Action for Accessibility - not Victimisations!

Posted in Off The Rails's blog on Tue, 08/10/2019 - 20:44,

The railway system is notoriously and shamefully inaccessible to disabled passengers. And while painfully slow progress is made with physical accessibility, the employers' cuts to staffing make it harder for us to help disabled passengers. Moreover, the companies provide precious little training for staff, in particular in the less familiar needs of disabled passengers who might, for example, have neurological conditions, chronic health problems, or sensory issues.

So, inevitably, things go wrong. And sometimes when they do, the passenger becomes upset, and the person in front of them is the rail worker, not the boss who cut the staffing and fails to provide the training and the access improvements. In these situations, there can be grief between the worker and the passenger, while the real villains of the piece keep out of it before turning up looking for a scapegoat.

When employers victimise our workmates for their own failures, we have to stand by them and defend them. Workers are not to blame for the inaccessibility of the railway. But neither are disabled passengers, so it is important that we clearly place the blame in the proper quarter - with the employers and the government, with their cost-cutting agenda that puts money before both workers and passengers.

So, it is good to see a strong vote to defend Rebecca Hughes, sacked by Virgin after an incident with a disabled passenger, and action short of strikes called to crank up the pressure on the company to reinstate her. But it is less good to see union material denouncing the passenger involved rather than concentrating its fire on the company.

There have been various occasions on which disabled activists have protested on trains or railway premises, for example removing government propaganda for Universal Credit from stations earlier this year, or the South Yorkshire Freedom Riders protesting against the withdrawal of free travel. Usually, this happens without incident, and we are sure that most rail workers sympathise with the issues they are pursuing.

Let's remember that workers and disabled passengers have a common interest in an accessible, well-staffed, reliable railway system. We are potential allies, despite management's efforts to turn us into enemies.

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