New Worker Banner

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Rail strikes

by New Worker correspondent

THE LONG-RUNNING battle being fought by transport union RMT to defend the role of guards on trains on safety grounds for the benefit of passengers has seen around 900 RMT members embark on a month-long strike on South Western Trains, which began on Monday and is scheduled to continue for the rest of the month. At the start of a planned 27 days of action there were 850 cancellations (about half the usual trains) in the morning alone.

RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said: “This strike is solely about protecting safety and accessibility on SWR trains.

“RMT is angry and frustrated that a set of proposals that would have guaranteed the safety-critical role of the guard at the point of despatch, and which would have cost the company absolutely nothing, were kicked back in our faces last week. There is no rational explanation for the company position and we can only assume that either they or their paymasters in Government wanted this strike action to go ahead for politically motivated purposes.” Labour has pledged to restore the roll of guards. The main driver’s union, ASLEF, has not joined in however.

He deplored the fact that: “Instead of spending a fortune mobilising an army of under-trained and potentially dangerous Contingency Guards the company should be back round the table with the union concentrating on reaching the negotiated settlement that is easily within grasp, which they committed to verbally in earlier talks and which would cost SWR nothing.”

Earlier it had been discovered that the cost of the strikes to SWR were being compensated by the Government to the tune of £86 million for the days when it is not running trains. This, the union says, proves conclusively that the refusal of the company to agree a settlement is wholly politically motivated.

Despite the fact that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has told MPs that the amount is subject to “commercial confidentiality”, SWR bosses have openly boasted to investors that: “We’re doing a lot of work behind the scenes to work through what we think the impact should be and what we think we’re due.”

As the strike began Steve Hedley, RMT’s assistant general secretary, said he hoped the union and SWR could reach an agreement over the issue. Adding: “Three weeks ago we thought we had this boxed off. We had a deal that was acceptable to the company and acceptable to us. The guard would be in charge of doors and dispatching the train. And then, for no reason we can discern, that was pulled from the table.

“Our people don’t want to lose 27 days of pay but they have really come to the end of their tether.”

The dispute centres around the new fleet of 90 Aventra commuter trains. Guards argue that drivers will be given sole responsibility for closing doors and dispatching the new trains. SWR had promised to keep the guards on trains by moving them to customer-facing roles — but the RMT says this is dangerous although the rail watchdog says they are safe.