Guards on South Western Railway are striking again from 30 August – 2 September, as their fight against the imposition of Driver Only Operation (DOO) goes on. Company figures expected that 40% of services would be cancelled on Friday 30 August and Monday 2 September, with up to 50% of services cancelled at the weekend. Union activists believe these figures could be conservative.
As guards prepared for the strike, the news that SWR's parent company First had received £32 million from the government, in compensation for the impact of anti-DOO strikes. This means that taxpayers have subsidised a private company to minimise the impact of industrial action, significantly weighting the scales against workers.
On Merseyrail, RMT has suspended strikes due for 24 August, 3 September, and 5 September, after bosses made a revised offer. The new proposal does represent progress, most significantly in moving away from Merseyrail's previous position of retaining guards' jobs at the expenses of cuts in other areas, including cleaners' jobs. But questions remain over the detail of the deal, and whether guards will retain control of opening and closing doors. We've been here before on other companies, namely South Western and Northern, when a deal touted as providing a “guard guarantee” was reached, leading to the suspension of strikes, only to find that, freed from the pressure of industrial action, bosses' interpretation of the deal turned out to be little more than a soft form of DOO, leading to strikes being reinstated.
Merseyrail is the company where strikes have been strongest, bolstered by near unanimous support from Aslef driver members refusing to cross RMT picket lines. Those strikes were demobilised for months while dodgy deals, trading cleaners' jobs for guards' jobs, were brought back to the RMT NEC. Now, having finally made the decision, under the pressure of Merseyrail workers' mass meetings, to reinstate action, suspending strikes merely to “continue talks” about a new deal is a significant risk.
If the details of the new proposal are not ironed out to workers' satisfaction – i.e., a firm commitment to retain safety-critical guards' jobs, with control of the doors – the further strikes planned for 30 September, 2 October, and 4 October must go ahead.