Northern, Southern, MerseyRail: Organise The Rank-and-File!

Posted in Off The Rails's blog on Mon, 13/03/2017 - 10:52,

This article appeared in the workplace bulletin On Guard, which can be downloaded here.

On Guard supports all workers on strike or respecting picket lines today, in the biggest and most widespread action yet in the fight to maintain the job of Guard on Britain's railways.

The RMT union is calling its Guard and Driver members out today at Northern, as well as Merseyrail and Southern. This is a very significant in the development of this dispute, as the disruption this is likely to cause at Northern and MerseyRail should be bigger in comparison to that at Southern, where many services already operated under Driver Only Operation (DOO) when the dispute there began.

Scab failure

Arriva has published an extensive 'scab timetable' of Northern services it plans to run today. On Guard hopes that this turns out to be a failure, despite the training up of managers and even the enlisting of scabs from other franchises.

No secrecy

Meanwhile the other union involved, Drivers' union ASLEF, continues in talks with GTR/Southern after its members rejected the proposed sell-out settlement that was brokered by TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady and recommended to them by its leadership. As with the TUC negotiations, no information is being released as these talks go on, raising concerns that whatever new proposal comes out of them will just be a 'tweaked' version of the same sell-out.


At MerseyRail and Northern, ASLEF is at the moment sitting out the fight when they could play a decisive role in the defeat of DOO by ensuring that no trains can run at all, even with managers and scabs available to operate the doors. Despite the statement released by the leaderships of both unions at the back end of 2015, it is clear that the two unions are not currently working together to fight on the issue of DOO. To have the best chance of winning this fight, and winning it comprehensively, this needs to change.


The ASLEF leadership has clearly done immense damage to the prospects for genuine unity by its recent actions on Southern but RMT leaders must share blame for the lack of proper communication and co-ordination before and since.

In the absence of a single industrial union for the rail industry, the two unions should act as one on this issue, for the sake of rail workers and passengers alike, and look to build and spread the fight against DOO.


The push to introduce this method of operation comes primarily from the Tory government and is really about smashing organised labour in the rail industry, one of the last strongholds of trade unionism in the UK. Attempts to introduce driver-only trains are at various stages across huge parts of the network. Plans are afoot to introduce it at London Midland, Great Western Railway and Virgin East Coast, for example.

National Strike

A near-national rail strike could and should be built in response, with the potential to inflict a huge defeat on the government and take a major step forward for the whole labour movement. To make this happen, rank-and-file workers in all grades and in both unions, should organise together to put pressure on their unions and seek to take control of the dispute for themselves. It's our future - we
can use the democratic structures in our unions to make sure our leaders get the settlement we want.


Trade Unions

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