Off The Rails Summer 2009

Holding Back the Tide

The recession is seeing railway employers wage full-scale attacks on workers, and a patchy resistance to these attacks.

Our first report shows London Overground workers fighting and winning. There are other examples too, though none on quite such an impressive scale!

But elsewhere, cuts have gone through, with the unions able only to minimise the pain rather than defeat the attack. Sometimes, workers have even declined the union’s invitation to strike in defence of their jobs.

London Overground

Earlier this year, staff on London Overground won an impressive victory, and beat the lie that you can not fight and win during a recession.

300 station staff, conductors and booking clerks had been angry for years, feeling that their work conditions were appalling. Staff accommodation was inadequate. Pay was low: as little as £14,000 a year plus benefits. Industrial relations had completely broken down. Private company Silverlink held the contract for years and did nothing for staff.

East Midlands Trains

Pre-emptive scabbing by some guards at Lincoln and a capitulatory text from the Norwich guards rep on the company mobile effectively sabotaged the strike action called by RMT for May 1st against East Midlands Trains’ threat of compulsory redundancies.

Fighting and Winning

Eurostar cleaners at St Pancras International have been boycotting fingerprint booking-on machines since 6 May. RMT balloted them for ‘action short of strikes’ in protest at Carlisle Cleaning Services bringing in the devices to replace clocking on/off machines. Cleaners voted 30:1 for the boycott.

Employers like Carlisle seem to think that they can impose whatever indignity they choose. The cleaners’ resistance shows that they can not get away with it.


Off the Rails favours unions backing independent working-class challenges in elections - but No2EU was not such an initiative. It did not speak up for our class, and its main union backer was the RMT executive which did not consult the membership before making its decision.

London Midland

London Midland conductors based at Bletchley, Northampton and Watford took eight days of strike action to demand the right to opt out of Sunday working, but while they forced the company to back off, the issue may not yet be over.

The 120 conductors came from Central Trains or Silverlink - where Sunday working was voluntary - or were new starters, issued with a London Midland contract which did not include the right to opt out of Sundays.

Tube / TfL Dispute

London Underground and Transport for London workers struck for 48 hours from 9-11 June over pay, jobs and bullying.

The Unions and the Slump

This article looks beyond the rail industry and surveys the unions’ response to the crisis.


There have been a few significant and inspiring battles against job losses in recent months, notably the engineering construction industry strikes and the Visteon and Waterford Crystals occupations, but the overall picture is a trade union movement in retreat and with no coherent strategy to defend jobs.

Defend Catering Grades

TOCs are hitting out at catering, with the loss of buffets, services and jobs.

East Coast has restructured catering, and few restaurant cars now remain. On National Express East Anglia, all restaurants have gone, part of a package of 300 job cuts, most of them lost from the Norwich call centre. 

On Virgin Cross Country, all shops have gone and it is now trolleys only, with nothing north of Edinburgh or west of Plymouth.

Marxism at Work: What Caused the Crisis?

The roots of the current economic crisis lie in the capitalist system itself.

Capital does not sit still. If you get a twenty quid shopping voucher for your birthday, it might sit in your wallet for a couple of months before you get round to spending it. But capital? No. A capitalist who gets twenty quid - or twenty thousand - will immediately find a way of selling it on for twenty-five. Then investing that twenty-five to turn it into thirty-five. Then placing a bet and making it fifty.

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