The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 16th December 2016

Unions put Grayling under pressure

TRANSPORT Secretary Chris Grayling is struggling to save his political career as joint action by rail unions ASLEF and RMT has brought Southern Rail to a standstill and forced its parent company Govia Thameslink Rail (GTR) back to the negotiating table, after two failed attempts in the courts to get the strikes declared illegal.

In addition the Evening Standard, widely ready by long-suffering commuters, last week revealed a leaked letter in which Grayling said three years ago to Boris Johnson that, were he to become Transport Secretary, he would block the transfer of commuter rail lines around London to Transport for London (TfL) “in order to keep them out of the hands of a future Labour mayor of London.”

The policy, first proposed by Boris Johnson and continued on a cross-party basis by Sadiq Khan, would have seen large parts of the London’s suburban network incorporated into the successful London Overground.

This prompted a call for Grayling’s resignation from Conservative MP Bob Neill. “He’s acted for party reasons and not acted in the interests of London commuters,” he told the Evening Standard. “It’s pretty clear he has a dogmatic opposition to rail devolution and that’s not a legitimate basis to take a decision.”

London’s current Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan commented: “Commuters across South London and the commuter belt are understandably furious after the Government broke their promise to make commuter rail services more reliable, frequent, and affordable.”

Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, the train drivers’ union, also called on Chris Grayling, the Secretary of State for Transport, to resign after the leaked letter was published.

“The Transport Secretary said that cost was the reason for overruling the plan for TfL to take over suburban rail services around London. We now know that’s not true because, in a letter to London Mayor Boris Johnson in April 2013, he admitted he did not want a future Labour Mayor of London to run trains into and out of the capital.


“It is ironic that Mr Grayling, who tried to mislead passengers earlier this week by claiming that our proposed industrial action on Southern Railways is political, when it is an industrial dispute, about safety, has been caught red-handed, with his fingers in the till, acting entirely for political reasons.

“How can anyone trust anything Mr Grayling ever says again? This lie — putting narrow party advantage ahead of the interests of the travelling public — shows he is manifestly unfit for public office. If he won’t do the decent thing and resign Theresa May should sack him.”

Members of ASLEF working for Southern Rail walked out at midnight on Monday for 48 hours with another 24-hour strike planned for Friday — and with RMT members refusing to cross picket lines and new strikes of their own planned, very quickly Southern Rail services ground to a halt.

There was a massive knock-on effect on other rail services in the London commuter belt as passengers tried to find other routes to work and home again.

Grayling described the strike as a “deliberate act of militancy” and claimed ASLEF had warned him to expect “10 years of industrial action” at a meeting in September. He further accused unions of “deliberately trying to bring [the railway] to its knees” and dismissed claims that the strike was about commuter safety as “palpable nonsense”.

On Monday the Court of Appeal rejected an attempt by GTR to halt the action.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash accused the Government of being “hell bent on confrontation”. “It is that position which has led us to today’s shutdown,” he said. “This morning Chris Grayling claimed again that the action on Southern is political — it isn’t, it’s about safe train operation for both passengers and staff alike.”

Cash also said: “RMT remembers only too well the words of top Government transport official Peter Wilkinson who told Southern passengers he wanted a punch-up with the unions, that train drivers were muppets and that he would starve our members back to work. That was the top Government rail official making it clear he was hell bent on confrontation and it is that position which has led us to today’s shutdown.”

Mick Whelan said: “The strikes this week are not, whatever Mr Grayling tries to suggest, politically motivated. We have a trade dispute with GTR Southern, and only a poor government would seek to spin it any other way. We were willing to go to ACAS last week but GTR Southern refused because they wanted to go to court.”

Within hours of the start of the strike on Tuesday GTR was asking ACAS to convene “urgent and immediate” talks, and both the RMT and ASLEF agreed.