Moving to “Driver Only Operation” (DOO) is a key recommendation of the McNulty Report, commissioned by the last Labour government and enthusiastically taken up by the Tories. TOCs like Northern Rail and TransPennine Express are already moving towards DOO. But workers are fighting back. A guard on Northern Rail, who has been actively involved in the “Keep the Guard on the Train” campaign, spoke to Off The Rails.
OTR: Can you tell us a bit about what you’ve been involved in locally and on a national level?
Locally, we’ve organised to go out and speak to the public for an hour at a time once or twice a month. Most of the time, it’s not even been reps, it’s just people from depots, who have come out to campaign.
Each time, we’ve got a couple of hundred signatures. Often, the public has come up to us; they have seen the table and asked what it’s about.
We’ve been down to the Department for Transport and recently to a lobby of Parliament. After the lobby, we had a meeting. The Shadow Transport Minister, Mary Creagh (who got moved to International Development the day after our meeting) got a lot of heckling. A lot of people questioned her as she is the MP for Wakefield.
We’re up to 54 MPs’ signatures on the Early Day Motion; 52 Labour and 2 Lib Dems. A lot of the Labour shadow ministers won’t sign it, as they say they can’t sign EDMs.
OTR: You say a lot of people involved in the campaign have been union members from your depots. What is it about this issue that has motivated not just the reps, but new people, to get involved?
They’re not going to sack us, they’ll just downgrade us so we’ll not be safety critical anymore. But still, a lot of our staff have realised that there is a serious chance that this could happen. The only way out is by fighting, not sitting there doing nothing.
Here in the north, we’re very aware that in other jobs, we’re not going to get paid the amount we’re on for the hours we do; we’re not going to get as good a job again.
Support for the RMT is growing. For example, Sheffield guards are all now wearing RMT ties for the first time, to show their support for the union.
OTR: How easy has it been to get the RMT to produce the t-shirts and postcards and to put resources into the campaign?
The officer responsible for the campaign used to be a guard until relatively recently. Although he’s a union officer now, he still remembers what it’s like to be in our situation. He’s been killing himself, running around, sending information and materials out to us.
The campaign has not relied on the “official” channels of communication within the union, e.g. branch circulars.
It’s been done by phonecalls, text messages, the officer sending out updates and asking us to pass them on. The “Keep the guard on the train” Facebook page has not been set up by any union official and yet it’s been successful.
OTR: Workers should not have to take pay or job cuts in order to reduce fares: lower fares should come from higher government funding – ideally public ownership! Have you had much success in getting passengers to see you’re on their side?
The public get the fact that it’s not safe for it to be driver-only. The public hasn’t fallen for the idea that it will be cheaper if TOCs get rid of the guards.
Northern Rail hasn’t helped itself get public support for its plans by introducing a new evening peak fare. We delivered 10,000 signed postcards to the DfT. We’ve got so much of the public on our side – that’s why MPs have signed the EDM.
OTR: What’s next? What do you think it will take to win this campaign?
The RMT needs to share information with us about other parts of the rail network that are threatened with DOO.
For example, I never remember reading in any union literature that some parts of Scotrail have gone driver only. We need to know the situation around the country and work together. Knowledge is power and the RMT needs to share it!
ASELF’s General Secretary came to our recent lobby of Parliament and said that they don’t want DOO. We need to work with ASLEF to do more.
At the minute, until the announcement of who has won the franchise in May, we’re not really sure exactly what the bosses are doing to do. We just need to keep up the campaign and be prepared.
The Labour Party doesn’t seem to be listening. At the moment, Labour says it will go with the decision of Rail North, the Passenger Transport Executive, which is a devolved arm of the Department for Transport, working in partnership with the DfT. Instead, Labour should be listening to the unions and the public.
For more on the campaign, click here.