand aside and cheer on overseas rail companies that rip off the British passenger to subsidise their domestic transport operations while throwing the guards off our trains.
“The RMT is demanding today that the government lift the central blockade on talks, allow us to negotiate freely with their contractors and give us the opportunity to pursue the objective of a guard guarantee that puts British passenger safety before the rank exploitation of our rail network.”
Need for unity
The situation with the long-running Southern Rail dispute is being complicated, however, by the decision of another rail union, ASLEF, to ballot over a settlement offer which, it is claimed, will give some drivers a 28.5% pay rise but involves the implementation of driver-only operation on some services.
Union activists correctly see this as an attempt to divide the workers, feeding off the long-standing rivalry between the rail unions, at least at the top. However, an earlier attempt at this, scandalously involving officials from the TUC, was beaten back with ASLEF members supporting their RMT workmates in rejecting the deal on offer.
The call is being made once again for ASLEF members to defend worker solidarity and vote against the deal. The ballot closes on November 8th and many activists have already said they will vote down this “tainted offer.” Many workers will once again be looking towards the creation of a single union for all rail workers as the way forward.
These industrial struggles are taking place against the background of a joint plan now being presented by rail companies and vested interests under the grand title of “In Partnership for Britain’s Prosperity”. The plan presents a wild picture of a rail system that is going great and can only get better. Needless to say neither the rail unions or any real passenger groups were involved in this propaganda for the money-raking scam that is rail privatisation 2017. As Mick Cash again notes:
“This so-called plan for the future has been put together by the very same people who have wrecked Britain's railways since privatisation, condemning passengers to pay the highest fares in Europe to travel on rammed out and unreliable trains in the name of profit.
“Despite the claims from the Tory cheerleaders...any new investment in infrastructure is taxpayer and fare payer money, while the train companies keep their bulging wallets jammed shut and carry on hacking back on staff and safety to boost their private profits.
“The only national plan that would enable us to build for our future transport needs would be to kick out the private racketeers who are robbing us blind and bring the entire rail network under public ownership and public control.
“[The] RMT will continue to fight for a publicly owned railway as part of a fully integrated transport policy that puts the needs of the people, our communities and our economy before those of the profiteers.”