Once again members of the RMT union working for Merseyrail, Southern, Greater Anglia and Northern Rail have showed their determination to defeat plans for driver only operation by taking strike action from 3-5 October.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash reported that the strike was “rock solid”. He also praised the public support for the strike, saying: “The public and workplace support right across the country for our train guards is nothing short of fantastic as we mount picketing operations at all key locations.”
In reality, these strikes are more than just about job losses. They are about private operators attempting to cut costs and boost profits by deleting the post of train guard. This is also, therefore, a clear attack on the safety of the passengers.
On Merseyrail, the decision by the company Serco-Abellio was disgracefully approved by Labour dominated Merseytravel Committee of the Liverpool Region in February. They say they made their decision because new trains provide safer opening and closing of doors with sensors. However, the RMT point out that the guard is not there just to open doors; they are an essential second safety critical member of staff.
The value of the guards was shown when a wall collapsed on the line coming into Liverpool’s Lime St., trapping several trains. It was the guards who led the passengers to safety and prevented a tragedy. Guards point to numerous incidents on trains over the years where they have had to intervene.
Whilst Merseyrail say that no guard will lose their job, speaking at a meeting of Wavertree CLP North West, organiser Darren Ireland reported that other posts are now being filled with staff on precarious short-term contracts, in order to provide redeployment for guards.
The parasitic nature of Serco-Abellio is shown by their guaranteed profits of 25% from passenger income, amounting to around £14m, and also from the fact that the franchise was given for 25 years in 2003.
Labour councillors claim they are trapped by the company, stating that if they want the new trains then costs - not profits - have to be cut. This does not wash with the RMT and their supporters in the Labour Party, who point out that the councillors should make a stand and put pressure on the company.
This morning, RMT members on picket lines were also angry that Liverpool’s Metro Mayor (and Corbyn supporter) Steve Rotheram has not supported the guards in their struggle. This contradicts the stand of his former Walton constituency and the new MP Dan Carden, who put down a motion in Parliament and organised solidarity for the pickets.
It is clear that Labour’s elected representatives need to support the RMT all the way. But we also need to nationalise the railways, taking them from the privateers immediately and without compensation. Waiting for the franchise to expire on Merseyrail means privatisation continuing until 2028. In the meantime, commuters and rail staff suffer, whilst the railway bosses line their pockets.