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The dispute over Driver Only Operation (DOO) in the rail industry continues, and is spreading.
RMT guards struck on 1 and 4 of September on Southern, Northern and Merseyrail, and on 19 September announced a further two strike days for 3 and 5 of October.
This time RMT members on a fourth franchise, Greater Anglia, will also strike after 90% of the members voted for action over the role of the guard and extension to DOO, on an 89% turnout. RMT has also triggered a formal dispute with new South Western Railway owners First MTR over the issue and will be balloting its members there.
There has been no significant progress in negotiations between RMT, drivers’ union Aslef and any of the employers involved. Aslef continues to hold parallel talks with Southern over DOO and pay but are maintaining their near-radio silence over their progress, sticking to the usual sporadic “updates” that talks are “constructive” and are “progressing”.
Merseyrail remains a model of solidarity between drivers and guards over this issue, having maintained a 100% strike rate across all three depots, for all eight strike days so far. Notably, a small number of Aslef members on Southern chose to refuse to cross the picket line at Barnham depot on 4 September, in an apparent reaction to their union’s floundering over this issue. At Northern, the small number of drivers refusing to cross RMT picket lines is slowly increasing.
Aslef continues to shame itself everywhere except Merseyside. The national leadership of the union have clearly done nothing behind the scenes to influence their members on Northern and Southern to respect the picket lines, with almost all Aslef Company Council and local level reps crossing and coming into work. On Northern this is in spite of an agreement being secured by Aslef that owning company Arriva Rail North would not discipline any driver who refused to cross a picket line.
Aslef members refusing to cross picket lines is certainly the single biggest help to RMT in this fight but RMT could help itself by acting like a real industrial union and pulling its members in other grades out — it has members in revenue, shunting, cleaning and engineering grades, all of whom could have a positive impact on this dispute by taking action.
It is becoming increasingly clear that a solidarity campaign in the wider labour movement is needed to help keep RMT members going and to pressure Aslef into showing the necessary solidarity to get the job done. This is beginning to show signs of getting off the ground, with an appearance by Sheffield Heeley CLP members at the picket line in Sheffield during the last round of strikes.
This kind of thing will need to grow and be replicated around the country as the dispute continues.