The dispute over DOO (driver-only operation) on SWR seems to be drawing to a close as the fire that was present at the start has been extinguished in a prime example of what not to do with an active and angry group of workers.
The dispute started way back in August 2017 when management refused to agree on to the retention of the guard and their role in train dispatch. As was said at the time by the RMT leadership, if you withdraw the facility for guard control of the door, then it’s only a matter of time before you get rid of the guard completely.
The union leadership got sucked into a game of calling off the strikes for talks, only for the talks to go nowhere and industrial action to start again. Being marched up to the top of the hill only to be marched back down is one way of dispersing the anger and drive in any dispute. Despite this, there followed a set of strikes culminating in strikes covering almost the whole December 2019. This was the highpoint, management were running scared after there was solidarity in two areas from ASLEF, the strikers showed no sign of giving in, and support from other union members was forthcoming, primarily in the shape of a hardship fund.
However, the union then seemed to stumble and make the classic error of slowing things down. From almost all-out strike to an overtime ban was seen by many as a mistake, giving the management time to restart its propaganda war. The second error was not taking up the fight and entering a “we're all in this together” mode at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Since then, no serious attempt has been made to rekindle the dispute, despite the fact that nothing has changed substantially, and ASLEF and the company took the opportunity this gave them to sign an agreement to give drivers control of the doors. What could now be the final nail in the coffin is the RMT NEC's decision to put the last offer out to a referendum with no recommendation, cancelling all planned action.
The union’s leadership has been found wanting and the SWR experience proves, if any proof were needed, that in any long, drawn-out campaign, management always have the advantage. This is a real-time example of the need for hard and fast reactions to threats, not long drawn out ‘campaigns’ aimed at frustrating and wasting the strength of feelings.
Not only have our full-time GS and his assistants fallen short, but the NEC has allowed them to conduct this campaign in such a manner that they managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
An exhausted and demoralised membership will likely vote to accept the deal on offer, which contains some sweeteners such as shorter working hours, but concedes that drivers will control the doors. This will make it that much harder to resist DCO (driver-controlled operation) on other companies. Even the ORR says that DCO is another name for DOO.
The RMT circular rightly praises the resolve of members, but the union’s actions have let us down.