Off The Rails February 2005

Off The Rails

Off The Rails is a platform for rank-and-file rail workers. The new issue includes articles on current disputes in Midland Mainline, Central Trains and EWS; more discussion on the rail unions and politics; plus an assessment of the dangers of level crossings in the wake of the Ufton Nervet crash, a Marxist explanation of how employers make workers pay for the shorter working week, articles on women workers and on employers' punitive attendance policies; and a pull-out poster: 'Renationalise the railways'.

Read it here.

Midland Mainline: the courts against the workers

The High Court has banned industrial action by guards on Midland Mainline, in a case which shows the blatant class bias of Britain's anti-union laws.


Midland Mainline operates multiple-unit trains, which have no connecting door. This effectively divides the train into two halves. Guards and their union, RMT, believe that there should therefore be a guard in each part of the train.

Political shorts

In January, Parliament took a vote on renationalising the railways. Around 30 Labour MPs voted for public ownership. But less than half the Parliamentary Labour Party managed to turn up and vote against the rebels and for the Government line.

Full marks to the 30 rebels. And the number of 'stay aways' at least shows that Blair is pretty weak on this issue. But although they failed to back Blair, they also lacked the guts to turn up and vote for renationalisation ie. for their own party policy, the labour movement's policy, and the overwhelming view of their constituents.

Level crossings and dead train drivers

The driver was amongst the seven people killed at the level crossing crash at Ufton Nervet on 6 November (pictured).

The rail industry and the government were relieved that there was an individual they could blame, as the crash was caused by a suicidal man deliberately parking his car on the crossing. And the scale of the disaster would not have been so bad if it were not for the highly-unusual circumstance of the train dragging the car onto the next set of points, causing the derailment.

Central Trains: management self-destruct

Transport Secretary Alistair Darling announced in November that Central Trains TOC would be broken up by May 2006 when its franchise expires. Well, that's what we all heard anyway. Unfortunately Central's managers must have thought he said 2005 because that is the only explanation for their recent behaviour. Put simply, it seems they have pressed the self-destruct button.

A Woman's Place?

Has everyone accepted now that women can work in the railway industry - and that we can drive trains, operate signals and maintain track just as well as men?

Good. So long as you don’t mind unsuitable uniforms, no access to the ladies’ for hours on end, the odd bit of sexual harassment, and being only one of a handful of women in your grade and/or workplace. Oh, and don’t go thinking you can have kids and carry on in the job - if the cost of childcare doesn’t get you, the shiftwork will.

EWS: the fight goes off the rails

In the last Off The Rails, we reported on the issues behind the strike on EWS, and the start of the workforce's determined campaign to defend jobs and conditions. We also told how the employer had used the anti-union laws to gain an injunction to stop RMT's strike action - and how RMT had appealed and won, and was all set to strike.

Shorter Working Week: Making Workers Pay

Marxism at Work

All rail workers should be on a (maximum) 35-hour week. In the longer term, we should aim for even fewer hours than this – the next step should be a four-day, 32-hour week.

Why? Because we are human beings and we are not slaves. We have friends, families, hobbies and responsibilities. We want to rest and play as well as work.

Sick System

Heard the one about the rail companies which think they are actually medical practices? C2C and TubeLines are the latest employers to turn the screw on sick staff.

They want to bring in a system under which you phone in sick, only to be interrogated not just by a manager, but by a nurse as well. Rumours that they pop round your house to stick a thermometer under your tongue (or anywhere else) are completely untrue - at this point, anyway.

Two Jags

John Prezza here again - voice of Labour’s working-class roots. Or I would be, if I still believed in any of that class nonsense.

Bit peeved by this here report about global warming and greenhouse gases - whatever they might be. Seems some boffins reckon gas-guzzling road vehicles are partly to blame.

Of course, if the lower classes stuck to public transport (or stayed at home), then the likes of me could keep the Jags on the road without hurting the envirnoment too much.

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