Workers on Southern Rail are striking on 10-13 and 24-27 January, as they attempt to force Southern bosses to reverse the imposition of “Driver Only Operation” (DOO). Guards on Southern, who are members of the RMT union, also struck from 31 December to 2 January.
The 10-13 January strike had originally been scheduled for 9-14 January, but drivers’ union Aslef reduced it to three days, with their General Secretary Mick Whelan saying they had listened to “concerns” which suggested a six-day strike was “disproportionate”.
Rail strikes are set to spread, after RMT began balloting its members on Northern Rail for strikes, in a vote which runs between 10-25 January. The dispute is over the latest pay offer from Arriva, Northern’s franchise owner. Arriva has also previously expressed an intention to expand DOO across its routes. Guards and drivers are also concerned at the possibility of DOO being implemented on Merseyrail after Liverpool′s council approved a fleet replacement plan which would being in new trains where doors are operated by drivers.
A solidarity visit by Aslef reps nationwide to Southern pickets on Friday 13 January, initially organised by reps from Sheffield, is a good initiative and can hopefully be the start of wider public campaigning about DOO across the country. The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, has suggested that integrating the routes currently operated by Southern into the TfL network could be a solution to the dispute.
Greater integration, under the aegis of a publicly-owned body, would certainly be a step forward. But TfL operates several forms of semi-privatisation under its current model: the London Overground, Docklands Light Railway, and bus networks, while overseen by TfL, are operated by private companies. London Overground and TfL Rail services are driver-only.
Sadiq Khan, who intervened in the London Underground workers’ dispute to denounce the strike and “urge” unions to call it off (while saying nothing about LU’s job cuts), is hardly a reliable ally for transport workers. Labour members should expect better of a Labour Mayor. On Tuesday 10 December Jeremy Corbyn told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that he would join Southern picket lines. He said ″Yes I would, because I think Southern Rail have behaved in a terrible manner and the government seems to be more interested in protecting Southern Rail despite its appalling service and shortage of trains, overcrowding, and continues allowing them to run the franchise. I would want that franchise brought back into public ownership because we provide the rails and the trains and they make the profits.”
Corbyn said he could not attend picket lines on the 10th due to other commitments — we hope he holds to his promise. Rail unions should push for real public ownership, and democratic control, of all transport services. Public ownership could guarantee a guard on all trains, and maintain service and passenger safety.
Tube station staff strike
Station and revenue staff on London Underground struck on 8-9 January. They were demanding the reversal of job cuts carried out under the “Fit for the Future” restructure programme. The RMT union is also demanding the abolition of the new “CSA2” grade, an entry-level grade of station staff paid £7,000 less than colleagues doing similar work. The strike closed most busy Tube stations.
An RMT member told Solidarity: “Today’s excellent strike must be the opening of salvo of an ongoing campaign of action.
“It’s not feasible to run stations with the skeleton staffing levels the company has imposed. We need to do whatever it takes to force our employer to reverse job cuts.”