Merseyrail still seem intent on making a deal that robs one group of workers to pay another, by cutting cleaners' jobs to retain guards' jobs. A second deal of this type was rejected by the RMT National Executive today (5 April). The deal also wanted to shift some door control functions to the driver.
Merseyrail has been one of the highlights of the DOO campaign, with rock solid RMT guards' strikes backed up by fantastic solidarity from Aslef drivers refusing to cross their picket lines. Since RMT dialled down its action, Merseyrail have made two settlement offers, both unsatisfactory and both rejected. The lesson is: the bosses will not make significant concessions except under pressure from strikes.
The move away from industrial action and towards a negotiated settlement was touted by some, including RMT General Secretary Mick Cash and his supporters, as the result of good relations with the Liverpool City Region Labour mayor, Steve Rotheram, which led to an intervention in the dispute by Rotheram which apparently brought Merseyrail to the table. If these shoddy deals are the only fruit of that intervention, it was hardly worth it.
There are two models of trade unionism on offer here. One is a fundamentally bureaucratic model, that sees rank-and-file workers as a stage army whose action can be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations between bosses, union leaders, and politicians, where the real action takes place and the real deals get sorted out. Another is a model based on workers' direct action, which sees the strikes themselves as the mechanism for change, and views negotiations as existing to articulate the demands of the strike.
There is now a real danger of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Some worry that the momentum built up by the industrial action has now dissipated, and general fatigue will eventually be enough to see a deal passed. But there is still time to avoid that eventuality. Members' meetings, which are now being planned, must urgently discuss returning to action. And a line must be drawn under any notion that cleaners' jobs are acceptable collateral.
We can still win on Merseyrail, but we must stand firm.