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

Industrial news in brief

Published on: Wed, 29/01/2020 - 08:33

Ollie Moore and Darren Bedford

Although the action is yet to be announced, the next round of the university and college union (UCU) dispute appears set for the second half of February.

Where strike ballots exist, they are either related to action defending the USS pension scheme, or over casualisation, pay, workloads and equalities (the “four fights”), however in most universities live ballots exist for both disputes simultaneously. A further 37 branches are currently being re-balloted, which alongside the live 98, would significantly enhance the strike’s impact, which in November and December saw thousands of UCU members

Industrial news in brief

Published on: Wed, 08/01/2020 - 09:01

Ollie Moore

Rail union RMT has begun re-balloting its members on South Western Railway (SWR) for further industrial action to defend the role of the guard. SWR guards concluded a month-long strike on 1 January, and are now re-balloting as the six-month mandate of their current ballot, stipulated by anti-trade union legislation, has now expired.

The new ballot closes on 23 January. If it returns a majority and meets the required thresholds, SWR guards could take further action. No direct negotiations have been held between SWR and RMT since November.

Elsewhere, RMT members on the Tyne and Wear Metro struck

Industrial news in brief

Published on: Wed, 18/12/2019 - 08:38

Duncan Morrison, Ollie Moore and Jay Dawkey

Lewisham members of the National Education Union (NEU) in primary schools are to take part in an indicative ballot over boycotting high stakes testing. The ballot will run from 6 January for two weeks.

There will be two questions on the ballot, one about “action short of strike” (i.e. the question about the boycott) and a second asking members if they will strike in the event of victimisation of members who take part.

The ballot information summarises the boycott as follows:

“Leadership and teacher members will refuse to administer the year 2 SATs, the year 6 SATs, the phonics test and the

Close to victory on WMT?

Published on: Sun, 08/12/2019 - 16:04

Strikes due to continue on West Midlands Trains (which operates as West Midlands Railway and London Northwestern Railway) every Saturday throughout December have been suspended, and RMT is putting a new deal to a referendum of its members, with a recommendation from the NEC to accept.

The deal guarantees a second safety-critical member of staff on every train for the life of the franchise, and protects salary and annual leave entitlements. Although the driver will control an in-cab door release button when a train arrives in platform, guards retain a central role in dispatch, assessing the platform and controlling the closing of the doors prior to departure.

Although, as one activist put it, the degree of control given to the driver could be seen as "an inch down the road to DOO" - it is only an inch. Bosses who would prefer to see the role of the guard scrapped entirely have been forced into a significant concessions.

The solid strikes by guards on WMT, which began on 16 November, have been bolstered by several Aslef drivers refusing to cross picket lines, which has undoubtedly been significant in forcing this new proposed settlement from the employer. Prior to these WMT strikes, Merseyrail was the only TOC where Aslef drivers had respected RMT picket lines.

If the deal is accepted, which it is likely to be, it could put pressure on South Western Railway bosses to make similar concessions.

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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.

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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.

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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

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