The Department for Transport’s “Stakeholder Consultation” document, released in Summer 2014, contained a requirement for bidders for the next Northern Rail franchise to set out a plan for moving to Driver Only Operation (DOO).
In addition to this, it left the question of whether to introduce DOO on Transpennine Express to the discretion of those bidding to run that franchise.
Moving to DOO nationally is one of the key recommendations of “Realising the Potential of GB Rail”, aka The McNulty Report.
ASLEF leaders have speculated that the Government and rail bosses intend to use the railway in the north of England as a “testing ground” for the implementation of McNulty; if it can be achieved there, it should prove to be possible everywhere else. Northern Rail is the single biggest rail franchise, so this makes sense. Another reason they have suggested for this choice is that both Northern and TPE are up there, out the way, where no-one will notice. This makes sense too: use passengers in northern towns and suburbs as guinea pigs for cuts to staffing and safety and see what happens before they try it on routes running in and out of London or Birmingham.
RMT has done more than speculate on this, and has been running a lively campaign against DOO for some time now with the slogan “Keep the Guard on the Train, Keep the Train Safe”. This has included badges for traincrew and members of the public, a postcard campaign highlighting the issues to MPs, publicity stalls outside stations, and press releases. Councillors in major cities are also passing motions in opposition to the Northern and TPE franchise plans to pressurise the Government and encourage the RMT’s campaign.
We think the unions are correct in their analyses. If these staffing cuts become reality in the north, then we can expect them everywhere.
So what can we do? RMT (and ASLEF) members can get involved in the “Keep the Guard on the Train” campaign in their area and ensure that staff and public alike are aware of what the proposals will mean for jobs, quality of service and safety. ASLEF members can use the union’s structures to try and make the union campaign seriously against DOO.
Some in ASLEF are lukewarm about campaign activity on this issue, claiming that it’s not the job of a drivers’ union to defend guards’ jobs. We think this approach is wrong for several reasons. Off The Rails believes in industrial unionism: all workers in a given industry should be organised in the same union, rather than being divided by grade or profession.
We believe that workers can fight most effectively when we all fight together, with the most powerful groups of workers (like drivers) using their strength to improve the conditions of all workers. Ultimately we see class struggle as the means to achieving socialism and narrow, sectional unionism that protects one group of workers - sometimes at the expense of others - is an obstacle to this.
But even if you don’t agree, the fight against DOO is inextricably linked to the fight to protect guards/conductors’ jobs. Without guards, trains can only run DOO. With them, there is no need for any more DOO than there is already. DOO would also be bad for drivers, with serious safety implications for drivers left in sole charge of packed trains.
ASLEF should work with RMT in its campaign against DOO. It would be ridiculous not to. It should also use its link to the Labour Party to put pressure on it to pledge that a future Labour government would scrap all proposals to extend DOO.
Time grows ever shorter on this. We must not sleepwalk into a McNightmare...