On Guard welcomes the news that ASLEF members on Southern have once again voted to reject a sell-out deal recommended by their leadership. Although the margin was narrower, it is worth noting that this is mainly due to higher turnout and that the number of 'No' votes only diminished by 2. Members at Southern appear to be resolute and not prepared to give in to their leaders' strategy of doing the employer's dirty work for them by demoralising and browbeating their own members into accepting a bad deal. Let's hope that they can organise together to bring more of the 'Yes' voters on side to knock back any further unsatisfactory offers with bigger majorities.
No change in approach from ASLEF leaders
ASLEF leaders have told the media that they are 'not surprised' that the proposed settlement has been rejected because their members don't trust the company to deliver on any of its promises. If they're not surprised by the result why did they recommend it in the first place? Furthermore, there are as yet no signs of any change in approach by ASLEF leaders. Members have simply been told that more talks will be sought but that these will be delayed due to negotiators being on leave.
Restart the action
We congratulate all ASLEF members at Southern on this second rejection and hope that they can bring pressure to bear on the union's leadership to restart industrial action to strengthen the union's position in any further talks with the bosses, and to force them to concede.
Grand National Day
Meanwhile, RMT Guard and Driver members at Northern and Merseyrail will join those at Southern and take their second day's strike action today. There are a couple of things that make this day different to the first held on 13th March: holding it on a weekend will mean affecting leisure passengers instead of commuters and the choice of date means that the Northern and Merseyrail strikes will severely impact travel to and from Aintree racecourse for Grand National day, especially considering the totally solid support on Merseyrail by ASLEF members who will not cross RMT picket lines. Timing action to disrupt a major event in the sporting calendar represents an escalation of the dispute by the union, turning the screw on the employers.
Escalation of action is an important part of winning a dispute. Sporadic short periods of action drawn out over months is not an effective approach. The employers have time to learn lessons about how to make the best of whatever skeleton staff they have available to them, time to train managers and scabs to cover the jobs of striking workers. The workers themselves can lose faith in their leaders, become demoralised and start drifting back to work. Upping the ante to force the employers onto the defensive and back around the table is by far the best way to win disputes like this one decisively. Industrial action is not about merely 'protesting' an injustice perpetrated by an employer, it is about forcing them to back down or to make concessions.
Rank and file control
As the current situation in ASLEF on Southern shows, unions would be much stronger and more united if the members participating in industrial action had real control over their own disputes. Rank and file strike committees - elected by and open to all workers involved in a dispute - who meet regularly, discuss progress and formulate plans for furthering the dispute, can apply enormous pressure on leaders and negotiators to direct the dispute according to members' wishes and to resist temptation to sell them out. Even where they have no formal place in a union's structures, a meeting of members that has debated and voted on policies and resolutions cannot easily be ignored by leaders who want to keep their positions! Rail workers will already be discussing all sorts of different ideas about the DOO dispute and how best to win it. A strike committee is an excellent way of developing these ideas and ensuring they influence the dispute for the better.