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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

On the Rails

by New Worker correspondent

LAST SATURDAY train drivers belonging to the RMT transport union working on East Midlands Trains took strike action against their grasping employer, Stagecoach. The union accused the bosses “of playing fast and loose with the normal talks process before they are dumped from the rail network in a row with the government over pension obligations”.

In particular, the dispute concerns management’s failure and uncertainty about pay discrimination and contract issues. The workers have been caught up in the crossfire of a dispute between the Department for Transport (DfT) and Stagecoach, whom it accuses of concentrating “on extracting every penny they can before they are kicked off the railways in light of the pensions scandal”. (Stagecoach have been banned from bidding for rail franchises because they are unable to finance pension commitments.)

clearly intended

RMT General Secretary Mick Cash denounced Stagecoach, saying they “clearly intend to slash and burn their way through their remaining franchises in advance of getting banned from the railway by the DfT”.

He later said that: “Our members are standing rock solid, united and determined on their picket lines on East Midlands Trains this morning in the on-going fight for pay and workplace justice that is solely down to the slash and burn tactics of Stagecoach as they run their franchises down before they are booted off the railway.”

On Monday the same union took advantage of the appointment of new Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to demand that he put an end to his ministry’s fight for Driver Only Operated trains and to make the railway accessible to all by ensuring that trains and stations are fully staffed.

Meanwhile, the Association of British Commuters (ABC) has obtained documents showing that Ministers have been colluding with the railway industry on policies which would lead to more trains without a second safety critical member of staff passing through unstaffed stations. This was despite fierce criticism from its own disabled persons’ advisory committee, DPTAC.

tooth and nail

Mick Cash commented on this revelation by saying that: “RMT has fought the government and the train operating companies tooth and nail to defend a second safety critical member of staff on our trains and we’ve stepped up the campaign to put more staff back in our stations.

“It’s a scandal that ministers have been working in secret with these companies on cost-cutting and profit-boosting policies that will make our railways less accessible to disabled people.”

Emily Yates of the ABC added that: “After three years of rail strikes we’ve had enough of the government’s charade. Train operating companies must guarantee the second safety critical member of staff on trains and the Department for Transport must provide the full details of their secret policy.

“If they fail to do this, both will be complicit in breaching the Equality Act and excluding disabled people from the right to spontaneous travel.”

North of the Border, members of the Transport and Salaried Staff Association (TSSA) have voted in favour of strike action in a dispute over changes to staff duties and contracts; 87.5 per cent of Driver Team Manager members voted for strike action after ScotRail forced them to cover driving shifts in addition to their current duties. This is having a detrimental impact on their health and well-being as fatigue is starting to set in. The union is also in dispute with the company over rest day working arrangements in other grades.

TSSA General Secretary Manuel Cortes warned: “ScotRail’s high-handed actions in forcing a change on our members’ duties without negotiations have come back to bite them. We’ve asked repeatedly that they negotiate any proposals for change with our members. Forcing someone to do two jobs is frankly not good for their well-being or the safety of our railways.

“ScotRail should have listened to our members concerns but have acted like bully boys by ignoring them. ScotRail now face another entirely avoidable summer of strikes, brought on by their own incompetence,” he concluded.

This challenge came after rail unions TSSA and ASLEF welcomed a little-publicised retreat by the SNP government, who have discreetly abandoned their long-standing plans for their dysfunctional Police Scotland to take over British Transport Police (BTP). Instead, a committee has been formed to oversee railway policing in Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Government and to facilitate BTP’s closer working with Police Scotland. Manuel Cortes noted: “Merging BTP with Police Scotland was unnecessary and unworkable. The chaos it would have caused represented a serious risk to rail safety and would have been a gift to criminals and terrorists.”

Kevin Lindsay, ASLEF organiser for the drivers’ union in Scotland, said: “We have lobbied the SNP government hard since it announced its plans and we are delighted that Humza Yousaf has listened to what we had to say. It is, frankly, a victory for common sense.”

untold hardship

One of the main duties of the BTP is dealing with drunken passengers on cross-border routes. Many of these travel on the Caledonian Sleeper service. Despite recently taking delivery of fancy new trains, the service has been beset with many problems that have resulted in RMT demanding that the service be renationalised. So far the new trains only service the London to Glasgow and Edinburgh routes. Plans to introduce them to the Highland destinations have been delayed, which tragically will cause untold hardship for people heading north for the grouse shooting.

In the wake of a recent vote by 80 per cent of RMT members for strike action, disgruntled by an increased workload, Mike Cash remarked that: “It is time for [operator] Serco to wake up and take note of the appalling working conditions their mismanagement has lumped on their staff and to take action to resolve this dispute.”