RMT is announcing a "major breakthrough" on Merseyrail, after negotiations produced a new offer including a method of train dispatch which retains control of the doors for the guard, in line with RMT policy.
The union says the "fine detail" still needs working out, but the fact that it has suspended the strikes it planned for every Saturday through November and December is a pretty conclusive signal that the RMT NEC believes the dispute is now reaching its endgame.
Make no mistake: defeating the company's attempts to impose DOO will be a huge achievement on its own terms, and is something that would not have been achieved without the solid industrial action workers have taken, backed up by solidarity from Aslef drivers. Merseyrail workers should be congratulated for this exceptional resolve, and other workers can take inspiration from yet another reminder that direct action really does get the goods.
But before we pop the champagne, we need to examine any strings that might be attached. Previous deals have included completely unacceptable strings, such as offsetting the cost of retaining guards' jobs by cutting cleaners' jobs. These offers should never have made it out of the talks; the fact that RMT NEC spent any time considering offers that were an affront to the basic principles of industrial unionism was frankly a waste of time that slowed momentum.
Those proposals are now gone, but more recent proposed settlements, including the most recent, included a plan to put new starters on worse terms and conditions - longer hours for less pay - than existing guards. With negotiations on the "fine detail" of the offer ongoing, RMT reps will have to push to get those strings removed. But without the additional pressure and leverage of looming strikes, they only have persuasive words to rely on. It will now be extremely hard to reinstate action, having called, and then suspended, strikes twice in the last month alone.
It's a difficult argument to ask existing workers to make sacrifices, by losing pay on strike days, for workers who aren't even on the job yet, but the alternative - accepting a deal that screws over future staff to protect the conditions of current ones - risks undermining union organisation on the job going forward. If a two-tier deal is accepted, you can guarantee that mischief-making managers will be pouring poison in the ear of new guards from day one: "Thinking of joining the RMT? You know they accepted a deal that means you're working longer hours and earning less money?"
Ultimately the decision on where to go next has to be led from the shopfloor, on the basis of whether workers feel confident to fight on. But if the bosses do insist on strings, then a discussion must be had about extending the exceptional resolve workers have shown so far to fight for those strings to be cut.
Oh, and one more thing. We couldn't heklp but notice that in the RMT press release, the General Secretary thanks the regional organise by name. Very unusual. You'd think there was an election on.