The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 17th March 2017

Northern and Merseyrail workers join the fight to keep guards on the train

MEMBERS of the RMT transport union taking strike action in the almost one-year-long battle to keep guards on the train in Southern rail were joined in their strike on Monday by their colleagues working for Northern Trains and Merseyrail, fighting on exactly the same issue.

Deputy general secretary Steve Hedley sent a social media message to the membership on Sunday: “Talk is cheap we all need to be in a union like the RMT that walks the walk.

“Tomorrow the fight for the essential safety critical role of the guard reaches a new level with Northern Southern and Mersey rail guards all on strike.

“I salute those who are prepared to sacrifice their own wages to protect the safety of the travelling public and ensure the disabled have access to all trains; they are absolute heroes and I am honoured to serve them as an officer of the union.

“RMT is an industrial union (that organises all grades without exception) that at the moment is standing on our own opposing the profit over safety schemes of the rail bosses and government.

“If others find the courage to join us this fight would be easier but regardless we will win it anyway. We are an unapologetic, democratic, working class militant, socialist organisation who will never sell out or bend the knee to the bosses and their quislings.”

Steve was referring to members of the train drivers union ASLEF. The leadership of that union last month negotiated a deal with Southern trains that would have been a sell-out on the issue of keeping guards on trains.

But the ASLEF membership rejected this deal and the next move from the leadership is yet to be announced.

But on the day, on Monday, the ASLEF membership did the honourable things and Steve Hedley was able to say: “A big salute to all those drivers on Mersey Rail (many who are members of ASLEF) who refused to cross RMT picket lines today, these people have real trade union principles and are heroes of our class, very proud of you comrades.”


The result was a powerful strike against Government-backed plans by the rail companies to phase out the role of train guards on the Northern, Merseyrail and Southern lines.

People with disabilities would be most severely affected by the loss of guards on trains to help them get on and off the trains. And the RMT legal department is looking into legal action over the rights of disabled passengers on Southern Rail.

The Office of Road and Rail (ORR) [previously the Office of Rail Regulation] has key responsibilities for overseeing the rights of disabled passengers on the railway, for example it is responsible for agreeing train companies’ Disabled People’s Protection Policy (DPPP).

RMT’s concerns arise from reports from members and passengers that disabled passengers on GTR Southern are being treated less favourably than other passengers as a result of the company’s decision to end the guarantee of a guard on new driver only (DOO) services.

Specifically RMT believes that GTR Southern may not be complying with Rail Vehicle Access legislation, which requires not only for Southern to provide ramps for disabled passengers to use on trains but also, the union believes, for staff to operate the ramps. The union’s solicitors first wrote to ORR on the issue on 20th December 2016 and have yet to receive a definitive response other than that the ORR is engaged in “ongoing discussions” with Train Operating Companies regarding compliance with the regulations. The union’s legal advice is that non-compliance with the regulations may be an offence.

In addition the union believes that the ORR did not and has not made a completed assessment of the effects generally on disabled passengers of removing the guarantee of a guard prior to GTR Southern implementing its changes.

Mick Cash, RMT general secretary, said: “It is obviously the case that if a disabled passenger once had the guarantee of a guard on their service and that guarantee is withdrawn then the disabled passenger has been disadvantaged. Far from being about modernisation driver only trains turns the clock back on the rights of disabled and older passengers.”