Rail unions

Fantasy Union of Rail and Transport Workers

Published on: Thu, 03/07/2008 - 09:31

What kind of union do we need? There are strengths and weaknesses in our current union set-up. Union officials will often have you believe that things can only be done the way they are done, because ... well, because they have always been done that way.

We do not agree. We have several criticisms of the existing rail unions, so it is only fair that we set out in more positive terms what our ideal union might look like. Let's call it the Fantasy Union of Rail and Transport Workers (FURT).

Some of the good things about this fantasy union could be put in place by changes in rules and ways of

Support the rail strikes!

Published on: Wed, 04/12/2019 - 15:31

Ollie Moore

South Western Railway (SWR) workers began a month of strikes on 1 December. West Midlands Trains workers are also continuing strikes every Saturday until the end of the year.

The workers are fighting to defend the role of the guard, resisting any erosion of the guard’s role towards “Driver Only Operation” (DOO), where trains could run without a second safety-critical member of staff on board, or where only the driver has ultimate responsibility for and oversight of dispatch from platforms and the opening and closing of train doors.

As SWR prepared for the strikes, the Executive of the rail

Merseyrail workers picket against Driver Only Operation

The fight against Driver Only Operation

Published on: Sun, 01/12/2019 - 19:57

The announcement by rail union RMT of a sustained programme of strikes on West Midlands Trains and South Western Railway represents a significant escalation and expansion of the union’s protracted and hard-fought war against the imposition of “Driver Only Operation”.

On West Midlands Trains, guards are striking every Saturday up to 28 December. The strikes on West Midlands Trains are especially significant as this is first new Train Operating Company (TOC) to join the DOO strikes since they were spread to Arriva Rail North (Northern Rail) and Greater Anglia in 2017. On South Western Railway (SWR), sustained strikes are planned from 2-11 December, 13-24 December, and 27 December-1 January, a significant escalation from previous strikes.

On the eve of the SWR strikes commencing, the bosses have ramped up their intimidation tactics, sending every guard a threatening letter. We have published a striking RMT guard's open letter in response to this attempted intimidation, here. As the strikes approached, the RMT's NEC rightly voted to reject a proposal emerging from ongoing Acas negotiations, which would have seen guards have even less control of opening and closing train doors during despatch than they do currently, under the terms of a settlement reached following previous rounds of strikes. While it is encouraging that the union's NEC rejected this offer, it is worrying that it was ever brought before them in the first place. Proposals which would actively worsen workers' conditions, and are contrary to union policy, should be rejected outright at the negotiation stage, without having to be brought back before any union committee for vetting.

Given the unprecedented length of the SWR strikes, significant fundraising, within the union and across the labour movement, is necessary to ensure any worker in financial hardship is not forced to choose between their principles and paying the rent. Effective picketing, that seeks to deter scabs from coming into work and seeks to put real pressure on drivers not to cross guards’ picket lines, is also required. The SWR strikes are amongst the most prolonged rail strikes in British industrial history, and are a testament to the workers’ refusal to surrender despite the protracted dispute.

On Northern and Merseyrail, RMT has recently called off strikes to consider proposed settlements hailed as breakthrough deals. On Northern, the company has proposed a method of train dispatch that retains a second safety-critical member of staff (i.e., a guard) on trains, but transfers the responsibility for closing the doors to the driver. RMT guards have recently voted by 95% to approve the continuation of negotiations around this model.

However, cause for concern remains. A Northern worker, writing on the Off the Rails blog, said: “When the [platform] is clear, the guard presses the buzzer to tell the driver it is safe to close the doors. The driver closes the doors.

“Of course, there is the small matter that the buzzer is not live when the doors are open. But, in case they get a technical fix for this, the bigger question is: if the guards can press a buzzer to communicate with the driver, then why can’t the guard press a button to close the doors?

“The answer, of course, is that they can. So why would the company get the guard to press something to tell the driver to close the doors when they can just as easily have them press something to close the doors themselves? The only answer to that question is that their longer-term aim is to scrap the guard.”

Merseyrail was the TOC where guards’ strikes had perhaps the biggest impact, regularly shutting down the service. They were bolstered by near 100% solidarity from Merseyrail drivers, who admirably bucked the national trend of Aslef drivers crossing RMT picket lines. Given the solidity and effectiveness of the Merseyrail strikes, anything other than a total victory there would be a missed opportunity.

The latest offer from Merseyrail, for which strikes planned in October were called off, retains guards on trains and maintains their control over the dispatch process. However, it also proposes to create a two-tier workforce, by creating a new entry grade on worse terms and conditions.

Throughout 2019, strikes were repeatedly called off on Merseyrail to allow for discussion of various proposed settlements emerging from negotiations. Some of these proposed retaining guards’ jobs at the expense of cleaners’ jobs, a flagrant affront to the principles of industrial unionism that should have even made it past the negotiations. Although the latest proposal, if accepted, would represent a partial but major victory in that it resists the immediate imposition of DOO, it would do so at the expense of the terms and conditions of future workers. The proposal remains under the scrutiny of the RMT National Executive Committee; if the NEC votes to endorse it, it will likely be put to a referendum of Merseyrail members with a recommendation to accept.

It is also notable that RMT statements hailing the deal as "a breakthrough" praise Regional Organiser John Tilley by name, a break from the usual protocol in which less personal formulations, which might congratulate "negotiating reps, officers, members, and activists", are used. Tilley, a loyal supporter of general secretary Mick Cash, is currently standing for re-election against Steve Nott, currently a member of the union's NEC.

A rejection of the proposal would mean a return to industrial action. Although striking to protect the rights and conditions of workers not yet employed, when your own are no longer under threat, represents a sacrifice, it is just such a perspective that, amongst other things, distinguishes socialist trade unionism from the mere protection of the status quo for existing workers.

Merseyrail guards, and their supporters amongst drivers, have struck repeatedly and effectively and forced a previously intransigent management into huge concessions. However their dispute ends, that achievement should be acknowledged and celebrated. But the solidarity and power they have developed has the potential not only to defend their conditions, but to ensure they can pass them on to future workers.

Trade Unions

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Northern: stand firm against DOO!

Published on: Thu, 28/11/2019 - 09:36

On 26 November RMT announced that Northern Rail guards had voted "nearly 95%" in a ballot to approve further negotiations on "changes to the operational mode" to implement the promise made by Arriva Rail North via ACAS in February 2019 of a "conductor on every train... for the remainder of the franchise".

There is no clear timescale for the talks. The general promise is surely a victory, compared to what the company wanted. But there is a problem. RMT has agreed that drivers, rather than guards, will close train doors, only the guard tells the driver when to do that by pressing a buzzer.

As one guard commented in October: "There is the small matter that the buzzer is not live while the doors are open. But in case they get a technical fix for that, the bigger question is: why would the company get the guard to press something to tell the driver to close the doors, when they can just as easily have them press something to close the
doors themselves? The only answer to that question is that their longer-term aim is to scrap the guard".

For now most guards have concluded that this is the best they can hope for. Aslef, the main drivers' union, is still refusing to have drivers take on the job of closing doors. A good number of drivers see no reason to take that work from the guards. Others may be tempted by the company offering them extra money for it. But if Aslef holds firm, Arriva Rail North could yet be forced into leaving the guards' jobs intact.

Trade Unions

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Tories pledge new anti-union law

Published on: Wed, 27/11/2019 - 19:37

The Tories, in their manifesto, signal their intention to launch a new assault on trade unions, with a pledge to ban transport workers from all-out strikes by requiring the operation of a “minimum service” during action.

Otherwise the Tory manifesto is very content-light. Despite all the stuff about the Tories junking austerity and spending big on public services, the manifesto pledges barely any new money – about £3 billion, as against tens of billions from Labour and the Lib Dems.

On social care, for instance, it offers virtually nothing beyond an appeal for cross-party consensus.

It pledges

Industrial news in brief

Published on: Wed, 27/11/2019 - 18:29

Ollie Moore, Jay Dawkey

“Driver Only” dispute spreads

The announcement by rail union RMT of a sustained programme of strikes on West Midlands Trains and South Western Railway represents a significant escalation and expansion of the union’s protracted and hard-fought war against the imposition of “Driver Only Operation”.

On West Midlands Trains, guards struck on 16 November, with further strikes planned every Saturday up to 28 December. The strikes on West Midlands Trains are especially significant as this is first new Train Operating Company (TOC) to join the DOO strikes since they were spread to Arriva Rail North

An open letter to fellow South Western Railway guards: don't give in to bosses' bullying!

Published on: Tue, 26/11/2019 - 18:12

There's been uproar on South Western Railway (SWR) today, as workers received a threatening letter from bosses, attempting to intimidate them out of striking. The letter, which we reproduce below, suggests workers or the union could be liable for any losses incurred during the strike, saying SWR is "entitled to recover the loss and damage in sustains as a result of you participating in the strike." The legality of the letter's claims is dubious; what is not in doubt is that it is a clear attempt by a frightened employer to prevent workers from exercising their right to withdraw their labour.

As RMT guards gear up for what will be the longest rail strike in British history, taking place throughout December, except 12 December, a guard and union activist has written an open letter to their colleagues, responding to the bosses' threats.

Dear all,

I am writing in response to a letter, which you will have received by South Western Railway (SWR) to your addresses this week. This is nothing, but scaremongering nonsense. Firstly, let’s be 100% clear, this is legal strike action. It was completed legally with a ballot and two weeks notice. This strike action is to protect your job and terms and conditions.

SWR have not guaranteed a guard on every train, the last framework stated that a train could go without a guard on board in “extreme circumstances.” Southern Railway had stated this as well, with their OBS grade. Now over 50% of their trains run regularly without a second member of staff on board. There was a deal in front of Acas, which has been withdrawn by SWR and First Group up in Aberdeen. SWR are citing that they withdrew the deal because RMT told their members about it. That is complete rubbish. SWR are being peddled by the Department for Transport (DfT) because strikes will be a critical part of this General Election.

Don’t cross the picket lines. Don’t listen to the scaremongering.

SWR are scared that we are walking out because they don’t want their middle managers being bogged down in a months worth of paperwork in January. Therefore the people at the top of the business are bullying their workforce into trying to cross pickets.

All that SWR are entitled to do are withdraw pay for not signing on for a shift. Because of this legal strike, SWR cannot take any legal action against you personally.

In the letter they have graciously given us some scary sounding bullet points.

They say that thousands of people will be disrupted. If you look, our core routes are running with buses on ones that are not and alternative transport available. People won’t be disrupted. Our lives will be when we’re all made redundant.

You will not be paid. But you will receive hardship payments and any annual leave, which you are booked on. Please see your local guards rep and tell them what you are booked to work. Help us to help you.

You are entitled to swap shifts as per the 1999 GRI agreement. 6.4 Exchange of Duties. Please don’t listen to this false threat. (Attached)

If your rules and assessments are due in December, that’s not your problem. You will just come back to work on the 3rd of January to normal circumstances.

No legal action will be taken against you as a person or employee of SWR. It is illegal to take legal action against employees during legal industrial action.

Please take no notice of this letter from SWR. It’s four pages of wasted trees.

Support the strikes. Spend December with your families this year. Don’t cross the picket line.

Yours faithfully,
An RMT member and guard

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Tube workers gear up for strikes

Published on: Wed, 20/11/2019 - 13:32

Jay Dawkey

Tube union RMT will ballot its members across London Underground, after a reps’ meeting on 7 November rejected LU bosses’ latest pay offer.

Tube workers’ current deal expired on 1 April 2019, and unions have been in negotiations to secure a new settlement since February. A central demand has been for a reduction in the working week, with unions citing scientific evidence that extreme shift working shortens life and demanding additional time off for workers.

LU’s latest offer is for a four-year deal, with RPI + 0.2% pay increases in years one and three, and 1.4% pay increases in years two and

Industrial news thumbnail reports

Published on: Wed, 20/11/2019 - 12:41

Ollie Moore

UCL, LouLou’s, St Mary’s

Outsourced workers at University College London struck on 19 November, after voting for industrial action by a 98% majority.

The workers, who include cleaners, porters, and security guards, are members of the Independent Workers’ union of Great Britain (IWGB), and are striking to demand equality with directly-employed staff.

IWGB members at “LouLou’s”, the exclusive celebrity members’ club in Mayfair, have also voted to strike. Their threat of industrial action has already secured two of their three demands – the reversal of outsourcing and the London living wage.

Strikes at Virgin, West Midlands, South Western Railway

Published on: Wed, 06/11/2019 - 07:39

Ollie Moore and Jay Dawkey

Rail union RMT has called strikes on Virgin Trains, West Midlands Trains, and South Western Railway (SWR).

On the latter, the union has named a calendar of strikes throughout November and December, which will see walkouts on 16, 23, and 30 November, and 7, 14, 21, and 28 December. West Midlands Trains is the latest Train Operating Company to see its workers plan industrial action over the imposition of Driver Only Operation (DOO).

On Virgin Trains, train managers, a grade of customer-facing train crew, on the West Coast franchise will strike on 19 November to demand the reinstatement of an

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