“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 (Northern Rail) and Greater Anglia in 2017.
On South Western Railway, sustained strikes are planned from 2-11 December, 13-24 December, and 27 December-1 January, a significant escalation from previous strikes. SWR has sent a letter to all its guards claiming it is “entitled to recover the loss and damage it sustains as a result of you participating in the dispute”. This has angered workers and strengthened their resolve.
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.
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.
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.
Outsourced workers’ strikes
Outsourced workers at University College London will strike again on 4 December, demanding direct employment and equality with other workers.
The workers previously struck on 19 November, in what their union, the Independent Workers’ union of Great Britain (IWGB), estimated was the largest strike of outsourced education sector workers in British history.
The 4 December strike will see them take action alongside academic and teaching staff in the University and College Union (UCU), striking in a national dispute over pay, pensions, and workload.
Outsourced hospital porters employed by Sodexo at St. Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, west London, are striking from 25-29 November, and from 9-13 December, demanding in-house employment with the NHS.
The workers are members of the United Voices of the World union (UVW).
Schedule slips on Tube pay
Tube union RMT continues to prepare to ballot its members on London Underground [LU] over pay and conditions. A policy passed by the union’s Executive Committee set the end of November as a target to have the ballot ready, a target which will now likely be missed. The rank-and-file bulletin Tubeworker commented:
“The longer our unions go without launching ballots over LU pay and conditions, the more momentum we hand to the bosses.
“Delaying only benefits the employer. RMT announced an aspiration to have its ballot ready by the end of November; members have a right to expect these aspirations to be followed through.
“Negotiations have secured important concessions but it’s workers’ action, our ability to stop the job, that will force real movement from the bosses. The same goes for ongoing issues on stations and revenue over workplace violence and understaffing. There’s a strong mood across the job for a fightback over these issues, and several branches, and the RMT London Transport Regional Council, have now passed policies calling for disputes and ballots.
“We need to get moving. [London mayor Sadiq] Khan faces re-election in May 2020, and if we’re not in a position early in the new year to announce a programme of strikes leading up to that election, we’ll be missing a golden opportunity.”
A planned strike on London Underground’s Victoria Line on 27-28 November was called off after LU bosses threatened legal action, claiming that by raising more current issues in negotiations, reps had invalidated the legal basis of the dispute, which could only refer to issues as they were when the ballot commenced, several months ago.